The economy is in bad shape, unemployment is high, and times are strained. And with the malaise that has permeated our consciousness, it is sometimes a little difficult to see expensive garments as a necessary good when so many people are struggling to maintain the basics of food and shelter.
But don’t underestimate the fashion industry. On November 16, the fashion world demonstrated that its mien extends beyond brand names and luxury styling. Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the nation’s oldest HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services provider, came together with Saks Fifth Avenue to present looks from the 2009 Resort/Holiday designer collections. Hosted by Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame, this fashion-forward event presented over 65 runway looks as well as a silent auction that benefited GMHC’s comprehensive treatment and care services.
Since the early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the fashion industry has been adversely affected by this global health challenge, and has yet to fully recover. With the deaths of such prolific designers as Patrick Kelly, Perry Ellis, and Halston, an empty place exists in fashion that can never be filled – yet, the industry and GMHC soldiers on.
The Fashion Spot was given the unique opportunity to attend this highly anticipated event and interview fashion insiders and icons on the red carpet.
Red Carpet Interviews from GMHC’s Fashion Forward Event
GMHC CEO Dr. Marjorie Hill
tFS: What designer are you wearing tonight?
Dr. Hill: I haven’t the foggiest idea.
tFS: Where are we at this stage in the HIV/AIDS pandemic?
Dr. Hill: We are still far behind where we need to be. Every 9.5 minutes someone is being infected by HIV, and 80% of those new infections are African Americans. We really need to do more in terms of prevention, education and awareness.
tFS: There was study out about two years ago that stated that 50% of African Americans who test positive for the HIV retrovirus have already developed full-blown AIDS. What do you contribute that to?
Dr. Hill: There is lots of stigma around HIV/AIDS in communities of color. There is a reluctance to talk about sex or sexually transmitted diseases, so if can’t talk about it, you can’t prevent it.
tFS: How has GMHC revamped its program and come up with new strategies to meet this growing pandemic in communities of color?
Dr. Hill: GMHC has had a long history of reaching into communities that have the greatest need and has programs that have reached specifically into communities of color for over 10 years. As an out lesbian of color, I am insuring that GMHC reaffirms its commitment to women and communities of color.
Wendy Williams, host of The Wendy Williams Show
tFS: How you doing, Wendy?
Wendy Williams: How you doing, Bill? I am good, by the way.
tFS: How did you become affiliated with this event?
Wendy Williams: GMHC? Please. I have been a supporter for a very long time; a part of my constituency has always been gay. From a young age, I’ve always had gay friends. I think I always bonded with people who were outsiders. I was a very tall girl and felt different, so I naturally bonded with people who also felt different. Some of my gay childhood friends didn’t realize they were gay, but they have now come into their own and are out of the closet, and so have I. So here I am, out of the closet as a tall, outrageous woman. [Laughs]
tFS: Wendy, what is your fashion secret?
Wendy Williams: Spandex. If it doesn’t have spandex, it’s not working for me.
tFS: Now Wendy, you love the gays and the gays love you. What is the source of this love affair?
Wendy Williams: I think it comes from us both being misfits. We are both a little off to the left and not quite like everyone else, even as a hetero. That is our connection.
tFS: Wendy, you have recently gone from blonde to dark brunette, why?
Wendy Williams: It is winter, hello. When spring gets here I will slowly work my way back to my bleached blonde look of the summer. Right now, we are in the dog days of winter. This look is closer to my natural color.
Tim Gunn, host of Project Runway
tFS: How did you get involved this event?
Tim Gunn: Actually, it’s a very organic story. I met GMHC’s director of development at the AIDS Walk in 2007 and he told about the Fashion Event and asked me if I wanted to get involved. I did, and now I am on the board of GMHC.
tFS: Tim, how do you make it work?
Tim Gunn: Bill, you know, sometimes I don’t make it work so well. [Laughs] It can be really challenging.
tFS: At one time you were the fashion chair at Parsons School of Design, and now you are the chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne. What do you miss about your old job and like about your new job?
Tim Gunn: I was at Parsons for 24 years and had a wonderful career there. I never dreamed of leaving, I really thought I would retire there. Then I met Bill McCoomb, the CEO of Liz Claiborne, Inc., and was impressed and transfixed by him. So, I started a new chapter in my life and I fully embrace my new life at Liz Claiborne, Inc. In many ways, I still teach. I instruct among the brands at Liz Claiborne, Inc. and conduct educational sessions. I also teach and mentor the designers at Project Runway.
tFS: Why did Project Runway relocate to L.A. and change from Bravo to the Lifetime channel?
Tim Gunn: We were doing seasons 5 and 6 back to back, and Heidi Klum didn’t want to spend so much time away from her family. I think it has been good for the show. We needed a booster shot after five seasons.
tFS: Could you talk about your animal activism?
Tim Gunn: When I was at Parsons, we did a lot of work with the International Fur Trade Commission. I felt that as chair of department I had a responsibility to bring the students another point of view, so I invited PETA to come and speak with them.
Jack Mackenroth, contestant on Project Runway Season 4
tFS: What have you been doing since Project Runway?
Jack Mackenroth: Well, not sleeping. [Laughs] I have been working on four different TV shows. I haven’t been designing as much as I would like. I am involved in the HIV education campaign, Living Positive by Design, which is partnered with Merck & Co., Inc. I also have an HIV radio show, and I write for some magazines.
tFS: So you are good at multi-tasking?
Jack Mackenroth: Yes. You could say I am a jack-of-all-trades.
Jay Alexander, top runway coach and judge of ANTM
tFS: How long have been affiliated with this event?
Jay Alexander: Actually, just recently. I have been a gay man for 107 years, so I finally decided to make an appearance.
tFS: You just released, Follow the Model: Miss J’s Guide to Unleashing Presence, Poise and Power, could you talk about that?
Jay Alexander: Well, my book just came out a couple of weeks ago, and it details how every woman can have self-esteem, confidence, and love their body, even if they not a supermodel.
tFS: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Jay Alexander: Well, ANTM is now in its 14th cycle, and I have some other stuff up my sleeve.
tFS: Do you care to reveal to our readers what you have up your sleeve?
Jay Alexander: Not yet. A girl cannot reveal everything. [Laughs] You shouldn’t reveal too much, you know – there are haters out there.
Photos are courtesy of Ernest Green