Chatting With Jay McCarroll

Philadelphia Magazine: So, are you really back in Philly?
Jay: No, I just travel through here in a tractor trailer. I am. South Philadelphia, born and raised.

PM: Actually, we heard you were homeless.
Jay: Uh, that was a big fat lie. You know what is the funny thing about that [New York magazine] story? I was in the transition to Philadelphia. So I was telling her I was homeless in New York, because at the time I was. But I still had my work studio with three more months left on it, so I was back and forth.

PM: As someone in the fashion world now living here, what do you think of style in Philly?
Jay: I have a friend in New York, and she describes Philadelphia as being scrappy. And I always use that term, scrappy. Philly definitely has its own vibe, its own style. It’s urban, it’s gritty, it’s, like … homemade and interesting. I like that Philly is more creative.

PM: Did you hear that we were voted the ugliest city?
Jay: Yeah, is that like our style or the way our faces look? I think that the people who make up these polls should find something better to do. There are other things to be concerned with, like the war we’re in.

PM: We were also voted sweatpants capital of U.S.
Jay: That has got to be impossible. Have they ever been to Texas?

PM: So tell us about the line you’re selling in boutiques around here.
Jay: It’s not really a line. Just some handbags, cotton tote bags and bowling bags. I’m selling at Mew and Topstitch. I just came here the end of the summer, so I’m still pretty new to town and I’m still setting up my studio. I’m just using these little boutiques to get back to the place I was before Project Runway.

PM: Your bags have your signature circles. Why are they your signature?
Jay: I’ve always liked circles. It’s like built into our system as a human being to like the circle, I think. Because of like the sun, moon, everything moves in a cycle. I just stacked them on top of each other. Been doing them for years and years.

PM: And here, as opposed to New York, as soon as you put something on a shelf, Philadelphia magazine calls you.
Jay: Yeah and ya know, that’s good. I just want to get back to being an artist again. Because I feel like that just kind of got lost in the past year. Get back to making some one-of-a-kind products and little stuff. I’m doing some mass market stuff for QVC and for my own line.

PM: Right, tell us about the QVC thing.
Jay: I have a little line coming out and I’ll be on TV selling it the end of February. I have like a color-block coat, a beaded sweater, a pair of jeans, a jean jacket, a tunic dress, some other things. Then I’ll have hopefully a larger line later on in the year. And I also have my own line of tees and tote bags coming out for the spring in February on my website,

PM: Now, I know you’re watching Season 4 of Project Runway, because you’re blogging about it on
Jay: Yeah, it’s super fun. It’s hard blogging, which I had no idea about. I thought, Oh, it’ll take, like, 45 minutes of my day. But that turned into an entire day with editing and rewriting.

PM: And you’re teaching at Philadelphia University?
Jay: Wow, where are you getting all this info from?

PM: Google.
Jay: Yeah, that’s why I came back here. And I had a death in the family this summer and it was kind of the last straw for me.

PM: I’m sorry.
Jay: Oh thanks, it’s fine. It was my father, which kind of takes a toll on your system. And I was like, what did he live for? And he had built a whole world around himself. And I was like I don’t really have anything to show for myself other than like a half-assed attempt at everything in New York. I kind of had to reexamine who I was what I was after, what I wanted to do, and decided I wanted to come to Philly. I had been hearing about all the fun stuff that was going on back here, and boutiques opening and rent was still good. So I was like, why am I in New York, where I was completely lost, when I could be contributing to something, ya know, cool.

PM: Are your students starstruck? Do they all know who you are?
Jay: They know who I am. I think the ones that have me, hate me. The school has been a really awesome thing. The professors that I had are the support system for me now. They’re who I would bounce ideas off of anyway, and now they’re right there everyday. And I like being around the energy of the students in general, because they’re so wide-eyed.

PM: Are you done with all your Christmas shopping?
Jay: Oh no. Never. I’m making stuff and it’s never gonna end.

PM: What do you want for Christmas?
Jay: A unicorn.

PM: Doesn’t everybody. What are you wearing right now?
Jay: Ooooh God! Gross! I’m wearing a black hoodie and a black t-shirt and pajama pants and clogs. I should make something more glamorous up.

PM: And what’s hot for ’08?
Jay: I don’t follow any trends. I say where whatever the fuck you want to wear. Do you want me to make up fun trends for you? Everyone should be wearing stains. Stains on their shirts.

PM: Do you think you’ll be in Philly for a while?
Jay: I don’t even know where else I’d want to go. To tell you the truth, my family’s on the East Coast, and umm, I just got here. Shit! Why are you trying to make me leave already?

PM: We’re used to disappointment in this town. Do you worry people look at your move as a step back?
Jay: Oh, they do. when I left New York, people were like, why would you go there, there’s nothing there. But that’s living in the New York bubble. And I’m not coming down on New York. It’s just totally different. I had a great time living there, but it’s not somewhere I felt creative or settled. I like Philly because I have space, I can afford my space, I can have a cat, I have a backyard, I have a car, I can get out of the city if I want, and those are things I didn’t have in New York, and I wasn’t happy. A lot of people I meet say the same thing — why would you come back here? — and it’s like, do you live here? Have a better attitude about it! I think when people in Philadelphia stop treating themselves like a second-rate city, then it’s going to change.

PM: That’s very The Secret of you to say.
Jay: I haven’t read it. I’ve heard about it though. I feel like it’s a blank canvas here. And people are saying it’s the sixth borough and coming here or coming back here. And frankly, in New York all the artists got chased out and got so pushed out into Brooklyn and it’s like you can’t afford a $2,000 apartment and be an artist at the same time. It’s tough. I mean, I’ve been there. So I’m here and to have opportunities is good. God, I’m so positive!

PM: You can be our Philly cheerleader.
Jay: Well, I’m open to it. Get me on a fuckin’ billboard.

PM: Where are your favorite places in Philly to shop?
Jay: I go to all the thrift stores. I like to peek around at the little boutiques in Northern Liberties and 3rd Street. I love Lush cosmetics on Walnut. That’s probably my favorite store.

PM: What can we expect from you next?
Jay: Well, I hope QVC will be a good thing and afford me some financial freedom to do other projects. I have a documentary coming out next year, Eleven Minutes. Hopefully it’ll play at some kind of festival near here. I also have two other projects I’m working on for fall but I can’t reveal them.

PM: Well, we don’t want to take up too much of your time, so we’ll let you get back to your Christmas present project.
Jay: Oh, I’m just making a wreath out of fleece.

PM: Wow. That’s intense.
Jay: Well, no. Not really.

PM: I’m not crafty at all. I just admire.
Jay: That must suck! Well, without admirers there is no true art, I don’t think.