'Eleven Minutes': From 'Runway' To Real Life

Omahyra Mota  and Jay McCarroll i i

hide captionRunway To Success? Jay McCarroll discovers that TV fame doesn't always lead to rave reviews.

Regent Releasing
Omahyra Mota  and Jay McCarroll

Runway To Success? Jay McCarroll discovers that TV fame doesn't always lead to rave reviews.

Regent Releasing

Eleven Minutes

  • Directors: Michael Selditch,                   Robert Tate
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 103 minutes

Unrated: fashion and fabulousness

Project Runway makes for great television, but does it make for great fashion?

Every year, a troop of colorful, quippy contestants assemble to compete on the hit reality show, and every year they're given challenges designed less to discover the next Marc Jacobs or Miuccia Prada than to inspire compelling television. You've got five minutes to collect as many fruit peels from the garbage as you can, and six hours to turn them into a haute couture jumpsuit inspired by Beyonce. Make it work!

With its emphasis on creativity and craftsmanship, no matter how arbitrarily tested, Runway is one of the few reality shows that genuinely appeals to the imagination. But when push comes to shove, the success of the show is driven by personality — the bigger the better.

That's not to say the winners of Runway aren't talented — last year's winner, the impossibly young, irrepressibly catty Christian Siriano, was an obvious prodigy — it's just that their talent gets so inextricably tied up in showmanship that it becomes difficult to gauge how far the designers could actually make it in the fashion world.

Eleven Minutes, a documentary by Michael Selditch and Rob Tate, follows the efforts of Jay McCarroll, winner of the first Project Runway season, to produce his first real collection for New York's Fashion Week. ("Real" being a relative term here: The collection is funded by the Humane Society, who clearly see a marketing opportunity in McCarroll, and the cameras are once again there to record every move.)

McCarroll's aesthetic — a playful pop futurism — turned out some fun, memorable clothes on Runway, but nothing that was ever going to take Barneys by storm. His attitude, on the other hand, could blow the socks off half a dozen designers.

Funny, fragile, acerbic and irreverent, McCarroll is acutely aware of his outsider status and prone to trip over his own insecurities. Post-Runway, he rejected both the prize money and a deal with Banana Republic, apparently from lack of confidence. The tension of his relationship to the fashion world — and specifically how he earned his place in it — permeates Eleven Minutes, a movie whose title refers to the length of a runway show but also suggests a truncated allotment of Warhol's 15 minutes of fame.

Eleven Minutes plays like a C-list version of Unzipped, the wonderful 1995 documentary about Isaac Mizrahi's hilariously tortured efforts to produce a fall collection indebted to Nanook of the North. Inspired by the avant-garde futurism of Archigram, the visionary 1960s architectural group, McCarroll grapples to mount his show while negotiating with the desires and demands of assistants, publicists, sales agents, accessory designers and the press, as well as his own ambivalence and insecurities.

Neither the clothes nor the quotidian drama of their making are especially interesting. The true subject of Eleven Minutes, an inadvertently poignant cautionary tale, is the toll reality TV stardom can take on the psyche and ego.

Project Runway may not make superstars, but it does open doors; whether or not its alumni are prepared to step through them is an entirely different order of reality.

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