covered in tattoos, Jack Mackenroth muscled his chiseled
jaw through the first five episodes of the current season of
Bravo's Project Runway to become the resident
loveable hunk. The 38-year-old New Yorker and Seattle
native revealed on televised diary segments that he
has been HIV-positive for 17 years, challenging
viewers' perceptions of the disease. Our concept of what it
means to live with HIV was given a further dose of
reality when Mackenroth ultimately had to bow out of
the show in the midst of filming due to a serious staph
infection in his face.
recently took a break from reality to talk with Benjamin
Ryan about his budding relationship with Dale
Levitski from Top Chef, swimming in the Gay
Games, and what those Project Runway cast
mates are really like.
How has sudden fame treated you?
It depends on the day. If I'm in the mood,
it's great. People I don't know come up and
hug me on the subway. Some days I just sit at home and
say, I don't want to go outside because my
hair's a mess.
What ended up happening with the staph infection?
I went into the
hospital for five days, and I had IV vancomycin twice a
day. It's a really hard-core antibiotic. They
actually had to cut open the inside of my face and
drain it. It was a speedy recovery. I was completely
Did the cast know that you are HIV-positive?
There was really no forum for me to sit down and tell them.
After the show I thought, Well, I'll just e-mail
everyone and say, "I don't want you to
find this out on TV and be shocked."
How did it feel having to quit the show like that?
I was crying for,
like, three hours. [Bravo] made it look so quick. I was
really upset about how they portrayed it on the show.
Because the cast actually volunteered to finish my
garment, and there was a big production when I left.
That was kind of annoying to see, like,
"[Lackadaisically] Oh. Bye, Jack.
[Excitedly] Yay, Chris is back!" America has
to remember that they're watching
Bravo's edited version of every person on
there. There are many sides to Chris. He's very
funny sometimes. But they made him out to be this
delight because they knew that he was leaving and then
So, what was the reality?
say that there are seven New Yorkers from the show this
season and only four of us hang out -- and Chris is
not one of them.
The four include you...
Victoria, and Kevin.
You and Rami seemed to have your share of friction.
happens when you bash other contestants is you look bad.
Rami just thinks that he is better than everyone else.
Did you try not to criticize the other contestants
in your on-air interviews?
I, like a lot of
gay guys, can have that sarcastic, bitchy sense of
humor. And I don't mean to sound conceited, but if
you're kind of quirky and like a Jay
McCarroll-type character, you can get away with
saying some nasty things [in the interviews], because
people are like, "Oh, he's the quirky,
bitchy guy." But if you're kind of attractive,
you'll come off as being a really
What's your take on Elisa?
Her clothes look
a lot better on television than they looked in person.
To some of us it was a little bit insulting that she was on
as long as she was, because she doesn't have
the skills that we all practiced so hard to be on the
show. She has a huge fan base, once again, because
Bravo edited her to be the kinda wacky girl with a heart of
What did you think of the French maid dress that
sealed Steven's doom in the challenge where you
had to design for the weight-loss clients?
I felt really bad
for him. For me, in that episode, I thought Chris
March's was absolutely heinous. He's very skilled,
but his taste is off. He just makes costumes.
And yet again, we see Ricky spouting the waterworks.
Oh, he cries at
the drop of a hat. And he's usually wearing that hat.
You're a menswear designer, so I imagine you had
to do some real prepping to get yourself in gear for the show.
someone like Rami who's got a bank of, like, 100
dresses in my repertoire. So I had to spend six months
before the show really practicing all that stuff.
Do you think you could've made it to the
Yeah, I think I
had a good chance. I think skill-wise there are people
who are better than me. Christian, by far, is the most
It must be really tricky to make a dress that is
wearable, marketable, and pushes the envelope.
applauded Jeffrey Sebelia [in season 3] for being
innovative. But I come from a really mass-market
background. In the modern economy it's hard for
someone who's a true artist to survive and make a
profit. Because who's going to buy a couture
John Galliano dress? There's a handful of women
in the world who could afford to or want to.
