Kelly Cutrone Interview – Top Model, Her Fashion Line & Her Next Book
I’m sitting in the green room at Global TV in downtown Toronto. On the screen in front of me, I can see Kelly Cutrone filming her final segment as a guest co-host for the week on The Morning Show, and if I look down the hall at the same time, there’s Kelly again, this time in the flesh. I feel the same way I do when I’m at a Radiohead concert and I’m trying to force myself to watch the stage instead of starring at the Thom Yorke’s face on the projection screen: “Watch the stage,” I remind myself each time. “How often is Radiohead going to be right here in front of you?” If seeing Kelly in person has me thinking of Thom Yorke in concert right now, it’s because she is to the fashion world what he is to music: an undisputed, totally authentic, unapologetic rock star. More proof: A publicist for The Morning Show has just escorted an excited girl in her early 20s just outside of the green room, obviously to meet her idol. She’s holding a personal copy of Kelly’s first book “If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You,” and by the look of the edges of the pages, it has clearly weathered at least a few thorough readings.
Reality TV might be responsible for some of our least favourite moments in 21st century pop culture like staged alcohol-fueled fights on Jersey Shore and mayonnaise food fights on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, but we tend to forget that it has also given us a handful of new high-profile figures to be grateful for. After all, Kelly may have become a powerhouse in the fashion world when she founded her PR firm, People’s Revolution, in 1996, but she became a household name to most North Americans when she appeared as the no BS boss of Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port on The Hills and The City. Kelly introduced Lauren and Whitney to the Cutrone concept of hard work, and we got to follow along at home, inspired by her penchant for tough love and complete and total dedication to every job she attaches her name to. We don’t exactly think it’s a fluke that both Lauren and Whitney have turned out to be the two girls from the Laguna Beach crew with the most promising careers ahead of them. These days, Kelly is still running People’s Revolution out of New York City, and she’s also lending her time to her side job as one of the judges of America’s Next Top Model, which will go into its 20th cycle this spring. With an upcoming clothing line in the works and a new book on the drawing board, Kelly Cutrone’s idea of how much work can fit into a day’s schedule is clearly far more ambitious than most people can imagine. As she makes her way down the hall to meet me, after stopping to meet her excited fan, I can’t help but feel a little bit nervous and hopeful that maybe some of her wisdom will rub off on me.
Real Style: You come to Canada a lot!
Kelly Cutrone: MTV has a lot to do with it because, when The Hills was on, it was the No. 1 show in America for a long time, but it was also huge in Canada. MTV had the after-show with Dan and Jessica, and so we had even more exposure there. When I came here, I was overwhelmed by the amount of love I received from people. Canada is a very elegant place but a more subdued place than New York. Canadians as a rule aren’t loud, they don’t like to break the rules, they don’t swear… Here I am in all black going, “F*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck…” and it’s like, “We love you! Please come back!” Not only am I really welcome and really supported here, I’m encouraged, probably even too much, to be myself. It’s so close to New York City and it’s so easy, with Porter, to just go in and out. I was born close to Canada [in Syracuse, New York], so there are a lot of things in your culture that feel like home, like ice-skating. I used to get a Hudson’s Bay coat every year for Christmas.
Real Style: They’re very fashionable now!
Kelly Cutrone: I know, I love the brand, but when I was little, I don’t think most little girls in America say, “I want a Hudson’s Bay coat.” We were all skaters, and they were really expensive for my family to buy then, but they would keep me warm. That would be my gift from my parents: white wool coats with little evergreen appliques of deer. I’ve shed those for all black, but I remember them fondly.
Real Style: You were just giving style advice for everyone of The Morning Show. What style advice would you give someone walking into an interview with you?
Kelly Cutrone: I just look for someone who is a hard worker. I have tips on my Facebook page for how to dress for work. I don’t want to see someone with a belly piercing or a tongue piercing. I have a rule that I won’t hire anyone with a facial piercing, including nose piercings, and I’ve had my nose pierced, so it’s not that I’m against it; it’s not very fashion. It’s distracting if you’re asking someone to run an errand and they have some stud inside of their cheek. Dressing to work at People’s Revolution is obviously different than dressing to work for the Prime Minister. Fashion is very flexible, but when in doubt, wear black.
Real Style: What up-and-coming fashion designers are you currently excited about?
