Designer Kenley Collins Discusses Creating Ariana Grande’s Signature Style

Ariana Grande in dresses by Kenley Collins.
Photos: Getty Images

It’s no secret that we’ve been stalking Ariana Grande’s style for a while now. But these days she’s everywhere and with each new appearance comes yet another amazing vintage-looking floral frock. A few years ago, the former Victorious star told us at the time that she loved to wear ‘50s-inspired designs on stage (“poufy skirts, big bows … very fun, girly and young”), and now at the height of her pop star hysteria, it seems like she’s sticking with what and WHO she knows! Kenley Collins, a Project Runway alum with a major thing for patterns and prints, is the designer behind a ton of the dresses that have helped shape Grande’s classically beautiful style. Obviously, we were dying to get the deets on the lady behind the look, and Kenley was kind enough to fill us in! (P.S. Keep an eye out for more to Ariana x Kenley to come! Collins’ new collection, The Marilyn, rolls out on November 2nd and will be available through her website.)

Designer Kenley Collins.
Photo: Designer Kenley Collins

MTV STYLE: How did your relationship with Ariana come about?

KENLEY COLLINS: I met Ariana through her older brother, Frankie Grande, a little over a year ago. He thought we made a good style match, and he was right! She loves ’50s and ’60s style with a fun modern twist, and that reflects in her music!

Walk us through a typical styling session with her.

I usually have a bunch of sketches and fabrics picked out for her, and she chooses what she likes. She has great taste and always chooses the best fabrics!

Your clothes have clearly helped define her red carpet style. How do you see her look evolving? What is she gravitating toward off the red carpet?

She has a great look for my clothes. We are always working on more designs and looks, but we want her to stay true to herself and her signature as an artist. Ariana has a Broadway background, which I adore, so we embrace that, and stick with very glamorous sparkly dresses. She’s a true star, so there’s no crazy gimmicks.

Why do you think Ariana is such a good fit for your designs?

We share the same passion for ’50s/’60s doo-wop, old movies, and style. A time when women were dressed to impress and feel their best!

What about your personal style aesthetic? What are you wearing lately?

I like to dress how I’m feeling that day. If I’m going to my factory in the Garment District, I’m dressed like Rosie The Riveter with a scarf covering my hair, high-waisted pants and a cropped wife beater. If I’m going to drink at a dive bar, I’ll wear a fancy vintage dress with boots because it’s just fun and comfortable. If I play a show with my band, Jetblack Bullseye, I’ll dress in my own clothes that I make. Modern ’50s/’60s.

Do you keep in touch with any of your Project Runway competitors? How did the show help shape you as a designer?

Yes, one of my best friends to this day, Daniel Feld, and I talk to Austin Scarlet from [Project Runway] All-Stars. We really clicked. Runway was like a design boot camp both times, so it helped in many ways.

What other celebs would you like to dress?

Not sure. Ariana is a dream client, so I don’t know if it gets any better than her.

What bands are on heavy rotation for you at the moment?

Right now, I’m revisiting my ‘90s favorites: Hole, The Breeders, Whitney Houston, Rancid, Madonna. Then there’s always The Clash, The Specials, and ‘60s Girl Groups: The Shirelles, The Ronettes, The Crystals. I like Gaslight Anthem right now too, but I’ve always been a huge female vocals fan!

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