DOM: Let’s start from the beginning, you were raised in Seattle with your mom, brother and sister, right? How it was your childhood?
My childhood was OK. My parents were divorced when I was very young so my mom struggled a lot to make sure we had everything we needed. We didn’t have very much money but I think that added to my creativity in the long run. If I wanted cool clothes I had to make them myself so I taught myself to sew when I was 13. I think my first few outfits were pretty frightening but I got better. I also used to cut my own hair. I had some really bad hair disasters. My mother also put us in a ton of activities so she would know where we were when she was at work. I can thank her for making me the well rounded adult I am today. I don’t have a relationship with my father.
DOM: When and how did you come out of the closet to your friends and family?
It’s actually a funny story. I came home for the summer from college and I started going out to the gay clubs when I was 18 (thank god for fake ID). After a few weeks there were a bunch of boys calling my mom’s house but if she would answer they would hang up because we were all so scared back then. I was also very secretive about my life so my mother confronted me and said, ” What’s going on with you and all these secret phone calls? Are you a drug dealer?” I said “No, I’m not a drug dealer, I’m gay.” She was a little shocked but I know she was happy I wasn’t dealing drugs. HA!!
DOM: You studied Fine Arts and Sociology. What was like the university years for you? Too much partying?
Well my first college was the University of California at Berkeley which is a very competitive school here in the US. My first 2 years I studied to be a doctor. Then I realized I wasn’t going to be happy being in medicine for the rest of my life so I switched my majors to Fine Arts and Sociology. I was always really into studying but I really started going out to clubs and making crazy outfits during my 3rd and fourth year at Berkeley. Honestly, it did take a toll on my grades a little bit but it was fun as hell.
DOM: Why did you decided to move to New York in 1991?
I always knew I wanted to live in New York ever since I was a kid in Seattle. I loved art and fashion but I didn’t realize it could be a career because in the cities I had lived in it was seen as more of a hobby, not a vocation. Then I learned about Parsons School of Design in New York. When I got accepted I screamed like a girl. I never looked back.
DOM: You went to the Parsons School of Design there, to study fashion design. Tell us about that.
Attending Parsons was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was much harder than UC Berkeley which is one of the top universities in the US. I think they gave us a massive amount of work that was virtually impossible to complete to see if we had the balls for the fashion world. Working in fashion design can be grueling and they wanted to prepare us for that. During Christmas break of our junior (3rd) year we have to do 200 fashion illustrations in 3 weeks. It’s supposed to teach you to draw quickly because you have no choice. It works. I never slept.
Also at Parsons I met some of the most talented people I have ever known.
DOM: After Parson, you opened “Jack”. Tell us more this store.
Well Parsons grooms its students to launch their own line right out of school but I was too scared to do that so I used money I had save working for the last 10 years and opened a menswear store in New York in 1994. I carried cutting edge designers like Gaultier, John Richmond, Deisel and a bunch of young local designers. I loved creating, designing and merchandising the store but when it came down to the business side of it all I got bored by the daily grind. The store was open for a couple years but then I decided to go back into design.
DOM: In the 90s, you also worked for Tommy Hilfiger, is that right? How it is for a new fashion designer to work in a major, giant brand? How is the work?
Well the Tommy Hilfiger design machine is massive. There are multiple divisions and hundreds of designers. It was a great experience to get to know the business side of design but it was not very creative. Plus when a design company is that large, by the time your design idea actually reaches production it is probably nothing like your original concept. It was a little frusterating not to have control over your own ideas.
DOM: Also in the 90s, you worked as a model and appeared in variety of magazines,. How was this experience?
As a fitness and fashion model through the 1990’s, I appeared in numerous magazines, such as Paper, DNR, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Journal, Genre, Blue, Envy and several others. Since the airing of “Project Runway,” I have been on the covers’ of POZ, HIVplus, HX, Instinct, Lavender, Gloss, Ambiente and David magazine. Also my fashion illustrations have been featured in DNR, Paper, Nylon, Elle, as well as in ad campaigns for Tommy Hilfiger and Sushi Clothing. As ong as people keep asking me to do it I’ll keep voguing!
DOM: Now let’s talk sports… When did you start to swim?
I learned to swim when I was about 3 because my mom was afraid we would drown because there is so much water around the coastline where I grew up and she can’t swim at all. I started racing when I was 6 and I really got competitive when I was about 10.
DOM: How many titles, medals and records do you have?
HAHA! I have no idea. I hold one national record in the medley relay from the Gay Games in 2006. I swam the 50 meter breaststroke leg of the relay.
I know I hold some local records in New york but I don’t keep track.
As far as medals go I have a ton. I just throw them in a bag and never really look at them again. It’s more about winning the medal than actually wanting a piece of hardware. Although I am attracted to shiny things. Like sequins.
DOM: You have been in the Gay Games before and now you about to go to Copenhagen to the OutGames 2009. What happen in this competitions? How do you see them? Do you think it’s funner than being at the Olympics?
