AMBIENTE MAGAZINE ARTICLE
Project Jack Mackenroth | Redesigning Reality
by JC Alvarez, Exclusively for Ambiente
During his stint on the hit BRAVO reality show Project Runway Jack Mackenroth decidedly let more than just the cameras into his world, he gave up a small chunk of his existence for the opportunity to realize a facet of his life’s ambition. And little did he anticipate that making his mark on the reality show spectrum would have the impact that it did! Without really attempting to, Mackenroth sparked a lightning rod of controversy — and set himself up for post-Runway celebrity!
I asked about his experience living inside the bubble of reality television. In our celebrity obsessed culture, turning the camera on ourselves uninhibitedly has seemed the easiest way to garner some attention. Jack approached his experience on Project Runway in much the same way he’s faced all life’s
adversities — head on, fearlessly and with no expectations.
“We dropped off our luggage and they went through everything…we weren’t aloud any music, reading material of any kind…not even a Danielle Steelenovel!” The purpose, of course, is to keep the show’s production “evergreen” –timeless in order to survive well into the world of syndication. He continued to describe to me, with roller-coaster-fast-quickness the first couple of days of production. “They (meaning the producers) didn’t want us to have any otherinfluences except for the other contestants — and we weren’t aloud to talk to any of the production staff –we could only talk to each other!”
There was an extreme importance to the producers to immediately begin to
establish the show characters early on; this was something he wasn’t entirely
comfortable with. Knowing full well the power of the media and
the perception it might create especially to a viable audience. “I knew
that I didn’t want to come off as being bitchy. I’m not mean spirited
— it’s all part of my humor.”
“I don’t think the public understands the time constraints we’re under.” To the audience tuning into the design competition, is an hour of poor escapism, at least until the next episode! The audience wants to believe that these type-A, eagerly talented, and (mostly) over-the-top personalities are able to create
magic before the clock runs out on their design challenge and often times
produce the most breathtaking art out of the most unusual materials. It’s in the final moments when they prep their runway models to parade in front of Heidi Klum and the rest of the judges, to reveal their efforts, that we (the viewer) become the most engaged! When the fruits of their labor is realized and then judged — celebrated or trashed — before our eyes. We’ve not for one instance
assumed that the day hasn’t gone on without a single miscalculated stitch! It all appears so…seamless.
To anyone that is unfamiliar with the art of making television (and seriously
in this day and age of YouTube, there are very few individuals out there that
don’t understand what goes into the making of good tv — you need to have drama!
Jack admitted, “they want the stress…they often instigated it.” Although the
purpose of the fashion competition is to discover and define the latest fashion
icon, the reality show thrived on creating an environment for it’s cast of
characters, that was a near-pressure cooker situation! All for the sake of
capturing the best moments…and we, the audience digested every minute
What set Jack apart from the rest of his class of competitors wasn’t just his unique approach to his fashion and design concepts. Mackenroth had resigned himself to the entire experience of being on television after realizing the show’s true purpose: “Their ultimate goal is to get the best tv show. Some of the other designers had even considered staging a revolt upon realizing that it wasn’t ‘real’!“ After accepting the concept that come what may, he had very little control over how he would be portrayed on camera, he settled into the experience. “I thought it was fun, and I made the most of it.”
But there are few people in our culture today that wouldn’t submit themselves
to the rigors of what Mackenroth experienced as a contestant on Project
Runway. Everyone is eager for their own15 minutes and would without
a second notion consider having their lives invaded and lived for the
consumption of a greedy audience. “You get used to it…having a camera all
up in your grill, but we’re not actors — you just get used to it.”
For all intents and purposes, I got the impression that Jack’s experience on
the show was undeniably different than perhaps some of his other cohorts. “By the second day…you’ve forgotten that they’re following you.” He just appeared a lot more relaxed of having participated in the entire process — as if it didn’t in the least surprise him at all. Mackenroth knew exactly what he was signing up for.
“I was very cognizant of the process,” and Jack insisted he had very little
control in manipulating the reality show animal, but knew how to orchestrate certain situations to his advantage. “I knew that even when it came to how I would be leaving. I knew it would be a very important moment in the show.” Jack left the show after developing a symptom of MRSA (or “staph”) a bacterial infection, and not at all associated with his HIV positive diagnosis. “I was very happy with it all, but it ended too quickly for me.”
