Eleven minutes with Jay McCarroll

by Brian Jewell

Bay Windows

Monday April 21, 2008

Although he'd made some ripples in the fashion world, it was the reality show Project Runway that really established out designer Jay McCarroll. The winner of the hit show's first season, many fans say he is the closest the show has come to its goal of finding "the next big fashion designer." With his combination of talent and wit, McCarroll has certainly became the next big fashion celebrity, a role about which he feels ambivalent. Nevertheless, he'll be appearing at The Independent Film Festival of Boston next week to promote a new documentary Eleven Minutes, which follows his preparations to show at New York Fashion Week. When I spoke with McCarroll by phone, he was more interested in musing about celebrity than touting his design work. Our meandering conversation was punctuated with much laughter and frequent cries of, "Wait, don't print that!" After editing out the off-the record gossip, the stuff that was too dirty for even us to print, and McCarroll's attempts to interview me, our hour together had dwindled to, well, about eleven minutes.

Q: I'm sorry we kept missing each other. I haven't been avoiding you.

A: That's the story of my life. Everyone avoids me.

Q: Right, no one is interested in you.

A: I know. It's astounding. Anyhoo...

Q: Are you talking about the fashion world when you say people avoid you? In Eleven Minutes that looks like a very stressful world. I can imagine feeling dissatisfied...

A: Oh, fuck the fashion industry. I think there are things with more substance to get annoyed about.

Q: But you moved back to Philadelphia...

A: I did. I shouldn't dis fashion, because people are going to start being disinterested in me being disinterested in fashion, and then they won't want to buy my stuff.

Q: That's some kind of zen riddle.

A: Life is a zen riddle. Anyway, I'm living in Philly and teaching at Philadelphia University.

Q: Have you taught before?

A: I have not. I'm just trying to share knowledge. I make up the syllabus and pretend I know what I'm doing. I have seniors on their last semester this year, and they just want to get the hell out of school. So I'm letting them. But it's good to give back, and be around this young energy. I've spent the past few years surrounded by jaded fashion people or people in the entertainment industry who want to blow smoke up my ass. So it's good to be around young people, and to be around colleagues. It's very grounding.

Q: That sounds necessary after the events of Eleven Minutes.

A: Yeah, it was. I'm trying to write my bills, which is probably a bad idea right now. Me having to rehash my history is bad enough without writing bills on top of that. I'm going to walk away from these bills.

Q: I do that all the time.

A: What, walk away from the bills?

Q: Yeah. When they threaten to turn things off, that's my reminder to pay them.

A: That's what I keep thinking, but I'm four days overdue on my cable bill and my Tivo is gone. I'm addicted to Tivo.

Q: Okay, back to Eleven Minutes...

A: Oh God, isn't that shit over yet?

Q: Are you really over it?

A: I had to live it once, and I've seen the film maybe 30 times. And then I have to answer questions about the film I've seen 30 times and I already lived. It's like Groundhog Day. I shouldn't complain. It's an interesting part of my life.

Q: But I guess even after being in the spotlight for several years, you don't get used to it.

A: No. I thought I would. What I hate the most - I don't mind talking about it, but I hate getting the same question over and over and then giving the same answer, and having to pretend each time that I'm saying it for the first time. Because you're talking to someone nice and you feel bad about lying to them.

Q: But why would you have to lie, why not say what you want to say?

A: No, not lying, but you have to say the same answer in a way that sounds fresh.

Q: You have to perform in an interview.

A: Perform it, exactly. I don't lie. People should know that by now.

Q: No one I've ever interviewed has admitted this kind of stuff. So it doesn't feel like you're performing right now. Or are you?

A: No, I'll tell you. I'll say, "I'm performing now."

Q: And what's the real Jay like?

A: Dude, that's creepy! I don't know, I think I'm the same person throughout.

Q: So how do you get through these screenings? Do you wait in the lobby?

A: I've only left two screenings. I just sit there. You find something new to see. It's weird when people are watching your life. Well, an edited version.

Q: Were you happy with the edit? Was it accurate?

A: Oh yeah, definitely. There was hundreds of hours of footage and someone had to make a story out of it. Rob Tate is an amazing editor. I thought the editing was really good, and it told a story. I can imagine it's hard to take someone's daily life and build it into a story. I could never do that. I don't have the patience for someone else's life. That's my own egotism.

Q: You wouldn't be interested in a documentary about someone else?

A: Not the raw footage. I live in real time.

Q: The only thing I didn't like about Eleven Minutes was that it ended kind of abruptly. Can I ask about what happened after, or is that also well-traveled territory?

A: No, people ask me that. Well, I have to do these interviews.

Q: Sorry. I feel like I should send you a present to make up for interviewing you.

A: Yeah, you should.

Q: What would you like?

A: I don't know, soap?

