From vintage-clothing store owner to reality-TV star, Project Runway Season One winner Jay McCarroll isn't your average fashion success story. Since being touted as "one-to-watch" by the likes of Nina Garcia and Heidi Klum, and having subsequently staged a runway show at New York Fashion Week in 2006, the fashion world has heard very little from very vocal designer. But thanks to a new documentary, 11 Minutes (named for the average length of a fashion show), the Pennsylvania native can extend his 15 minutes of fame. Over fish and chips at the London Hotel, the always-entertaining McCarroll spoke to The Daily Beast about how fashion is like high school (he’s the band nerd), why Project Runway is not reality, and what separates him from Alexander Wang.
“I don’t feel like making women sexy. I didn’t grow up that way. I grew up with middle American women who didn’t care what color sweatshirt they had on.”
How did you get involved with the film?
I'm really self-obsessed and a real ruthless self-promoter… I'm kidding. No, I wanted to do it. I did it as a reaction to my role on Project Runway and the fact that everyone thought I could just make clothes quick. I always wanted to show the process of clothes—the whole dog and pony show of doing a show at Fashion Week. It was very low budget. They basically shot it with one camera person.
Do you miss not showing at Fashion Week?
No, not at all. It's fun to go to those things. That's the funny thing about fashion: I could come back six seasons from now and it would be refreshing for people to see. Or I could never come back and no one would care.
Is there a comeback in your future?
No. You have to have been somewhere to make a comeback. I didn't really get anywhere. I showed one blip of a season and that was it.
Are you always so self-effacing?
No, am I being that bad? I'm just realistic. I'm not one to say "I'm working on this fabulous collection, girl; it is ferosh. You are going to love it." I'm just not like that.
Is Project Runway realistic?
No, you're never a young designer and someone hands you an envelope of money and says, go make something. And then you're in a workroom with other designers. And then you stand on a runway and have a bunch of people make you feel like shit. And then they pay for a show at Bryant Park. That's not reality for anybody. It was for me. But it does give a glimpse into a bit of the creative process—like, here's an inspiration and make it into a garment. That really does happen in real fashion life.
Do you think Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn are genuinely interested in helping launch careers, or is it just a show for show's sake?
Um, option B. The show was a lot of fun; it was very motivating. You're in fashion prison basically. They take your wallet; you don't have Internet. You're just living and breathing clothes. I don't have any regrets. But the aftermath was tricky. We were in a vacuum for three weeks. Then it comes out six months later and you're a household name. And it's, like, go be Calvin Klein. It's tough. Not everyone can be Alexander Wang. It's who you know. If you're a Parsons grad, if you're part of the New York social scene and you're fucking hanging out with Erin Wasson—and your father conveniently owns an apparel-manufacturing factory in China. Then there are the Alexander McQueens where it is talent; or you are Richie Rich and you are a club kid and you're just doing it for the love of it. So there are many different versions of it.
Where do you fall into the mix?
Working at Dairy Queen. I don't know. You just live your life. But, because I was proclaimed on national television as being "the next big thing," now everyone expects it. If I want to become a dentist right now, that's my fucking choice. I'm motivated but I'm not the most fashion-motivated person. I just want to make clothes. That was all it ever was. I don't feel like making women sexy. I mean, "Do you want to always feel sexy?" I didn't grow up that way. I grew up with middle American women who didn't care what color sweatshirt they had on.
Maybe they just don't know any better...
I kind of like that. I don't want to be a tastemaker. I've always liked the weirder end of things.
Did doing the movie give you a better idea?
Yeah, it helped me figure out what to get away from—this nonsense. The dog and pony show on 42nd Street. At Bryant Park you have to pay these people $40,000 to set up a tent for four hours. And as a young designer you're, like, this is pointless. It's like high school, the industry here. It's been a little stuffy the past ten years. But I think there is a new group of people who are really exciting. Like the Rodarte girls. Their collection this week was so gorgeous. Oh, Proenza Schouler was crapola in the city. I don't get them. Does anyone get them?
So keeping with the high school metaphor, what clique would you roll with?
The band nerds. I was a band nerd in high school and I think that's pretty much my role in life. And Anna Wintour is the principal. And Diane von Furstenberg would be president of student council…
What impression do you want people to leave the film with?
Just the fact that it's hard. There are a lot of factors that go into putting my name inside of the back of a T-shirt. It's a lot of people: It's hair and makeup, publicists, interns, shoes, sales. It's too much. I always say, the day Sean Puffy Combs won menswear designer of the year was the day I gave up on fashion in New York. Justin Timberlake with Anna Wintour in the front row… it's a joke. But I'm part of it.
Alisa Gould-Simon is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor of The Daily Beast’s Fashion Week coverage. She also covers fashion and culture for BlackBook, New York and PAPER among other publications.