‘Eleven Minutes’: Fashion’s fleeting moment

February 16, 2009

 

 

The title of Michael Selditch and Rob Tate’s “Eleven Minutes” does not specifically play off Andy Warhol’s prophetic, now-cliched pronouncement about the duration of fame in the future – though it easily could.

 

Rather, it represents the dizzyingly expensive, dazzling short period of time that the average fashion show actually lasts during Fashion Week – whether in New York, Paris or elsewhere.

 

“Eleven Minutes” follows Jay McCarroll, the winner of the first season of “Project Runway,” as he designs, manufactures, displays and attempts to sell his first collection. It’s been a couple of years since he won the Bravo reality show – and he has to strike before his shelf life expires.

 

McCarroll is an entertainingly self-aware individual, made for TV as it were. He’s got obvious talent and flair – and he’s virtually fearless when it comes to speaking his mind. That’s not always a positive trait because not everyone appreciates his brand of honesty.

 

Selditch and Tate, who shot “Project Jay,” a one-hour follow-up to his “PR” victory, follow McCarroll for the better part of six months for this film, as he lands a sponsor (the Humane Society), which will underwrite the cost of putting together and showing the collection because of McCarroll’s anti-fur stance.

 

McCarroll hires a publicist to guide him through the convoluted, backbiting byways of the fashion world. He creates clothes with hot-air balloon designs, geometric patterns, in a limited palate that seems to focus on a range of greens and yellows.

 

And he talks, almost nonstop, about what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, how he’s reacting to what’s happening to him, what the stress is doing to him. Even as he’s offering this running commentary on the action, he’s also moving forward with his creative process: designing clothes and modifying the designs to meet the realities of the physical outcome. And he’s dealing with the conflicting demands of his instincts and the conventional wisdom offered by his advisers, while watching time tick away.

 

His world is filled with intriguing characters we get to know – but this is Jay’s world and he’s the motor-mouthed, sharp-tongued, incredibly insecure tour guide to what’s going on.

 

As someone who would only watch “Project Runway” if he was paid (which I have been, as a TV critic), I can honestly say that I find the entire fashion industry – at least as its represented in the preening, self-important spectacle of Fashion Week – bewilderingly frivolous. It all seems entirely unconnected to the reality of the clothes that normal people buy in a store, whether it’s a designer boutique or the Gap.

 

I recognize that the Fashion Week shows represent a kind of abstraction. But where abstract art is a statement unto itself, abstract fashion seems to bear no relation to the clothes for sale in stores bearing the same designer’s label. It’s hard to make a connection between a skeleton dressed in feathers striding a New York runway and the decision of whether skirts are above or below the knee this year.

 

Yet “Eleven Minutes” made me interested – at least for the 100-plus minutes it runs – in fashion, as it’s filtered through the alternately self-aware, self-indulgent consciousness of Jay McCarroll.

 

He’s most interesting, in a sense, for what he represents about the world of reality TV, as well as the fashion world. There are literally thousands of designers struggling to be noticed; thanks to a TV show, McCarroll was. That victory has given him a leg up – but it’s not the key to the city, by any means. And it’s fascinating to watch him wrestle with that equation: that his fame, in a sense, has little to do with his talent – but that his ability to capitalize on that fame will determine how much his talent is seen and appreciated.

 

He certainly hasn’t taken the easy way. He notoriously turned down the prize money and its trappings after he won “Project Runway.” Though he’s legally prohibited from talking about it, the $100,000 grand prize – and a mentorship with Banana Republic – came with numerous contractual strings, including the fact that “Project Runway” would own 10 percent of anything he did professionally in perpetuity. And you thought indentured servitude was dead.

 

McCarroll is funny, vulnerable, stubborn, catty, sweet – someone you’d love to watch an awards-show red-carpet broadcast with, just to hear what he has to say. “Eleven Minutes” is a fascinating character study of this always surprising character.

 

 

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