Houston Chronicle Interview

By Joy Sewing


Menswear designer Jack Mackenroth appeared in Season 4 of Project Runway.

Project Runway has schooled us on more than the ups and downs of becoming a fashion designer.

The reality TV series, in which fashion designers are often challenged to design on a dime, offers lessons on frugal fashion, says Jack Mackenroth, who left midway through Season 5 last month after contracting a staph infection.

“A tailor should be your best friend,” he said over coffee at Hotel ZaZa. “You can take something with long sleeves and turn it into capped or puff sleeves.”

Mackenroth, who has been HIV positive for 20 years, was in town last week to promote Living Positive by Design, a national HIV initiative sponsored by Merck.

A menswear designer, Mackenroth says knowing how to sew was crucial for Project Runway, though many established designers don’t know how.

“The show ended up being a competition of skills — sewing, tailoring, draping, sketching, pattern making and knowing fabrications,” he said.

“If you were an indecisive designer, forget it. You had to think, ‘I have 16 hours to make this entire outfit. What do I need to edit?’ ”

He also said several of the show’s weekly challenges focused on frugal fashion — how to make two clothing pieces using just $15 or how to turn a jacket into a skirt.

“It was all about learning to work on a budget,” he said.

Mackenroth also offered these tips:

Shop resale. Consignment shops are a great place for deals. You can find barely worn designer items about half-price. “There’s no shame in wearing last season’s Prada!” he said.

Peruse the Web. Check out the Internet for tips on how to change your wardrobe on a dime. Google terms like “distressing denim” or search for do-it-yourself sites for ideas.

Focus on one inexpensive accessory. A sneaker lover, Mackenroth accessorizes his daily looks with one of 150 pairs in his closet. If you like sneakers, he advises, find a stylish pair that works well both in and out of the gym.

Don’t buy if you don’t need it. I have more clothes than God, so I’m not buying anything right now,” Mackenroth said.

“Don’t be afraid to get creative with your wardrobe whether you sew or not. You’d be surprise how cheap it is to create your own look.”


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