Archive for September, 2008

Designer Lives Positive by Dan Renzi

Posted in The Fierceness on September 27, 2008 by jackmax2
Stitching together fashion and HIV education
SEP. 25, 2008

Jack Mackenroth entered the world of pop culture as a contestant on Bravo TV’s “Project Runway.” He was embraced quickly as a fan favorite, both for his sharp design skills and his refreshing, optimistic demeanor. (The pecs and biceps didn’t hurt his appeal, either.)   Then he came out as being HIV-positive—a first for the show, and a topic that has been rarely discussed on reality-TV since Pedro Zamora in the mid-1990’s.

Unfortulately his role on the show was short lived: during taping of the program he developed a case of MRSA, “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,” a highly-contagious (but not HIV-related) staph infection, in his nose and upper lip.  As a result, he bowed out of the competition to receive treatment; but his legacy remains, both as a beloved contestant from the show and as an advocate for the HIV+ community.

Mackenroth is now the spokesperson for a national HIV/AIDS educational campaign, called “Living Positive By Design.” Sponsored in part by drug manufacturer Merck, the Blade spoke with Mackenroth about the campaign during his stop in Fort Lauderdale for the 2008 US Conference on AIDS.

Tell me about “Living Positive By Design.”

It’s a really great educational program revolving around HIV/AIDS, that speaks to the HIV-positive community. I talk about how I designed my life, and how I went about facing this illness on my own. I don’t think there’s a lot of role models who are speaking about it, so the program is a method to get people talking about it.

How is the program structured?

We give people a loose road map to manage their disease, by having an open discourse with their doctor, knowing that there are lots of treatment options out there. I was diagnosed over 19 years ago, and the outlook at the time and the treatments available were very bleak.  But in order to cope, I quickly partnered with a doctor—the same doctor I still have—and I’ve been lucky, I’ve been healthy.   I know that’s not always the case, I don’t want to paint a picture as being glamorous, like “You can be me if you follow these steps!”  But hopefully for most people it’s a manageable disease.  You just have to take the responsibility of owning it.

With all the progress in treating HIV, you would think people would be more comfortable talking about it.

There’s still a lot of shame around the disease, which is unfortunate.  I would use stronger language if I wasn’t being interviewed. People are in denial, they won’t get tested, they won’t go to the doctor, they won’t tell their sexual partners—or anyone—because they are embarrassed or ashamed.

But there was a time when HIV/AIDS was in the forefront of the news.  Why don’t people talk about it anymore?

There’s not such a sense of urgency, because people see it as a manageable disease, which we are saying to a certain degree it can be. The messages years ago hit home with us because people were dying a lot.  My boyfriend at the time passed away in 1996.  When you see all of that and witness it, you listen to the messages, and you take it very seriously.  I think now, with this generation, they don’t see that.

Do you think race plays a role? This used to be a disease of gay white men, but now the new infections have shifted to ethnic minorities.  Critics say that has a lot to do with the loss of  public interest.

Well… I live in Harlem, in New York, and in the ethnic minority communities, the issue is the stigma.  They won’t talk about it, they often won’t talk about being gay—period.  Some have girlfriends!  If you won’t talk about your sexuality, how are you going to talk about a disease you may have?

So how do you eliminate that stigma?

There’s just so many HIV-positive people who don’t talk about being positive.  Even at my last job no one knew, and I’m so honest and open about it. But I worked with all straight people, and although it’s not a gay disease, we’re still disproportinatley affected by it, and if I said ‘Oh, I’m HIV-positive,” then everyone would freak out.  But that’s because we don’t talk about it. I think we really need to start a dialogue, on an international level.

When you were on Project Runway, you were quoted as saying “I’m HIV positive …

and I’ve never been healthier.”  But then you had to quit the show because of an infection.  Do you find people doubt that statement?

