Exclusive Interview: Jay McCarroll ELEVEN MINUTES

     February 19, 2009

Written by Harrison Pierce

Jay McCarroll earned his fifteen minutes of fame four years ago when he won the first season of “Project Runway,” one of a small handful of reality television competitions that require actual hard work and talent to win. In case you haven’t watched the pop cult phenom, each week its aspiring designer contestants compete against each other to create the best runway fashions in limited time and with limited resources. During Season One, Pennsylvania-based designer McCarroll easily won the design-off (and audience’s affection) with his sharp skills and even sharper wit. Now, McCarroll’s fifteen minutes are extended by eleven more with the riveting new documentary Eleven Minutes, premiering in theatres and on the here! Channel this Friday, February 20th, 2009.

This well-crafted documentary, directed with designer’s precision by Michael Selditch and Rob Tate, chronicles McCarroll’s year-long journey preparing his first independent runway show for New York’s Fashion Week. Stripped of reality show conventions, the film offers an intimate look at this talented artist’s struggle to transcend the reality TV star label and establish his own viable fashion label. The result is a surprisingly honest and riveting exposé that gives viewers the lowdown on high fashion.

I recently had the chance to chat with Jay for (roughly) eleven minutes to dish about the movie, the show and why you’ll never catch him with a mic on the red carpet.

Collider: I have to admit Jay; I was late to the whole Project Runway party and missed your winning season…

Jay: What!? How could you have missed it?! It was a pop culture phenomenon [laughs]!

And it is, right?

Jay: It was [laughs].

Anyway, my introduction to you was through Eleven Minutes, which, I think is a must-see for anyone striving to make it as a designer, or any kind of artist. Tell me, are there any documentaries that have inspired you?

Jay: Hmm, let me think. Of course, I’ve seen Unzipped, the Isaac Mizrahi documentary. Oh, and I love Madonna’s Truth or Dare. Basically, any kind of artistic process film is nice to see. But any recent ones about, like, diamond mining or something important – I don’t watch those because they’re depressing.

I think the genre tends toward the depressing, but your film definitely is not. It’s entertaining, moving, and surprisingly suspenseful. Anyway, what would you say is the biggest difference between appearing in a documentary and on reality television?

Jay: Well, documentaries are real and reality television is not. I don’t, you know, in my daily life, have a producer handing me a hundred fifty dollars, saying “go make a wedding dress in a day and a half.” That doesn’t happen, and that’s not real – it’s a game show.

With the film and the show, you’ve now logged quite a few hours in front of the camera. How do you feel about watching yourself?

Jay: Ugh, it’s weird. I mean, no one wants to see what their ass looks like!

Did the directors of “Eleven Minutes” give you any veto power over unflattering footage?

Jay: No, just financial footage. I didn’t want anyone to know, like, what I was spending on things, so we cut all that stuff out. Otherwise, they could do anything they wanted. I’m not a filmmaker. They wanted to make a film, I let them make a film. And if they even said something like “we don’t like the color of that shirt,” I was like fuck you, I’m the designer!

In the film, we see you struggling to get approval from the fashion critics and the buyers from stores like Urban Outfitters. What keeps you going when that external validation isn’t coming?

Jay: We’re looking at it. You just keep going. During that span of time, that is really what I was chasing. And, when that stuff doesn’t happen, you’re forced to kind of move on. Luckily I was able to kind of get back to who I wanted to be. At that point I was in New York; I was pursuing fashion and trying to sell my product. Now I live in Philly and I have a much, much better life. My quality of life is amazing. I’m still putting out products, and whether they’re created here or in New York, they’re both gonna end up at the same point: on somebody’s body. So, I don’t know, there are different paths to the same end result.

The new season of “Project Runway” has been delayed due to corporate shenanigans, but when it airs, will you watch it live, TiVo it or pretend it doesn’t exist?

Jay: Oh, I’ll watch it. Well, I’ll record it. Although, sometimes I watch it live. I wonder what’s gonna happen with the show now. I’m curious to see what the new producers are gonna do, how they’ll make it look. I am going to the finale show on the 20th. They won’t be announcing the designers’ names, but they’ll be showing the clothes, so that’ll be pretty exciting. As far as the legal battle goes, I would have to say, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer group of folks.

You mean the brothers Weinstein?

Jay: I name no names [laughs]. All I can say is, what goes around, baby, comes around. Karma’s a bitch.

Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?

Jay: Just do it. I mean, fashion’s always gonna be a part of our culture. I don’t foresee us going naked as a society anytime soon. So there’s a need for people to learn fashion and apparel production and all that stuff. But know your history of fashion, because you don’t really know where you’re headed until you know where you’ve been. I meet a lot of people now, especially because of “Project Runway,” who are like, “I love clothes!”, but they don’t have any reference points. They don’t know if something’s Rudi Gernreich or Yohji Yamamoto or fucking Claire McCardell, or going farther back and farther back, even to what people wore in ancient Greece and how that informed the Grecian goddess dresses of the 1940s, which now influence what Cate Blanchett’s wearing in 2009. So, yeah, I’d like people to know that kind of stuff. And learn how to draw and how to sew because those are the other ways for you to get your ideas out.

Do you think design school is a must if you want to be a designer?

Jay: Yes, because at the end of the day it’s a trade. You wouldn’t just be a freelance, home-schooled engineer. Sure, there are plenty of home sewers that could do it fine, but there’s knowledge and experience you gain from a shared environment in fashion with mentors and teachers. I teach at Philadelphia University, well, not this semester, but I teach and the things that I’ve learned from other people I can now give to students that they can share and give to other people.

Have you noticed the effects of the current economic crisis on the Fashion industry?

Jay: I read about it, but I don’t have, like, an empire, so I’m not really that affected by it. But you know what? Fashion’s a luxurious business, it’s an extravagant business. It’s funny because it’s almost like the universe is trying to, like, just end what’s been happening. You know, with, like, Marc Jacobs charging eight hundred dollars for a fucking basic crew neck Shetland sweater he’s getting made for thirty. It’s that greedy kind of mind.

You’re back in Philly now, but do you miss living in New York, the fashion capital of the world?

Jay: I’m close enough to it. For me, it’s too much. My mind is crazy enough as it is. To be in a place where it’s like honk honk, bang bang, billboards, people, fucking hipsters, fucking fashion people, women wearing fur…ugh!

Ever think about moving to Los Angeles and becoming one of those bitchy red carpet fashion commentators?

Jay: Ugh, I don’t want to do that. Trust me, I’ve been asked by a gazillion fucking people (hello E!, every five seconds!). I don’t want to comment on what other people are wearing, ‘cause, they can wear whatever they want. I don’t want anyone commenting on me and my personal style. And who am I to comment on that stuff? Ooh, look at that Christian Dior gown, who the fuck does Galliano think he is? [Project Runway Season Four winner] Christian Siriano does that. I’m not gonna do it. I think it’s rude. Designers stand with designers, let some fucking freak stylist weirdo like Rachel Zoe come in and critique.

Eleven Minutes, starring the hysterically blunt and talented Jay McCarroll, premieres this Friday, February 20th, in theatres and on here!TV. For information on how to subscribe to here!, call the toll free number at 1-888-HERE-NOW.

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