Did you consider what to wear on the show?
Oh, yeah, honey,
I planned all that. [In the third episode] you see me in
a tank top. I thought, Hey I could leave at any
moment, I'm going to get some T and A in
there. People have given me grief for having my
clothes off for two seconds on the show. I'm like,
Bravo has invited you to audition for season 5. Are
you going to?
told me at the time that they would expedite the whole
process for me, but that there were no guarantees. I just
don't know. It's such a big undertaking.
And the fallout afterwards, regardless of how far you
go, is so big.
What's some of the fallout?
The e-mails from
people. And having your private life be public. Not that
I don't enjoy those things. But it's stressful
at the same time.
Speaking of which, you're seeing Dale Levitski
from Bravo's Top Chef. How do the two of
you handle the double dose of reality?
Bravo loves it,
because it's just media for them. It's been
sort of blown into something it's not. We live
in different cities -- he lives in Chicago -- so we
don't see each other a lot. We haven't even
had time to develop a real relationship yet. I hope we
do; I really like him.
You have a cameo in the upcoming Sex and the City movie.
I was, like, Hot
Gay Guy #2. I met Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis and
Sarah Jessica Parker, who I'd already met on the show. They
were just delightful and so sweet. I had to walk past
the girls, they checked me out, and then I kissed my
on-screen boyfriend. The fan pool [on the street]
would just scream. And then I had my first taste of
quote-unquote fame, because all these people came over
afterward and I was signing women's purses and
giving autographs, which was so hilarious. Because I
was, like, "Um, I'm an extra..."
Tell me about your career in menswear.
After I graduated
from Parsons I opened a menswear store on Bleecker
Street [in New York City]. Later on I worked at Tommy
Hilfiger. Then I went from there to a company called
Slates, which is a Levi's-owned company that
does office wear. The last four years I've been at
What are you doing for work right now?
actually not working right now. The show has a lot of
responsibility. Eventually I'll have to work,
because the money is running out, honey.
What were you like as a teenager?
I was obviously a
little gay-in-training. There was this group of about
10 popular guys that would, like, punch me in the hallways.
You later worked as a model.
I actually never
really liked it. I mean, coming from being made fun of,
and all of a sudden people tell me I'm attractive
enough to be a model -- I always felt like a fake.
You've also competed as a swimmer in the Gay Games.
I first went when
I was 20, in Vancouver [Canada]. There were probably
20,000 people screaming, which is the antithesis of the
experience of being a gay person, where we're
told that we're not lovable and we're not
worthy and we're not as good. To have that flip side
where people are being ecstatic that you're
just there is really amazing.
How have the Project Runway viewers reacted
to your HIV status?
I've gotten to the HIV issue has been very positive.
What was it like when you found out you were infected?
I was only 20
years old. That was 1990. The prognosis was really bleak. I
just figured I'd never make it to 25.
How do you feel about gay men's attitudes
toward HIV today?
I think people
have become apathetic. Because you can see people like me
-- I look really good. But don't let that fool you.
Having HIV is still not fun. We've come a long
way in terms of knowledge and public awareness and
medication, but I think the stigma still really sucks. Even
in the gay community there are people who say,
"I'm only dating you if you're
disease-free." It's really lame.
So, have any career possibilities come up over the
past few weeks?
Yeah, a lot,
actually. There's talk about reality shows. Someone
who dresses Kathy Griffin and Janice Dickinson wanted
me to make dresses for them. But they actually wanted
them in, like, a week, and they probably wanted them
for free. I'm doing a lot of charity events.
I've been really impressed with the Harvey Milk High
School. A lot of the kids are transgender, and a lot
of them are involved in the ball community. Every year
they do a huge ball in the spring. And I was like,
"Oh, my God, I'd love to help them make their
costumes and help them make their outfits."