The Seattle native, began to carve his niche attending the University of
California at Berkeley, with degrees in Fine Arts and Sociology. It was the
artistically eclectic environment at Berkeley that spurned Jack’s desire to
move out to New York City. Attending Parsons School of Design motivated the aspiring designer to pursue a career in fashion design. It wasn’t long before, Mackenroth opened up his own menswear shop in the West Village and called it, just “Jack”! Expanding on his own distinct style of fashion design, he accepted a position with Tommy Hilfiger, before transitioning back to menswear for the Levis brand Slates. “Everything that I’ve made in my life, I’ve made happen.” It wasn’t long before Jack landed himself on Season 4 of Project Runway.
The rest, most will say is history, but it’s not where Jack Mackenroth’s story
ends. For that matter it wasn’t even where his story began. Project Runway
was just one more stop along the ride that is the life of this ambitious entrepreneur.
Jack Mackenroth has used his various gifts and talents, among that adding his voice, to raise awareness about living positively with HIV. He has been living with his diagnosis since 1990 and whole heartedly accepted the responsibility that comes with that. By choosing to live openly, he’s challenged the stigma that is often associated with HIV/AIDS, and to look at Jack, he’s undoubtedly changed the face of living with HIV. He is the picture of health…perfectly handsome and rugged looking, with an amazingly powerful physique, that he is forces himself proudly to maintain because he is also a competitive swimmer.
Jack will be competing this year at the OUT Games in Copenhagen. “I’m training now for a meet the end of July. So I hardcore train everyday!” He specializes in the 50-Meter Breaststroke, which explains the man’s ample lower body strength (read: great ass) and his impressive upper-body proportions. “The best part is, that I’ll be swimming twice a day, and burning so many calories…I’ll be eating like 4 pizzas!” I’m sure everyone out there would be thrilled to hear that he indulges himself so gratuitously, but truly he takes his health and training very seriously and doesn’t over do it. The man is extremely disciplined…as if one couldn’t tell, but he’s good to himself and balances he’s training and healthy lifestyle as not to make it a burden. “I’m not an all-or-nothing person, but I do eat well and don’t really let myself go…I don’t drink, I don’t really have a sweet tooth. I don’t eat thatmany carbs. Only once in a while”, he adds with a smile.
Among his entrepreneurial credits is his work for “Living Positive by Design” A program sponsored by Merck which coordinates a nationwide effort to promote HIV and AIDS education though various campaigns that encourage awareness of the disease and it’s prevention through the art of design. Design being an integral aspect of what Jack is all about. He admits that whatever direction his future may take, he’ll always be a designer.
With this much going for himself, you would imagine that Jack’s cell phone
provider would be wishing they had never introduced the “everything plan” and that he just wouldn’t have enough roll-over minutes to matter! It’s nice though to assume that even this superman suffers his own kryptonite.
“I’m very unlucky in love,” Mackenroth admits, with candor albeit, but still a chad of notable remorse, but still a tilt of humor. “I even (dated) one that became a monk! Six months after we broke up, he went into a monastery…and he’s still a monk, today. But my last boyfriend was a very nice guy…he’s sweet, I still talk with him, but I don’t want to be in that situation.”
One would have imagined that with his charming personality (he is so well
spirited) and good looks (yes…all of him does look that good close up) and with the celebrity that he’s brought upon himself, Jack Mackenroth would have no problem filling his dance card. Jokingly Mackenroth added, “I’ll take anything! I thought there’d be star-fuckers out there…but, no!” All of us can relate though,regardless of whether or not we’ve assumed any amount of celebrity or notoriety– dating is tough! And often times it’s difficult for many to even scratch past thesurface of someone’s persona to get to the “real” person living inside – imagine it from Jack Mackenroth’s perception where he’s opted to live his life so openly, so publicly, that there’s very little that anyone doesn’t know about him. Certainly the perception becomes quite skewed, because there really is more to this man of steel than meets the eye.
After sitting with Jack for this interview, I realized there is still so much more
dimension to him than perhaps he’s even realized. He exudes a wonderfully
good-nature that is so inspiring. You can’t help but want to be in his
presence. “I’m an artist…I’m really into painting right now.” And you
just don’t know what to expect out of him! “I do wanna be in a horror movie
…and be killed; have my leg hacked off! I love horror movies.” And he gets a very impish joy out of admitting this to me…a very authentic, childish glee in perhaps one day realizing this nightmarish dream.
If attitude is everything, than Jack’s got that in spades! He’s also got a plan, the vision and the foresight to see exactly what opportunitieslay before him, and as far as obstacles…except for the occasional bump and bruise along the rough road to finding “Mr. Right”, there is nothing standing in his way that isn’t a challenge he’ll face with sharp wit, and honesty as his weapons.
And in the end…it’ll all just be part of his grand design.
Check out more about Jack Mackenroth by visiting his website at:
For more on “Living Positive by Design” goto: