Jack Mackenroth (born April 29, 1969) is an American swimmer, model, and fashion designer who competed in the fourth season of American reality show Project Runway. Mackenroth was the first openly HIV-positive contestant in the show’s history.
His sister, Sarah Kietzer, relates that when Mackenroth was a little kid he rode his bike into a boat parked on the side of the road requiring twelve stitches.
Although he was a late bloomer and had trouble fitting in by the time he reached high school, he began to express himself through sewing. “I was a total club kid. I hung out with all the alternative kids at school, and we all made our own clothes and cut our own hair,” he says. “I always had a knack for it and I wanted to look cool, but I didn’t have the money, so I would just alter items I already had. At the time, it really irritated my mother, but look at me now!”
Mackenroth was pre-med at the University of California, Berkeley for the first two years, following in the footsteps of his mom who was a nurse at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, but later graduated with a double degree in Fine Arts and Sociology after he figured he could actually make a living in the fashion industry.
After a promising start including a win in a menswear competition, Mackenroth abruptly decided to withdraw from the show during episode 5 due to a serious MRSA staph infection completely unrelated to his HIV.
Mackenroth was solidly in the middle of the competition from the very start and never appeared in the “bottom three.” The third challenge, however, allowed him to showcase his talent in developing menswear. The challenge was to create a three-piece menswear outfit for guest judge Tiki Barber. Mackenroth won the challenge and his winning design was then worn by Barber during an appearance on The Today Show.
Withdrawal from competition
At the fifth challenge, Mackenroth decided to withdraw after a contagious staph infection. After weighing the options and considering the risks that the infection would pose on himself as well as the rest of the cast and crew, he decided it would be best for everyone if he left. Even so, it was a very difficult decision to make. “I was crying for about four hours as I discussed it with Tim and production. It sucked!” After leaving the show, Mackenroth spent five days in the hospital recovering from the infection where he received an IV antibiotic twice daily.
To keep the same level of competition, he was replaced on the show with Chris March, the last designer eliminated. While there was talk of Mackenroth returning for season 5, he opted to focus on his career instead of making a second appearance on reality television.
In 1991, Mackenroth moved to New York to study Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design. After Parsons, Jack opened a menswear store on Bleecker Street in New York City‘s West Village called “Jack” where he showcased new designers alongside upscale brands such as Gaultier Junior, Diesel and John Richmond. In 1997, Mackenroth went to work for Tommy Hilfiger and then designed for Levis Slates brand. From 2003-2007, he was the Design Director at Weatherproof Active Wear.
On October 15, 2008, Mackenroth unveiled a custom-designed wedding gown crafted entirely of condoms as a visual reminder of the importance of safer sex and correct, consistent condom use for San Francisco’s Project Inform. The project was especially challenging because Mackenroth is allergic to latex.
Mackenroth has been very open about his positive HIV status. Since his diagnosis on August 18, 1990, he has tried to combat the stigma of HIV by living honestly and being a role model through professional and athletic achievements.
“I am most proud of the fact that I was open about my positive HIV status on the show and exemplified that a person can manage HIV and live a successful life,” Mackenroth says. “Every time a person with HIV is open about his or her status it helps everyone who is living with the disease…. I am a living testament to what you can accomplish by letting go of shame and being your own advocate.” After his departure from the show, Mackenroth received many letters and e-mails thanking him for his openness and honesty and for being a great role model.
Living Positive by Design
In 2008, Mackenroth partnered with Merck & Co., Inc. to launch a national HIV and AIDS education campaign called Living Positive By Design. The Living Positive By Design campaign seeks “to address the stigma still associated with the disease and [highlight] the importance for people living with HIV to have a positive outlook on life while effectively managing their disease.” Living Positive By Design events have been held in Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the 2008 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA), Atlanta, Georgia and in New York City at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) Fashion Forward 2008 fundraiser.
For the launch event, Mackenroth designed a signature scarf, which symbolizes encouraging those living with HIV to maintain a positive outlook on life while managing their disease.
Mackenroth was a competitive swimmer in elementary and high school and continued competing after college at the Masters level. He has three All-American titles to his name and set a national record in the summer of 2006 in the breaststroke leg of the 4×50 meter medley relay. The same summer he finished 12th in the 50 meter breaststroke at the Masters World Championships in Stanford, California. He is currently training for the Outgames in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.
Mackenroth first competed in the Gay Games in 1990 in Vancouver, British Columbia, without a team but won a bronze medal in the 50-meter breaststroke. He has won at least one gold medal in every one of the international competitions since.
His mother watched his relay team set the national record at the 2006 Gay Games.
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- “You Don’t Know Jack!”. HIV-Plus Magazine. 2008-01-01. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
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- Hauslaib, David (2007-11-29). “Jack Mackenroth Owns Project Runway”. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- “Jack Mackenroth Dresses Tiki”. 2007-11-29. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- Rocchio, Christopher (2008-05-19). “Jack Mackenroth decides against trying to return for ‘Project Runway 5′”. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- Towle, Andy (2007-12-13). “Jack Not Letting Project Runway “Shocker” Get Him Down”. Retrieved2009-01-03.
- Scarpa, Gina (2008-11-14). “Jack Mackenroth Lives Positive”. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- “Condom Couture by Project Runway Alum”. 2008-10-13. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- “J Mack Turns Condoms Into Couture”. 2008-10-09. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- “Jack Mackenroth Lets It All Out”. 2007-12-20. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- Scott, Annie (2008-11-20). “Hero of the Week: Jack Mackenroth”. Retrieved 2009-01-03.[dead link]
- Forman, Ross (2008-01-22). “Jack Mackenroth excels in the pool and on reality TV”. Archived from the original on 2008-08-04. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- “Jack: Dating, HIV, and The Everyday Woman”. 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- “Project Runway Alum Launches Anti-Stigma Campaign”. HIV-Plus Magazine. 2008-09-18. Retrieved2009-01-03.
- “Token ‘Project Runway’ Hottie Doesn’t Always Support Clothes-Wearing”. New York. 2008-11-20. Retrieved2009-01-03.
- Ryan, Benjamin (11 January 2008). “Jack Is Back”. The Advocate. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
- Official Website of Jack Mackenroth
- Memoirs of a Gaysha: Jack’s official blog
- Biography of Jack Mackenroth on Bravo Official Website
- Jack Mackenroth at the Internet Movie Database
- Flickr: Photos tagged with “JackMackenroth”
I just heard about this one, prostate cancer… Very sad, 46 years old, a year younger than I am. 😔