American Swimmer/Model/Fashion Designer,
Photo by Tommy Synnamon
Jack Mackenroth grew up in a Suburb of Seattle, Washington called Bellevue where he quickly began to get involve with many activities. In fact, Jack reveals in this exclusive interview with JC Interview Page that he and his family were the “activities family”. A former pre-med major, who later on graduated with a double degree in Fine Arts and Sociology, Jack has enjoyed an enriching and successful career including being an American swimmer, model, and fashion designer.
Jack was also featured as one of the premiere fashion designers on the hit Lifetime series (formally on Bravo) Project Runway in Season four. What is most remarkable about Jack Mackenroth is his strength, courage, and tenacious attitude that he possesses that Junior’s Cave finds most inspiring. In this candid interview with our Webzine, Jack speaks about his humble beginnings, his family, his career, his projects, and how he is staying and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with HIV.
Isaac: Hi Jack, I wanted to first wish a wonderful day. Let’s get started with the interview. Let’s talk about your background. You are from Washington State. Elaborate a little about your upbringing in Seattle, Washington.
Jack: I grew up in a Suburb of Seattle called Bellevue. It was a decent childhood. We didn’t have a lot of money and my parents divorced when I was 8 so that was a bit traumatic. By me mom is a superstar and she did a great job of raising me and my brother and sister on her own. We were the “activities family”. I was always doing some activity. We would swim before and after school, and then I also played soccer (so painfully bad) and took piano lessons. I took art classes in the summers and for awhile I was also on a diving team. She wanted us to be well rounded and exhausted apparently. I don’t have a relationship with my father.
Isaac: I read in your bio that you were a total club kid (me too). Since you did not have any money while growing up, you begin altering clothing to fit your style. What life lessons did you learn from being in the club scene?
Jack: Lessons?… Hmmmm! Well, I learned to be creative in so many ways. I made my own fake ID at 17 so I got into all the clubs. I had NO money so I befriended all the doormen, bartenders and other club kids so I could get everything for free. I also learned how to make a kick ass outfit on a budget. I also did a lot of my experimenting with drugs back then. I had fun, but eventually I learned the hard lesson that drugs turn ugly and lead you nowhere and that your “drug/club” friends are not really your friends.
Isaac: How did that time in the club scene helped you shape your own style for fashion?
Jack: Well, I don’t know how much it shaped my current style but it taught me to be incredibly observant and fashion obsessed. We were always trying to look more fabulous than one another so I came up with some pretty outrageous costumes. I had some major fashion faux-pas back in the day. However, it helped me develop my technique. Although my aesthetic has changed dramatically–the groundwork was all laid in the early years.
Isaac: At one time, you were a pre-med major at the University of California, Berkeley but after two years you decided to switch major. You went on to later graduate with a double degree in Fine Arts and Sociology. What was the main reason why you decided not to pursue a degree in medicine? Jack: HAHAHA. It’s funny because most people don’t believe that I was Pre-med for 2 years. I was on the friggin Dean’s list!! I managed to do that while still going out at least 4 nights a week. Oh to be 20 again.
I come from a very medical family. My mother was a Registered Nurse
and my father was a doctor and there are several doctors in my extended family. I was the first born child so it was just sort of assumed that I would follow the same path. I took tons of AP science classes in high school and thought my future was all planned out. But after 2 years at Berkeley, I loved the curriculum but I hated my classmates. I thought “Are these the people I want to spend the rest of my life working with?” At the time, I was also taking a ton of art classes as electives and I LOVED them and all the other cool kids in my classes. So after my sophomore year, I called up my mom and told her I was switching my major. I had told her I was gay about 8 months before so after that big news this paled in comparison.
Isaac: You worked as a fitness and fashion model through the 1990s. What have been some of your favorite past shoots you done?
Jack: I did some cool stuff for Versace in Milan back in about 1993. I lived in a model apartment owned by the agency (WhyNot) with 5 other straight models. They were pigs. We were all kids, and all they ever did was talk about tits and sports and getting drunk. EWWWW.
The fitness shoots came a little bit later once I started going to the gym. I remember one in particular for Men’s Health–or was it Men’s Fitness? I forget. Anyway–we were working with dumbbells and barbells and I was using really heavy weights. The photographer kept making me do all these exercises dozens of times. It was like a 4 hour non-stop workout with make-up on. I couldn’t get out of bed for 2 days afterward.
Isaac: Who were some of your favorite photographers you enjoyed working with and why?
Jack: You know I never really worked with super famous photographers. I was just a working model–not a Christy Turlington. I had meetings with Steven Meisel and Bruce Weber but I was not what they were looking for at the time. I did work with Richard Avedon for Versace but I was among a bunch of other guys and when he works it’s a huge production so we didn’t really hang out although he was very nice.
