MAYS LANDING - When the Hamilton Mall looked for someone to promote its stores and brand, it turned to Philadelphia designer Jay McCarroll.

McCarroll won the first season of Bravo TV's "Project Runway" and has been featured in several other reality-TV programs. On Thursday, he emceed the mall's fashion show, Battle on the Runways.

"Jay McCarroll is a fashion guy. He's from this area," said Greg Benedetti, the mall's marketing spokesman. "I wanted to hire him to be our fashion ambassador for a year and contribute to our website. He said sure, so it worked out."

McCarroll said that despite his international following and cutting-edge designs, his role as a fashion ambassador at the mall is a good fit.

"A mall makes sense," he said. "A lot of people have it in their mind that I'm going to design gowns for Nicole Kidman. That was never what I wanted to do."

McCarroll said he spent a lot of time in his local mall growing up in eastern Pennsylvania.

"We had a mall 20 minutes away that was my only outlet for fashion," he said. "My mom didn't get fashion magazines."

McCarroll spent his summers in Ocean City. He frequented Long Beach Island, Stone Harbor and Cape May.

He is a teacher at Philadelphia University, the college where he studied fashion design. McCarroll also studied at the London College of Fashion.

"I don't subscribe to the high-fashion game. I was never a high-fashion person," he said. "I couldn't justify charging my friends $800 for a T-shirt. My socks are $10 per pair."

Today, he sells his clothing at his online store and exclusively at one of the mall's stores, Never Too Spoiled, owned by former Absecon resident Lolly Galvin, of Philadelphia.

"I carry his dresses, his tops. He has an accessory line of glasses and scarves," she said. "He's a very recognizable name. 'Project Runway' was a big show, and he was the first winner."

McCarroll describes his fashion philosophy as fun and quirky.

"It's not for your average, boring person," he said.

McCarroll is determined to make his clothing in America wherever possible. Many of his products are manufactured in Philadelphia, where he lives, which has its advantages.

"This morning, I was making baseball shirts for the fall. We were having trouble with the neckline, and I could check out what they were doing in person," he said.

McCarroll said the effects of the recession are still evident in sales on his website and in retail overall. But it's not all bad news.

"In a bad economy, people become entrepreneurs. People become resourceful and get creative," he said.

The partnership comes at a good time for both McCarroll and the mall, Benedetti said.

"The timing is right. He's happy to get his name out there through us. It served both of us," he said.

The mall is halfway through an expansion that included the opening this year of two new restaurants, Buffalo Wild Wings and Longhorn Steakhouse, and two junior-anchor stores, H&M and Forever 21.

The second phase calls for the creation of up to 15 new stores on an outdoor streetscape.

But the mall is also re-branding itself as a self-contained downtown and community gathering spot, Benedetti said.

"The thing that stood out to me is this is truly a regional mall. It's the mall most malls were intended to be when they were built," Benedetti said. "The towns didn't have a downtown, so the mall became the downtown.

"This is more than just a shopping place," he said. "It's a gathering place for the community."

Galvin's Never Too Spoiled got its start at Gardner's Basin in Atlantic City before moving to the mall. She also owns two stores in Philadelphia.

Stores such as hers see a lot of value in the mall's new promotions, she said.

"Having these events is priceless," she said. "Some people don't get to the mall very often. But with the way the mall is turning around, people will keep coming. It's important for our store and others. People need to see that."

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