The MRSA had nothing to do with me being HIV-positive.  Anyone can get it, and it is highly contagious.  And I monitor my t-cells every three months, and the normal range is 800-1500, and mine has always been around 900.  And my viral load is undetectable. Like I said, I’ve been really lucky.


Project Runway 2008 Recap: Rock ‘N Runway

Posted in The Fierceness with tags on September 26, 2008 by jackmax2

We quickly learn that the designers will be dressing each other based on a music genre. A season 5 twist on a season 3 challenge. Suede has to make Jerell a rock and roll ensemble, Kendley has to hip-hopify Leanne, Korto has to punk out Suede (punk not punch), Jerell has to pop Kendly and Leanne has to color Korto country! WHEW! Off to the races. Kendley mentions pop is cheesy. I guess she should know. I love pop music. I’m listening to The Pussycat dolls as I type. “When I grow up I wanna be famous.. I wanna have boobies” Oh—I already have those.   Anyway.  Leanne gives us a gift when she “raps” (I use the term loosely) about Kendley and relays that she hopes it her outfit doesn’t look fifties like everything else Kendly does. Hilare on many levels. Basically they should have just called this the “Make Kendley Look Like a Brat” episode. They do it well.

Off to mood and back to the workroom. Snap.

Everyone starts working and Korto uses the term ‘jank‘ which I adore. It means jacked up. Like, ” when faced with designing a hip-hop outfit, Kendly is lost, sarcastic and altogether janky.” I think Tim should incorporate it into his multifarious vocabulary.

Suede notes that he is a trained cellist and pianist so he has a keen knowledge of music. This challenge should be a breeze. All I heard in that mention is that Suede has another career to fall back on just in case. Note to readers: Whenever someone on a reality show mentions they are going to “rock it” or they are the sure winner get ready for the “AUF”. It’s the harbinger of reality death. Jerrel turns Kendly into a hoochie and she looks kinda hot. I think she secretly likes it. She sure don’t mind the attention.

Tim comes in and gives everyone the once over. He likes Jerell’s silhouette which I thought was hysterical because it is the polar opposite of Tim’s personal style. But Tim has vision. Kendley take note. Tim likes Leanne’s country look OK and thinks Korto needs to amp it up. Then we get to Suede. Tim is silent but insists he is just “taking it all in.” Translation: eww. We move on to the delusion that is Kendley. OK we need a moment of silence for the “mom jeans”. I live in Harlem which is heavily influenced by hip hop and I have never, ever seen anyone in high waisted jeans. Actually the guys usually have their pants belted around their thighs which is equally upsetting. Regardless–It’s all OK because “What does Tim know about hip-hop anyway?” Maybe he doesn’t but I bet LL Cool J might. OUCH. Sorry pop-tart.

As usual they are all working up to the last minute trying to fit garments and trying outfits on themselves. It’s a hot pocket up in the work room. Once again Kendley and Suede both mention they think they might win. GONG.

Back to LL. Wow he is hot. Smokin’ hot. Did I say hot? Unfortunately a teeny bit of his hotness wore off when I discovered he is doing a hip-hop clothing line for Sears. So in case you need a shower curtain, a dishwasher and a hoodie all in one place you’re all set. Buzzkill.

Leanne looks like a hooker but Kendley blames Leanne for not understanding the hip-hop attitude. How ironic. It doesn’t help that they cue the sad ogre music when Leanne walks onto the runway. Poor Kendley. Bless her heart.
Suede is a hot, punk, clown, tranny mess. Korto’s outfit for him was well designed and innovative but take it from a former club kid–that was all costume. No real punk would ever wear that. ‘A-‘ for effort however. Kendley looks like a vixen all made up. I could have done without the purple vest. B+.for Jerrel. Basically they are all just OK. I’m busy staring at LL Cool J.  I might have to go to Sears and buy a jumpsuit.

Anyway Korto wins and Suede is sent home a sad, sad clown. Suede needs to touch up his lipliner. Suede needs his colors done. Suede needs Avon. Oh well, At least he has his cello.