One of the designers I work with and who I’ve worked with for 12 years, but she is starting to become known as an emerging designer, is Mara Hoffman — if you like colours and prints and sexy bathing suits and a lot of flowy and fluid clothing. I have always loved Jeremy Scott as a way of pushing the envelope and using clothes as communication and humour and also to be evocative. I like him a lot. It’s really hard for young designers right now to get out there because it’s a really expensive business to be in. With media changing and becoming more tech-driven and with stores changing — most designers who are really successful have their own stores — the competition to get into Holt Renfrew is really high. Even the new designer floor at Holt Renfrew is [made up of] designers who have been out there for at least eight years. I remember when Anna Wintour discovered Miguel Adrover, and everyone else was like, “Well, he’s been there 13 years.”
IMG just merged with Toronto Fashion Week, so you guys have got some good visitors, and Jeremy Laing is pretty good. For me, I really love Donna Karan. For work, DKNY is just so easy, just for blazers and stuff. [Maison Martin] Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Yohji Yamamoto — I just love them, but I don’t think that type of fashion is for most women. Most women want to be pretty or sexy. I always say there are three types of fashion… There’s “Hey baby, notice me,” and that’s Cavalli and Moschino and D&G; then there’s “I want you to see me, and I want you to notice me, and I want you think of me in a sexual or beautiful way, but I don’t want you to take it too far,” and that’s brands like Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta; then there’s “Don’t even think of trying to hyper-sexualize me because I’m a woman” and “don’t come near” me type fashion. I tend to be the third category, like Comme Des Garcons. I don’t recommend it for most people.
Real Style: Do you think they’re trying to pin The Face against America’s Next Top Model?
Kelly Cutrone: Well, if they are, it’s a little late. America’s Next Top Model has been on for 10 years. I don’t really know what they’re doing. Nigel [Barker] is a good friend of mine. I wish them the best. Anyone who goes on TV and puts a show up, I hope it’s successful because it’s a lot of work and you take a lot of risk with your image when you put it out there. It’s a gladiator sport. Even though there’s similarity in format, I hope their show does well. I love Nigel, and there’s no animosity. There’s nobody on the Top Model set going, “Holy f*ck! What are we going to do? We have to out-do The Face!” We heard about it, and we wish them the best. I hope they’re successful.
Real Style: What’s going to happen on Cycle 20 of Top Model? There are going to be aspiring male models in the house with the girls!
Kelly Cutrone: Well, I think there’s going to be a lot of problems in the house. It’s so horrible for us because, as judges, we don’t actually know what’s going on in the house. We don’t see any of that footage. We might hear from a crew person: “Oh, that one’s a party girl!” Like Simone from Cycle 18 of the British Invasion version, the fiercely real girl — she’d come out like Miss Babydoll in front of the judges panel like, “Hi, it’s so good to see y’all!” And then we see the footage when the show comes out — we don’t see it until you do — and she’s like, “Bring it, bitch!” I texted Tyra, “Holy f*ck, she’s a brawler.” And then Louise…
Real Style: Louise didn’t get along with you in particular.
Kelly Cutrone: She was just so dumb. The truth of the matter is that she had the IQ of a pea, and it shows. You’re on a competition, on a show, and Tyra Banks, one of the most successful business women in the world, says to you — and you come from a pub town three hours outside of London — and Tyra Banks says to you, “Girl, you like Miss Linda Evangelista.” And she goes [makes a gesture like she's biting her nails]. And I’m like, “That is rude for you to bite your finger nails at judging panel when Tyra’s telling you that you look like Linda Evangelista.” She runs off and cries and has a big drama because it’s all about her and physically threatens me, and then somehow I, on the internet, become the person who attacked her. That was hysterical.
There’s a big disconnect for us as judges because we can’t see what’s behind what is presented. Sometimes it seeps out like the Victoria situation… We didn’t see that she was in that kind of pain with her mother [being so far away], and we had heard that there were some issues that she wasn’t getting along with other girls… But I think with guys on the show, somebody’s going to at least try to sleep together, right? You put a bunch of 20-year-olds together, and I think there will at least be some kind of romance attempt. I don’t know what the rules are about that. I’m sure there will be some kind of competition between both men and women fighting for a specific person or position. I’m sure there will be some girls trying to out-smart the boys and use their hotness to trick them into losing. That should be interesting to watch. I think some stuff will come up for the guys where they might be asked to do stuff — I don’t know what the challenges are yet — but sometimes being a hot guy and then being a male model and you’re asked to do things, and it’s like, “What? I’m a dude. I’m not into this.” There should be some ego breakdowns, but I’ll help them keep it real.
Real Style: Do you ever disagree with the outcome? I do sometimes, like last time, I wanted Leila to win.
