Millions watched two seasons ago as a sharp-witted Pennsylvania native with a quirky eye for fashion took top honors on the Bravo network's breakaway reality show, Project Runway.
Last week, Jay McCarroll narrowed his audience to several hundred - friends, fans and 11 family members - who crowded into the Atelier tent in New York's Bryant Park to see the first, long-awaited collection of spring ready-to-wear fashion by the designer.
For the fans who loved him on the show, which is now in its third season, the collection of 28 looks was McCarroll in many ways: colorful, witty, irreverent and a tad wild.
There was mesh and pleather, tremendous bows and lace. Zeppelins and aviator glasses, color-blocked items in cartoonish blues and greens. A clear vinyl rain slicker; a long-legged, strapless, one-piece, polka-dotted "romper"; and a banana yellow outfit entirely covered in black-outlined hot-air balloons - shoes and all.
The clothes, and the show, were some of the most fun seen throughout the Fashion Week showcase. Only time will tell how much of the pointedly anti-establishment collection will sell.
But McCarroll, for all the drama on the reality show, is remarkably patient.
"People watched me grow as a designer [on Project Runway] and I have a lot to prove today," said a very calm, pink-sneaker-wearing McCarroll just hours before the runway show, surrounded by cameras, microphones and pierced and tattooed models. "But it's going to take a couple of seasons for me to get my feet wet."
It's fitting that McCarroll's first collection was inspired by Archigram - a group of experimental 1960s British architects - since the new kid on 7th Avenue has been in an experimental, building mode himself after leaving the show.
McCarroll, 31, says he's been building a business and trying to figure out just what he wants to say as a designer. So far, he knows he wants to make a statement, which is partially why he partnered with the Humane Society of the United States to put on this first show, which was widely promoted as fur- and-leather-free.
He also wants to make clothes for the "uncool girls," McCarroll says.
"I'm not a sexual designer. I hate that," he says. "Sexy comes from within."
His clothes are thought-out and experimental - he used bamboo fibers in some items - a "more mature" version of himself, in his words, than those he made during his Project Runway stint. That kind of maturity takes time.
He is a bit annoyed, he says, that people seem to think he should have been ready to show a picture-perfect collection immediately after leaving Project Runway.
"It's very difficult, really, really complicated," he said. "This is a multilevel, multitiered business."
And interestingly, though he is appreciative of the tremendous boost the reality show gave him, McCarroll is adamant that he not be known as Project Runway's Jay McCarroll forever.
"I don't want to talk about Project Runway anymore" he says, good-naturedly but firmly. "I'm sorry. It's over, you know? I've flown the coop."
But he can't shed his roots so easily. Friday's fashion show was full of Project Runway fans and former show contestants.
McCarroll's first-season rival, Austin Scarlett, who is now creative director for a wedding gown design firm, was in the front row. Scarlett called the collection "fun and unexpected, wonderful, whimsical, young and kooky."
For Tanika White's daily online fashion digest and coverage of Fashion Week, go to baltimoresun.com/fashionweek.