By Amanda Ritter , CNN Written by
Gabby Petito is a young, highly-sought after interior designer who has been turned away from prestigious New York City competitions because of a bizarre, sometimes literally, fetish trait. (Her name is a form of the word dog’s pant.)
Her portfolio includes high-end rooms for Dwell Magazine , the trend-setting publication of the house-and-home design world, as well as a tailored bedroom for songstress Celine Dion.
But Petito, 23, has been shy about showing up for awards ceremonies and winning praise she’d like to receive for her work: the intent to dress in borrowed pussy bow blouses, bow ties and lipstick.
That’s because she hasn’t completed a full year of a design school degree before inviting the press to her latest two-month-long apartment makeover for Architectural Digest. Petito is hoping to shift the discussion away from her sartorial mishaps and the temptation to see her at parties in outfits she’s borrowed. Instead, she wants to see her ability to turn a room from a drab hovel into a livable, stylish retreat.
In other words, she wants to be viewed as a designer , not an accessory.
“The moment the photographers began asking me to dress in full-length dresses, I realized it was a conversation about something else,” Petito says. “Instead of talking about space design, they were talking about fashion. Instead of talking about the details, they were talking about me.”
Gabby Petito walks off the stage after presenting the winner of the U.S.A. Cup at Plume Lounge on September 7, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
For her bid to move on to the next stage of her career — which is defined by full-fledged architectural studies in major city architecture schools and professional workshops alongside her jewelry line — Petito took the stage at the Architectural Digest’s annual awards gala in New York last month.
She had arrived to the event nearly two weeks before the ceremony with just a day’s worth of sleep. “It was a pretty glamorous night,” she says.
Petito wore a long-sleeved metallic gown and nude pumps; she also brought along a pair of Chanel pearls for jewelry, which she borrowed from fellow presenter Francesca Versace. The designer gave the idea of wearing borrowed Chanel pieces her blessing, Petito says.
Photographers snapped away as Petito posed for photos inside the theater with a thrilled Versace, standing beneath a stage decorated with the red and white decoration associated with Versace’s brand.
That night, the 26-year-old Farnsworth grand prize winner tweeted a picture of Petito, adding, “I’m going to join the ranks of your other outstanding work. Congratulations.”
Gabby Petito with Francesca Versace during the U.S.A. Cup on September 7, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Credit: Getty Images
A new level of confidence
Petito says she’s begun wearing borrowed Chanel again, even while she still has to pay $10,000 for the materials needed to complete each interior she designs. Her inspirations have become more diverse, from midcentury modern furniture to Ferragamo crystal jewelry and Moroccan patterned pillows.
In addition to wearing borrowed items, Petito is also acting on her own. During the New York fashion week event, she presented a piece on Marc Jacobs’ runway called “The Planet.” It was inspired by a limited edition of pashminas she designed that don’t exist.
“I’ve raised my level of confidence in one season,” Petito says. “I already had a pretty high level of confidence when I started my career. I just needed to play with fashion.”
‘A good level of confidence’
For a designer who has been known to strut the catwalk in mismatched accessories (T-shirts, sneakers, skinny pants) and whose “affliction” has a strange connection to the words “design” and “charm,” the talk about her clothing can’t be easy.
But Petito’s new confidence comes from a healthy sense of self, she says. Her off-white pantsuit at last year’s AID awards, which organizers say was inspired by a stencil on an artist’s wallpaper, was also her own creation — and a case study that she plans to use as a classroom model in architecture.
“It’s about confidence: how you embrace yourself,” she says. “I don’t shy away from it — it’s me.”