Kelly Cutrone: We actually had a really great talk about that. Leila just texted me yesterday. What people don’t know about me is that I’m the girl out of everybody on the show that calls the winner the night that she wins when the show airs. I speak to the other girls, the runners up. Kiara I spoke to that night. I also spoke to Leila that night that the show was airing and you guys were all watching it for the first time. I said, “The show’s airing tonight, and it was amazing to work with you. If you come to New York…” Leila was in New York this week taking meetings at a modeling agency. I have helped her. The truth is, my main issue with Leila was that she was an amazing model as far as editorial, but the question was that she had auditioned to be on Top Model like five times. She also lived three hours from New York City, so my question was — because at the end of the day, we’re going to give someone a shot, $100,000, a campaign and a modeling contract. Now, Leila was living in Boston and was in school and wanted to stay in school and was very much in love with her boyfriend. The other issue with Leila was: How come she never went to New York to try to become a model? Like, if you were 7’0 tall by the time you were 22, wouldn’t you have at least looked into playing professional basketball? Then you might find out that you’re not a good basketball player… but she had never taken that trip. She also told us that she had slept in her car to get this job outside of Boston, and it didn’t line up. If you’re going to be the type of person who will sleep in your car, why wouldn’t you take the time to drive to New York City and try to get into a modeling agency? The other thing was that she was very much in love with her boyfriend and didn’t want to leave Boston. Then there was Laura who comes from an entertainment family, who is very beautiful — a little full-figured to be an editorial modeling at the time, but I’ve seen her since and she’s changed her weight a little bit — but very, very motivated and nothing holding her back and total family support. She could also, if the modeling thing didn’t work out, easily become an on-air person and also be more commercial and do more beauty stuff and work with companies like Guess? and be in LA and be on Inside Edition. We felt that if we were going to give the money to somebody and the title, that she was going to make the most of it. And also, if Leila had aced the runway portion… but she fell down. Nobody wants it to happen, but I’ve had models fall on my catwalks, and you get fired by a designer for that even though it’s nobody’s fault. In their minds, they want somebody to pay. That footage will be out on YouTube. I remember a Calvin Klein show where the light fixture fell on the models and hit the editors in the front row. That stuff just goes all over the world. We love Leila, and we love Laura… and we also love Kiara. Kiara, on the other hand, wasn’t much of a model but had a great back-story. Kiara had this fierce fan base where, of course, who doesn’t want a girl with an absent mother who has worked really hard her whole life and ate from garbage cans to win and become a princess? But it’s our job to ask, “Who’s going to make the most of the moment?” It’s not just about the heartfelt story. It’s about the whole picture; it’s not just about the TV show. We’re dealing with young women here, and their hearts and their careers are on the line. Is it fair to take someone who has no interest? Leila told us that, “I want to stay in Boston and live with my boyfriend.” When she called me [this week] she said, “I want to go to New York.” I said, “Leila, what’s wrong with you? This is a little late! Why didn’t you have this voice while we were shooting?” There’s a lot that you guys don’t see. The judges don’t have a lot of interaction with the girls while we’re shooting. We try to keep a distance so that we’re fair. To be honest with you, I have a really strong connection with almost every one of the those girls.
Real Style: What’s going on with your upcoming fashion line, Electric Love Army?
Kelly Cutrone: I’m so happy you asked. Chris Burch is my partner. He and Tori Burch just had this big blow up, so everything was frozen for about six months while they sorted out their difficulties, which they’ve done. I’m really happy because 1) Chris is a friend of mine and he only deserves the best and 2) because I can get back to business and get this Love Army ready to march. We’re really excited. Lenny Kravitz has this design company, Kravitz Design, is doing our store design, and we’re going to be launching in 2014, but there’s going to be a small core collection, which is what I’m going back to New York to do right now. We made some really killer denim. I made a T-shirt with a picture of a goat. I have goats at my country house, and my male goat who got all mt female goats pregnant — that was his job — his name is Gotye. We have a Gotye T-shirt coming out in the line. We’re going to do a a core collection that will launch with one major department store. We’ll probably do a segment — what a surprise — for Top Model this season.
Real Style: What would your advice be to a woman who wants a career in fashion be as far as schooling goes?
