Austin Santino On the Road With Austin Santino

Austin Scarlett and Santino Rice hug it out. Photo courtesy of Lifetime

Fashion designer Santino Rice is so high on his new Lifetime reality duet, "On the Road With Austin & Santino," that he begins chatting up StyleList with this humble outburst: "I smell an Emmy!"

Since this year's nominations have passed, Rice will have to settle for making some lucky lady a red-carpet dress. As the confident "Project Runway" alum (season 2 and All Stars) explains, he's not invested in celebrity gets (unless, of course, you are Angelina Jolie).

Right now, he's more excited about his televised cross-country road trip with his carefully coiffed "PR" opposite, Austin Scarlett.

The flamboyant pair journey to far-flung rural America, where they practice style philanthropy, stitching up couture frocks for deserving ladies who live hours from the nearest mall.

Here, Rice shares insights about his dream clients and life after "Project Runway," which includes his recurring role as a judge on "RuPaul's Drag Race."

StyleList: You design in Hollywood. Did the rural fashions make you want to create a new wardrobe for your clients?
Santino Rice: Yes and no. What matters most is that people are dressing with purpose. What I learned is that what people are wearing is very regional. It's almost as if they have a uniform. It's their way of saying I belong here.

SL: What's the beauty scene like in small-town America?
SR: Surprising. Austin and I did L'Oréal hair and makeup consultations with our clients, and we would meet someone who'd been doing their hair and makeup for 20 years, and it would turn out they were this really bright star who was working in the middle of nowhere. It was just where they decided to set up shop and live their life.

SL: Tim Gunn called you and Austin the Odd Couple and seemed worried about how you two will get along.
SR: Ha! I love Tim. It's true, we each are unique snowflakes in our own right! But Austin and I have been friends for years and this show was our idea, not something someone else concocted. It was seeing a designer like Austin Scarlett on "Project Runway" that made me want to try out. We have something in common: What you see is what you get. And we both have a similar taste level. You'll never see us argue over whether polyester looks cheap.

SL: I've heard it bothers you when your show is called a "Project Runway" spin-off. Are you trying to disassociate yourself?
SR: No, but it's a totally different premise. We are making real women garments they will wear forever, and we stay up all night doing it. On "Project Runway," you have to go to bed at midnight. Here, I'm up all night and I have to be somewhat charming the next day. (Cackles!)

What "Project Runway" did for me was open a lot of doors. A lot of people don't know I had been a ghost designer for fashion lines for 15 years. Now, I have the freedom to design what I want, for who I want, and take on projects that interest me. I'll never say it wasn't a great experience.

SL: Who is your dream client?
SR: M.I.A. and Angelina Jolie, She's pretty awesome. Another celebrity I think is cool is Jane Fonda. I love how she wore the same dress to the Oscars two years in row. It's pretty cool that someone is so confident about how they look in a dress that they proudly wear it again. Other than that, I don't really chase the celebrity thing. I like clients who want something nice, who are not able to have Dior gift something for free, and they come to me and cherish it.

SL: Any fashion mistakes in your closet?
SR: I'm not a guy who has regrets. In high school I dressed like Lisa Bonet, and I had my hair every single color, but I was experimenting and that's how you refine your taste. Take Nicole Richie. Every time you see her, it's very clear she has a point of view, but she had to go through a phase.

Sometimes being of-the-moment means you're going to look at pictures and it's going to look dated, but it's all part of learning about clothing and fashion. I had this Michael Jackson coat with tails. I wouldn't wear it now, but it was cool when I did wear it.

SL: What has judging drag queens taught you about beauty and style?
SR: They have reiterated everything I believe about fashion, which is you can pull off anything if you do it with quality and purpose. I have a problem with drag queens who don't have a concept. Then they're just a dude in a dress.

SL: Austin has such perfect hair. Have you ever considered cutting yours?
SR: I would like to, but you know, Austin gets up three hours before our call time to do his! I just get out of the shower, pop on a hat, and I'm good to go. But I might cut it for season 2!

"On the Road With Austin & Santino" airs after "Project Runway" on Thursday's at 10:30/9:30 C on Lifetime.

In other news, have you seen Heidi Klum's bikini body lately?