I first met Jay at the Project Runway talent search in New York last June. Outfitted in his signature look—cowboy hat, overlarge tinted glasses, droopy couture—his appearance seemed contrived, clownish. The garments he brought with him were well made, but their construction was simple: They had a front and a back, basically. His personality was clearly his calling card—and an over-the-top card it was! Project Runway was always intended to be a venue for budding fashion design talent, but “good” TV needs personalities in addition to talent. After some debate among the judges, we decided to make Jay one of the 100 semifinalists.
Six weeks after the end of the preliminary process, I stood nervously next to Heidi Klum and greeted our 12 Project Runway designers. Jay, I surmised, would be one of the first to leave. After all, how far could his personality take him?
The first two design challenges established Jay's point of view—funky, artsy, and edgy, with a splash of “f--k you” spice. But those challenges were not about real clothes. How would Jay perform when actual wearable clothes were the expectation?
The third challenge, to design a dress for Banana Republic, would tell all. Jay took a major leap by creating a dress I can only call exquisite—the silhouette, proportions, and construction details (including an homage to the Chrysler Building in the form of an accordion-pleated bodice) were extremely sophisticated. Although he didn't win the challenge (the intricacy of his construction would have made production a serious price point issue), his confidence was significantly buoyed and it became obvious that he was a talent to be reckoned with.
What lies ahead for Jay McCarroll? In typical Jay fashion, he isn't quite sure. So I decided to ask him a few questions:
Where do you see yourself in a year?
New York, but somewhere with trees. Probably Brooklyn.
Five years? Hopefully taken seriously in the industry—not some reality-TV has-been.
In 10 years?
Wandering around the Fashion District with no shoes on, begging for money.
Will you actually manufacture the clothes we saw on Project Runway
I'm over the clothes from the show. I plan to do something similar but more accessible. I hope to have my first show in February 2006 and produce my first men's and women's line for autumn/winter of that year.
How far do you think your $100,000 prize will get you?
It's a start. I've produced lines with less, but I'll definitely need to find alternative sources of funding.
What was it really like behind the scenes?
More mundane than you'd think. We mostly slept, worked, and talked about sex. We made up a song about a monkey. There was a very vulgar vibe, too, which of course we couldn't show on TV.
If you hadn't won, who should have?
It's not up to me to rewrite history.
Why do you think you won?
Because I'm so f--king cool.