Kelly Cutrone: It’s such a hard thing because destiny is different for everyone. I would want my daughter to go to college because it gives you time to mature. It really should be a time where you can explore your interests and become real about your life. Not everybody gets that privilege. My answer would be: I don’t think it’s a great idea to go to a community college in the middle of nowhere to get a fashion degree — not to diss those type of schools that are great for nursing programs or things you can get licensed in. I have actually been thinking of opening a school where you could have this three month fashion program and have friends like Nigel and Tyra come in to give talks. Vidal Sassoon was a really good friend of mine. Before he died, we were talking, and he said, “Darling, you should be to fashion what I was to makeup. You should open a school, darling. I would be really great for the kids.” I think the first thing is, if you can’t afford an education where your degree will be meaningful — so many times I see kids with a four-year degree and ask, “What’s your degree in?” They answer, “Communications.” And I go, “Well, you should ask for your money back because you don’t know how to take a phone message.” I would think that if somebody has a medical degree, they would take pride in knowing anatomy and physiology, for example. If you’re going to get a degree, be really, really focused and be at a good school that’s going to be branded. If they’re not a fashion school like Parsons or St. Martin’s in London, make sure they’re a school that has relationships with the industry. If you don’t have the money to go to school, a computer is the best investment you can make in yourself — have a laptop and go to a fashion capital. Do your homework before an interview. You should know what that company’s four biggest wins are. Say, “I was amazed at how your revenue tripled in the last four years.” If you say that in an interview, someone is going to be like, “This person does research.” If somebody comes to my office and says, “Ms. Cutrone, I have a passion for fashion,” I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore. Can somebody please pre-interview these people?” But if somebody says to me, “I know that you’ve accomplished a lot, but the fact that you were the first agency to work on the anniversary of September 11th and do those five shows — that really blew me away. That took a lot of courage.” Okay, you’re smart. You looked up at least some things. This girl who, two months ago, came to my office and said, “I’ll do anything to work with you.” She came from Australia. I have an assistant position opening up in my personal office. She said, “Can you tell me how much is going to be dealing with your personal life in ratio to your work life?” I would have been fine with her asking me that question on a second interview, but you decided that you were going to pull the power in this interview and that you were going to interview me? I’m not interested. If the first date is starting like this, the marriage is going to be horrible.
You once decided to take a time-out from the industry and moved to LA for a while. Did having a bit of a breakdown end up being beneficial in some ways?
I’m a Scorpio and I’m Italian. When I have a conversation with people, they think I’m yelling. I have no regrets. I have a hunger for life. I was talking to my manager today and he said, “Sometimes I wonder why you don’t have $19 million, like somebody else who I started with does.” I said, “I’ve always chosen authenticity and truth over money and perception.” I might not want to do that in the next 10 or 15 years. But the truth of the matter is, I know that person he’s talking about, and they’re a dear, dear friend, and I know how unhappy they are. I’m not a religious person, and I’m not Catholic, but there are three things I love about Catholicism: 1) They’re only the religion to actually incorporate alcohol and carbs into their daily life, which I think is really funny. 2) The saying, “To thine own self be true.” It’s a pretty amazing sentence, but if you don’t know yourself then what does that mean? Knowing myself has been a journey. That’s the one journey I’ve taken. Sometimes I’ve gotten to know this amazing, courageous, sweet, vulnerable, super hard-working woman, and sometimes I’ve met a not-so-pleasant person who is sad by the events in the world or sad by the events in her life or inexperienced to deal with the abundance I’ve created. It’s taken me some time to get those tools because you’re not born with everything, and you can’t do it all alone. We all need one another. Somebody said, “Destiny’s a train.” Well, it sure makes a f*cking lot of stops along the way! I don’t have any regrets about all that. That’s why I think I’m a good communicator, because I can talk to people on the street and connect with them. It’s not like I’m a fluffy fashion person like, “If you’re not wearing Christian Louboutin then we have nothing in common.” That’s not what I’m interested in.
Real Style: Do you have another book in the works?
Kelly Cutrone: Yes. I’m leaving my book company, and I’m going to another book company this week. I’m closing that deal with this other company right now. Everybody seems to want me to do a big career book now. The book that I really want to make I’m not going to be able to do. The book I really wanted to make was where I’d get in a Winnebego and I would go around North America in this Winnebego, and I would tell people on Twitter, “Meet me in the Hardee’s parking lot” or “Meet me outside of the ball of yarn museum.” We would tape everything, so the whole backdrop would be these video vignettes that you guys could download in the iBook or watch on YouTube. There would also be these postcards from Kel called “Kello,” which would be me getting my picture taken all in black trying to feed a pig or at the Grand Canyon. It would be that juxtaposition, but at the same time I would meet all of these kids, and we could have town hall meetings in these towns to find out what’s on everybody’s minds and to find out what you wanted me to tell you. Then I would take that back and use it as the basis for this book. I thought that would be really cool, but it’s just expensive and really hard to do because of the rentals, the gas and the driver, because I can’t drive the whole time. I’m going to just think about. You guys are welcome to put on my Facebook page what you want it to be.
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Photo Courtesy of: The CW