I have been in the last 5 Gay Games and I am currently training for the Outgames at the end of July. Swimming is one of the biggest sports at these events. The competeition is very serious but we also have a lot of fun. The big difference between the gay events and the olympics (besides all the gays) is that they are all inclusive. Anyone can compete who wants to so there is not the crazy pressure that there is at the Olympics. It’s more fun. Who doesn’t love hot men in speedos?
DOM: How are you preparing for the OutGames?
Right now I am swimming about 5 times a week for 2 hours a day and then I also lift weights at the gym.
DOM: Now, tell us about Project Runaway. Also, from the beginning. How did it all start? Were you invited or selected?
To try out for Project Runway I had to go through a long audition process. First I filled out a REALLY long application then I had to go to a casting where I met with a bunch of producers. You have to bring your portfolio and 3 original looks that you designed and made yourself. I made it through each level of interviews and then finally I met the panel with Tim Gunn. I guess they liked me enough to send me to the next step. Next I had to make a 4 minute video about myself and do a photo essay of my life. Then I took a 700 question psychological exam to make sure I wansn’t psycho. Finally I had to see an actual psychiatrist who evaluated me and for the last step they hired a private investigator to to a total background check to make sure we didnt have dirty secrets in our past. I had done a nude photoshoot in my past so I had to send the photos to a total stranger. Hilarious! Then I just waited and waited and waited. I got the call that I made the show about a month later and I almost peed my pants.
DOM: Is it stressful to be in a competition like that? Or being taped 24 hours a day? Did you make friends there?
The competition is stressful but I decided ahead of time that I would just have fun and enjoy the experience. I made great friends. I see Kevin Christiana every week and I talk to Kit and Christian all the time. Being on camera all the time is a little strange at first but I got used to it very quicklly. Plus I was really focused on my designs and with such a short amount of time to work, I basically ignored the cameras.
DOM: And what about the judges? Were they nice or just sometimes?
They were all really nice to me. I was lucky becasue I was never in the bottom 3 and I won a challenge so I got really great comments from the judges. Other people were not so lucky. But I love all of them.
DOM: You were always open about your HIV status. When did you found out that you were positive?
I found out I was HIV positive when I was 20–In 1989. It took me a while to adjust to it and back then there were not all the great treatments there are now so I thought I would die in a few years. But when my health stayed very stable I just got used to being positive and started talking openly about it.
DOM: You have a very strong work with awarness in the USA. Can you tell us more about that? How does your project Living Positive By Design works?
I have started an HIV education campaign called Living Positive by Design (livingpositivebydesign.com
), sponsored by Merck, which aims to fight the stigma assocaited with HIV by visibility and open discussion. We also speak directly to HIV + individuals about partenring with a doctor they trust and getting on a tolerable treatment regimen with low or no side effects. The ultimate goal of any HIV+ individual is to maintain an undetectable viral load and keep your t-cell count as high as possible. We need to advocate for our own health care and the stigma and fear keep people from being honest with their doctors, families and partners. That needs to stop.
DOM: Jack, did you ever found real love? Do you prefer to be single or married? What do you think about gay marriage?
Well I just turned 40 (the new 30) so I am looking to settle down. I prefer to be married now. I have been in love before but it didn’t work out for different reasons. I am currently dating someone. We’ll see…….
DOM:Would you like to have kids?
DOM: Do you consider yourself a happy guy today? Can you send a message to the massive people that do not?
I am generally a very happy person. Of course I have hard days as well but I try to give myself a break when I am feeling blue. We can’t be perfect every day. I just try to do the best I can one day at a time. I also remind myself that when I feel bad, helping someone else can make me feel a lot better. I think that is a great message for everyone.
DOM: Do you now Brazil? If you don’t, how do you imagine it?
I LOVE Brazil. I have been to Sao Paulo and Rio. It was beautiful and Brazil has some of the most gorgeous people in the world. I wish I spoke portuguese
DOM: And also, at last, how do you imagine your future?
I just found out that I will be developing a design TV show with Monument TV and Film and Project Runway alumn, Kevin Christiana. We have been pitching various reincarnations of the show and are finally inking a deal, so that is very exciting!!!! By the time you read this I will have already shot the pilot episode! Also just signed on as the east coast correspondent for Fashion News Live (myFNL.com) so I will be covering all things fashion in New York. And my latest project is co-hosting the internet radio show POZ I AM every Wednesday at 2 pm EST. Listeners can log onto blogtalkradio.com/poziamand hear the live stream anywhere in the world or download mp3s. It’s a great show and source of information for the HIV community. All of that is keeping me really busy right now. I want to do more designing but right now I just don’t have the time. Hopefully the TV show will take off and I can develop a brand based on what we design on the show. Beyond that I would love to be married, living in New York with my dog (which I don’t have yet). You can always find out more about what I am doing at jackmackenroth.com