'Kell on Earth': You are no Rachel Zoe, Kelly Cutrone -- and that's OK
Kelly Cutrone doesn't have the same knack for the grating catchphrase as Rachel Zoe. No "I die" or "shut it down" or "that is ba-na-nas," repeated ad infinitum. The closest that Cutrone has gotten to a trademark line is the tough-as-nails title of her new book, "If You Have to Cry, Go Outside" -- which, frankly, is pretty good advice that I wish my mother had passed on to me before I entered the work world and blubbered like a ninny.
It's a book title befitting a reality TV diva. But Cutrone is not necessarily a nasty piece of work: she is someone who runs her own high-profile fashion PR company, People's Revolution, and gets things done. As the debut episode of her new Bravo show, "Kell on Earth," made pains to point out, she's a single mom who keeps a loft right above her workplace so she can spend spare moments with her 7-year-old daughter. Cutrone -- a self-described "mama wolf" -- made her mark on "The Hills" and "The City" as mentor to blondettes Whitney and Lauren by being both cruel and kind, in appropriate doses. She let none of her staff get away with nonsense, yet she liked helping them find boyfriends and new jobs. (Because everything that happens on "The City" is real, right?)
Cutrone comes as something of a relief after two seasons of Zoe, who forged the territory of the Bravo fashionista reality series with "The Rachel Zoe Project." A successful celebrity stylist, Zoe's whole shtick was based on over-the-top glamour and childlike helplessness. All last season, she whined that her underlings wouldn't do her bidding while refusing to give them orders, expecting them to do the dirty work of managing themselves. She spent truckloads of money on vintage clothes and then tried to hide it from her wealthy, freakishly adoring husband. She obsessed over media reports that hinted she was too thin, trying on numerous outfits to hide her protruding bones. And eventually she was paralyzed by nausea that a doctor diagnosed as stress-induced vertigo. "Great," Zoe pouted, "now I’m being punished by my body!"
This is one of my favorite things about reality TV: the stuff that happens may not be real, but flawed characters like Cutrone would not have made it to prime time any other way.
Zoe and Cutrone aren't representative of real women in any way, of course -- they were given series expressly because their fashion careers have them living out young girls' dreams -- but it's still fascinating to glimpse them making their way through the work world with such different styles. Both shows are very much about creative workplaces and how women deal with the stresses involved.
Zoe vibrates anxiety -- that is her persona, and everyone within a 10-mile radius scurries to make her feel better. Cutrone portrays herself more as a tough business woman with gooey filling on the inside. In the first few episodes, everything that can go wrong while organizing a fashion show does: The seating list that her team has worked on for weeks gets obliterated by a computer glitch, causing mass chaos. You can see the panic in her face, but she pushes through it.
"Don't cry now," she quietly admonishes her selfless blond assistant, Stephanie S. (let's call her good Stephanie). "The more you do this, the more you pull the team backward." With bedraggled hair and a studded leather jacket, Cutrone calmly tries to placate the client, and the show goes on. But unlike Rachel Zoe's enchanted world, where disaster is always averted at the last breath-bated moment, Cutrone's universe is a more hardscrabble place -- as befits our recessionary times -- and her unhappy client fires her.
Admittedly, there are far fewer over-the-top moments here than in "The Rachel Zoe Project": You won't catch Cutrone caressing high heels or uttering lines about carrying a gown "in my womb for nine months and birthing it out the Golden Globes.” Cutrone is all about the work. Her next show, for a fledgling jeans and jeggings (jeans + leggings, of course) company, ends up being equally fraught -- mostly because Cutrone's other blond minion, Stephanie V. (bad Stephanie) keeps screwing everything up. She fails to keep interns in check, gives them the wrong postage stamps for invitations and delegates the packing of editors' gift bags to them. When the clueless interns shove jeans into paper bags and address them to media mavens in scrawled Sharpie, Cutrone can hold her fury no longer. "There are eight people here to do a job that, frankly, my daughter who is 7 could do!"
And yet she seems to thrive on having bumbling but pretty young people around her. She makes her affection clear later in the episode when a young Irish intern's mom calls him at work, and Kelly grabs the phone. "I've been destroying him and rebuilding him," she says with a chuckle. And the mother thanks Cutrone, as she probably should.
Just to further prove that she's not soulless, Cutrone talks about her belief in "the concept of tribal wellness" and lights some incense in the office (as her hilariously deadpan assistant Andrew notes, "pretty much just making it difficult for me to breathe"). She also carries a pocketful of crystals - -expensive Swarovski crystals -- to bring good karma to her friends, like Vanity Fair writer George Wayne. But when she hands him a crystal, he pops it in his mouth, thinking it's a pill.
"It'll come out in the doo-doo," he says matter-of-factly. Which Cutrone really ought to consider for her next book title.
-- Joy Press
Photo: Kelly Cutrone with her colleague Stefanie Skinner Credit: Barbara Nitke / Bravo