No field attracts eccentrics like the cloistered world of the fashion industry, so it was only natural that Project Runway, Bravo’s wildly popular reality competition show, would nurture their idiosyncrasies all the more. But in five seasons, the cameras have never loved a character quite as much as Season One winner Jay McCarroll, a brash, uncompromising outsider from small-town Pennsylvania who provided a never-ending font of bitchy one-liners. Subsequent seasons have featured plenty of made-for-TV goofballs, but McCarroll’s personality never seemed like shtick, and his wit was often a cover for an underlying restlessness and insecurity. A couple years after the season ended, filmmakers Michael Selditch and Rob Tate revisited McCarroll for a solid hourlong Bravo special called Project Jay, which found him struggling to break into New York fashion. Now Selditch and Tate have teamed up again with McCarroll on Eleven Minutes, a documentary about his efforts to showcase an original line during New York’s Fashion Week at Bryant Park.
Freed from Bravo’s cookie-cutter formula, Selditch and Tate attempt something closer to Unzipped, the vastly entertaining 1995 documentary about Isaac Mizrahi and the circus-like atmosphere of being a professional designer. But here, the chaos gets the better of them, despite having a strong ballast in McCarroll, who’s still expert at working the camera to his benefit. What’s most striking about Eleven Minutes is the sheer amount of effort that goes into a show of that magnitude, quite apart from work involved in designing and executing a coherent, commercially viable line. McCarroll’s collection, inspired by retro-futurist architecture, plays nicely into his aesthetic, which embraces prints and different shades of the same color. Whether it’s trendy doesn’t seem to matter to McCarroll, who seems perfectly willing to follow his muse off a cliff. Selditch and Tate try to manufacture some drama in his dealings with publicists, but Eleven Minutes is better when the cameras stay on McCarroll and allow him to voice his extreme ambivalence about being a reality-TV creation, and about the industry and his place within it. As ever, he plays the consummate outsider to perfection.