Jack Mackenroth all greasy–side view photo by Franklouis.com
Isaac: You have been successful as an American Swimmer. What has the most enjoyable aspect about being an American Swimmer?
Jack: Well first and foremost it keeps me mentally and physically balanced. I also met my best friend through swimming, 1984 Olympic gold medalist Bruce Hayes. It’s just something I have done ever since I was 6, and I suck at every other sport so I really love it. I love competing and luckily I’m pretty good at it so it’s fun to win medals and set records.
Isaac: You also have appeared in the Gay Games and won a Gold Medal. Do you consider yourself competitive? What do you enjoy most about sports?
Jack Mackenroth at Outgames — Photo by Mark Burrows
Jack: Yeah I’m a huge supporter of gay athletics. I’m a gay athletic supporter. Ba-dum-bah. I think it’s important to show that gay people are really diverse and do all the same things that non-gay people do. It helps breakdown stereotypes.
I also love the camaraderie at gay sporting events. The Gay Games and Outgames are MASSIVE events. It’s fun to meet people who have common goals and have been working hard to achieve them other than lifting weights to look good at a circuit party (Although that’s nice too). I have been a Gay Games participant since I was 20 in 1990. The next games will be in Cologne next summer.
Isaac: One of your biggest gigs was when you were featured as one of the premiere fashion designers of Project Runway. Let’s talk about your time at Project Runway. What did you learn about yourself as a Fashion Designer while on the show?
Jack: Well, I learned more about the inner working of TV than I did about myself as a designer. I had already been working in the industry for over 15 years so I was fairly seasoned. I knew I was decisive and good at time management, which is crucial for the show. I did learn that I am good at maintaining my wits under pressure. Believe me–that whole experience was a hot mess!!
Jack Mackenroth on the Front Cover of Positively Aware mag. Photo by Franklouis.com
Isaac: You were doing well on the show but you had to remove yourself from the series after you fell ill? How difficult of decision was it for you to leave the series especially when you were doing so well?
Jack: It wasn’t difficult at all. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t heart wrenching. I knew I needed to seek off set medical attention and I was also exposing all the cast and crew to a very dangerous bacterium (MRSA). We worked in very close quarters and filmed an episode every 2 days so there was really no choice but to leave. I cried for about 5 hours that day. It sucked ass.
Isaac: As a person living with HIV, how important is it for you to stay active, healthy, and in shape?
Jack: I think it’s very important. Even moderate exercise is proven to release endorphins which improve your mental state. I choose to be very muscular because I was a skinny kid who got pushed around a lot and being big and strong helps me feel mentally strong as well. I just try to take care of my body in its entirety. I also want to be a role model for the HIV+ community so I try to walk the walk.
Isaac: what do you want to tell other people living with HIV about the quality of life?
Jack: There are some really great HIV treatments available and everyone reacts differently to medication but there is something out there that is effective for just about everyone living with HIV. That’s a discussion each person needs to have with their physician but quality of life should not be an issue.
Isaac: For those people who would like to more about HIV or get involve with an organization, what information or advice would you like to give them?
Jack: Well there is a ton of information on the Internet. You can visit Livingpositivebydesign.comLivingpositivebydesign.com (my HIV education program partnership with Merck) or other great sites like, theBody.com, AIDSMEDS.com which will all refer you to a bevy of great organizations.
Jack Mackenroth and Ciara for Fashion News Live
Isaac: If you had an opportunity to work on another series like Project Runway, would you be up for the offer? Why or why not?
Jack: Yes. I would love to do something like that again. I met some lifelong friends on that show. Plus, it was fun as hell!! It was like being in this crazy creative bubble. I have actually been doing a lot of work in TV since the show. I love it.
Isaac: What is next for Jack Mackenroth?
Jack: Well, I finished a pilot with Kevin Christiana that I produced which we are now shopping around. I start shooting another TV pilot in November. I am also co-hosting with Rocco Gaglioti on Fashionnewslive.com, so I do interviews with fashion designers and celebs. It’s really fun. I’m continuing my HIV work with Living Positive by Design and the POZIAM radio show which I do with Robert Breining and Jeromy Dunn. It’s on every Sunday at 9pm EST. Listeners can tune in on blogtalkradio.com/poziam. And I still design when I have time–which is almost never. I’m sure there is more but my brain is like Swiss cheese these days. I need an assistant–anyone?
Isaac: Where can fan connect with you online?
Isaac: Final words from Jack Mackenroth…
Jack: Work it out lady!!!