From hero to zero in Eleven Minutes

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Posted February 18, 2009 in Film

Eleven minutes refers to the average length of a fashion runway show, but here it could also stand in for the amount of fame designer Jay McCarroll knows he’s already burned through as the first season winner of Project Runway. McCarroll, a beaming, goateed drama queen, was crowned the next name in fashion and then cast aside, to hear him tell it. In truth, McCarroll did his career the disservice of rejecting their $100,000 start up funds and internship at Banana Republic as a point of misguided pride. Directors Michael Selditch and Robert Tate skim over that fact in their documentary about McCarroll’s frantic efforts to put up his first show during New York Fashion Week before the time runs out on his fame. Which is odd, because while they are shooting for some of that rah rah underdog cheer, there’s no mistaking that McCarroll is a self-defeating prima donna. Though he’ll admit to every camera that he doesn’t know what he’s doing—telling the directors that he can only put ideas on paper, not produce, market, distribute, and merchandise a line of clothing—to his much more experienced handlers, he’s snappy and stubborn and convinced he’s on the right course.  

 

What becomes clear is the personality that makes McCarroll the perfect reality show star is what ultimately contributes to the downfall of his debut line; Karl Lagerfeld has earned the right to be imperious, but a novice designer needs humility. On some level, McCarroll nearly seems to know that—he’s openly aware of his limited shelf life and low status among serious people in the fashion community. The parts that work in this doc are the early scenes that examine the hurricane collision of media attention on a tender talent that’s buffeted by hype and pressure. (Mark Jacobs’ first collection wasn’t nearly as scrutinized, McCarroll notes wearily.) Project Runway gave McCarroll a name. It also gave him a flood of interested individuals—but not store—buyers and hate mail from people who want him to have a heart attack and die, all months before his first stiletto hits the runway.  

 

The collection, inspired McCarroll says, by vaginal waste, ’60s architecture, and hot air balloons, is a grab bag of color block hoodies, Bermuda shorts, and striped dresses that pales underneath the buzz. Brighter are the words coming from McCarroll’s mouth. “In order to finance my damn collection, I have to sell crack cocaine on the street,” he gripes to a radio host. There’s some technical interest in seeing just how hard it is to make thirty outfits—a button idea alone goes through eight pairs of hands between New York and China. The drama is undercut somewhat by the lens of distance—this was shot in 2006, and since then, McCarroll’s never had another show and only been in the spotlight when New York Magazine recently confirmed that he was semi-homeless (the fashionable couch-surfing kind). But overall, this is a documentary that, like its subject, squanders its potential. If only it had followed up with a shot of McCarroll’s present day online store, where the wild dresses of his imagination have now been replaced by ill-fitting tee-shirts with a screenprinted image of his face. 


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