Jack Mackenroth is a Project Runway Season 4 designer based out of Harlem New York. He Is currently working on a “redesign” TV show with fellow alum Kevin Christiana. They are working with Monument TV and Film and Hearst Entertainment. They hope to begin shooting this winter. Jack has also just launched an HIV education campaign called Living Positive By Design which aims to combat the stigma associated with HIV.
He is also working on a bunch of crazy design projects like making a Wonder Woman costume out of chocolate and a couture wedding gown out of 4000 condoms for a charity event. Check out this website for updates.

Here’s the US Weekly edited version.

Living Positive by Design Officially Launches!

Posted in The Fierceness on September 25, 2008 by jackmax2

Hey Kids! I’m back from the beginning of my whirlwind tour promoting my new HIV education initiative supported by Merck, Living Positive by Design and it was an amazing success! I’m trying to start blogging on a semi-regular basis so fingers crossed. I heart sleep deprivation! The campaign launched at the U.S. Conference on AIDS [link] and I couldn’t be more excited about how it went!! After catching a red-eye -not cute- I arrived at the conference which was in Ft. Lauderdale, so obviously I was in a thong and sarong (so-wrong) for most of the event. Actually I walked in the opening fashion show and they wanted me to wear a gold thong and angel wings which was quickly nixed. As if.

My first speech was to launch Living Positive by Design, which is a program to combat stigma associated with with HIV and inspire my poz comrades to think positively (pun intended?) and forge on while still keeping their health in check. It’s really important to keep people abreast of what it’s like to live with HIV TODAY and how treatment can help poz individuals live a long healthy life by reducing their viral load. So get out there and get tested if you haven’t already so you can be safe and start living healthy! GO!! Anyhoo, after being positive for almost 20 years I have a good handle on the issues surrounding living with HIV and it feels nice to be doing something to help others like me and be part of a solution in a bigger way. And it was an honor of course to join the other amazing speakers, like Dázon Dixon Diallo from Sister Love [link] and Care Resource [link].

I met a ton of peeps and had a chance to get out some great interviews, like with Dan Renzi, from the Real World Miami, check out his blog here [link], he’s a peach and we had a blast! I’m sure a bunch of these interviews will be hitting the net soon so be on the lookout!

On the closing day I spoke at a lunch put on by the National Minority AIDS council (NMAC) [link] and it was truly a moving day. I brought in some slides from my past and present and shared about my experiences being poz and being a role model. The audience feedback was great and hopefully I inspired some people because they definitely inspired me.

The conference was exhausting but totes worth it, next time all you readers should come, I’ll put you in my carry-on!

The Living Positive by Design tour continues in Hot’lanta, GA Oct 16th-19th. Be there.

Then wednesday night Kevin Christiana and I went to the spectacular Pose For a Cure [link] show in midtown hosted by none other than the fabulous Melanie B. Spice up your life? Yes please! She is gorger than gorge! The event was a fashion show to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, put on by The Susan G. Komen Organization [link]. I chatted with ProRun season 2 winner, Chloe Dao who looked fabulous, of course! She is busy with her store and various projects, including working with QVC so check that out. The hilarious Robert Verdi was also in attendance and I even got some one on one time with the gracious Mel B who pretended that she knew who I was. So gracious!

Everything at Pose for the Cure was pink pink pink: the dresses, the drinks, the desserts, the rosy cheeks of New York’s tipsy fashionistas! Elle Woods would have given it major snaps. Chloe donated 2 scrumptious dresses and ProRun season 1 winner, Jay McCarroll, donated two totally cute bags to the event to be auctioned. You yourself can even bid on them and other items from the show or buy an adorable tee like Mel B is wearing at [link].

Now I’m off to design a Wonder Woman costume out of chocolate and a wedding gown out of 4000 Condoms. Choco-condom-couture is the new must-have for fall!!