Q: Really? I used to make soap. Maybe I still have some.

A: See, you just hate the system. You hate having to make money. You wish you could live in a society where you could trade potatoes for well water, or something. Trust me, that's the way I'd like to live.

Q: Sounds like you won't be going back to New York anytime soon.

A: Oh god, no.

Q: But you're not abandoning fashion.

A: No. There are many different levels of fashion. I'm working on stuff for QVC, that'll be out this summer. That's actually been a really good experience. I'm working with really great people who aren't jaded fashion people rushing me to make stuff every six months and be glamorous and intriguing.

Q: I want to know why, in your biographical statement in the press kit, you say: "I am an asshole."

A: I might as well put that out there.

Q: But you don't believe that, do you?

A: Yeah. Everyone's an asshole. You're an asshole, I'm sure.

Q: I can be, but I don't lead with that.

A: I didn't lead with it, I ended with it. What came before that?

Q: Let's see...it stars off as a normal bio and then you say, "I like to think I am the only winner of Project Runway. I am an asshole."

A: Okay, so that was me making fun of myself for the Project Runway comment. To be famous, you have to be kind of egotistical. I don't love it, but...

Q: But you have to be a brand. This concept of branding has really gone out of control.

A: Uh huh. "Go to the L'Oreal Paris hair and makeup room." That show is kind of strange to watch now.

Q: And it's like a duty for you, because you blog about it.

A: Yup, for Elle magazine.

Q: Does Nina Garcia slip you big bucks for that?

A: No!

Q: Nice. Branding! Synergy!

A: Ew!

Q: OK, here's a really boring question. What did you think of the final contestants on Project Runway season four?

A: I thought they were fierce. I think every time Christian says something I can feel the gay movement creeping further back into the closet. I wish him all the best! Anyway, I really liked Rami's collection. In person it looked really great, I think it didn't show well on television. It was the opposite with Christian. I don't know, I don't really care about any of it, to tell you the truth.

Q: Okay, that reminds me that in the film I was surprised to see Wendy Pepper at your runway show.

A: Yeah, She called up and asked for tickets. Which is fine, I enjoy her. But at the after party she was hanging out with my family and she said, "Look Jay, I'm one of the McCarrolls now," and a little part of me died. She's a wacko, and that's why people like her. I think she's hilarious. I've learned to really appreciate it. I welcome that brand of crazy. She was a very specific kind of character. I would have welcomed a Wendy Pepper character on some of the following seasons.

Q: Yeah, the first season was the most interesting.

A: It's become a product, and lost some of its realness.

Q: Have you seen this new show, Step It Up and Dance?

A: I saw one episode, and I'm pretty fucking pissed about the Tivo not working. Although I can rely on Bravo to have it on 91,000 times this weekend.

Q: I think it's going to be their next big show.

A: Really? It kind of sucks.

Q: What does that have to do with its success? It's really interesting. It's like Project Runway with ten Wendy Peppers.

A: Well, dancers are crazy. I do like it. I personally love So You Think You Can Dance?

Q: I don't watch that one.

A: Not to be confused with Dancing with the Stars or America's Dance Crew, or Dance on your Own Grave. That's the one where you kill yourself and dance on your own grave.

Q: Now that's a zen riddle. Zen-like, our conversation has come full circle.

A: Are you searching for zen in you own life?

Q: I don't know anything about Buddhism, so that might be pretentious for me to say.

A: Yeah, probably. Kabbalah is a whole different ball game.

Q: You'll be in town for the screening. Have you been to Boston before?

A: A few times. I actually spoke at Boston University once. And I went there on a band trip when I was in high school. Boston is a little boring, but my family loves it.

Q: Well, it's no New York.

A: But that's what makes it good. Believe me, living in Philadelphia, you see that other cities have identity crises. I hate that. Boston is Boston because it's not New York. Especially in Philadelphia, everyone is like, "Yeah, we're just a stepping stone, we're a second rate city." And that's why I came back here, because Philly does have its own vibe. I love that it's not fast and pretentious. New York made me nuts. I do like to visit. It's like a rollercoaster that you can jump on and jump off. But it's like a bubble, where people are living their own lives so fast they don't care about you.

Q: Well, I will release you from this torture.

A: Is that it? You didn't ask me any questions.

Q: I tried, but you deflected me.

A: We barely talked about the film.

Q: What else should we cover about the film?

A: "It was the process of following me around for a year of my life while I prepared a show for New York Fashion Week. It shows the real behind the scenes process, warts and all..."

[We both burst into laughter.]

Eleven Minutes screens at the Somerville Theater at 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 24 and at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, April 28. McCarroll will answer questions at the Monday screening, along with directors Michael Selditch and Rob Tate. For more info on the film festival, visit www.iffboston.org. Keep up with McCarroll at www.jaymccarroll.com.

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