Prints charming

‘A-List’ photographer Mike Ruiz stands above reality TV royalty

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RENAISSANCE MAN | Mike Ruiz, above, designed a collection for J. Cheikh, including men’s swimwear, opposite. (Photos courtesy QC Cong Photography)

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

Remember on sitcoms when the family pet would die, and the parents would break the news to the kids by saying that Sparky went to live on a farm somewhere? Well, that works in the world of reality TV, too. It’s not that all those fan-favorites or most-hated villains from the various seasons die, they just go to a different kind of “farm” after their 15 minutes of fame fade.

One such example is Celebrity Fashion Experience III, a one-night fashion show held recently at Lofty Spaces.

The roster for the event read like a TiVo lineup of guilty pleasure season passes:  M.C. Dawn Neufeld (from VH1’s Football Wives), guests Brig Van Osten (winner of Bravo’s Shear Genius, Season 3); Reco Chapple (Bravo’s The Fashion Show, Season 1); a collection from Nicholas D’Aurizio (Project Runway, Season 8, though he was a no-show due to a wedding conflict); and even pre-show nibbles from pastry chef Porsha Kimble, once an apprentice to Buddy Valastro of TLC’s Cake Boss. Add a catfight from the Bad Girls Club, it could have been a live version of The Soup.

Fashion-5Luckily, guests were instead treated to special celebrity appearance by Mike Ruiz, the hunky model/director/photographer/man of many talents: He’s made small screen appearances on The A-List: New York, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List, America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul’s Drag Race. While his on-camera street cred would have been reason enough for his appearance at this show, Ruiz was actually there touting his newest title: fashion designer.

“It’s [J. Cheikh’s] fashion line, and I was a guest creative director for Spring 2012,” he explains. “My involvement sort of grew out of meeting their team at charitable events and borrowing outfits for the red carpet. Eventually we just found a way to partner.”

The collection, based on the Dakar Rally (a famous off-road auto race), mixes and matches Northern African influenced textures and colors with structured European tailoring.

But the J. Cheikh collection isn’t Ruiz’s first time working with runway looks. He also recently created a T-shirt line (MR by Mike Ruiz) featuring beefcake images of him styled in the likes of Tom of Finland. (Funds from the shirt sales benefit one of his favorite charities: The Ali Forney Center, an organization that assists in housing for LGBT youth in New York City.)

Adding to his creative streak, Ruiz is in the midst of a book launch for his coffee table pictorial Pretty Masculine, a collection of images that deconstruct perceived ideas about masculinity.

“I wanted to combine feminine and masculine. I did things like drape beautiful floral arrangements on rugged men. It’s not what you would expect a book on masculinity to be, it’s not homoerotic,” says Ruiz. “A lot of books for the gay community are explicit; that’s not my mindset. I wanted to create a beautiful, aspirational ideal of what masculinity should be. I don’t consider myself hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine; I think I am a combination of both, and wanted [the book] to manifest that.” (Proceeds from Pretty Masculine benefit New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis.)

While many in Ruiz’s position of being at the cusp of a burgeoning mini-empire get drunk on their own power and quest for stardom, he’s stayed humble, approachable and even philanthropic, encouraging people not only to give back, but also to love themselves. That sincerity has set him apart from so many of his flash-in-the-pan reality TV brethren — he seems like the only anchored, non-bitchy regular on The A-List.

“I had a rough childhood, and as a result I have worked really hard and, you know, made my dream come true,” he says. “When I see people struggling, I feel it’s my responsibility to help them empower themselves. I sort of tie that into everything I do these days to pass on the messaging and help the next generation be empowered, because it took me a while to find my footing.”

Footing…. Hmmm, maybe footwear will be his next world to conquer.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas