Mind the pitchfork; here comes “Kell on Earth.”
After stints on MTV’s “The Hills” and “The City,” fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone is starring in her own reality show starting Feb. 1 on Bravo. She’s also publishing a memoir/guide, turning her take-no-prisoners approach to the fashion business into a message of girl power.
Cutrone founded the fashion PR firm People’s Revolution in 1996. And if you’re not familiar with her reputation, the headline on a 2008 New York Observer profile says it all: “The Dark Angel of ‘The Hills.’ ” That story solidified her on-screen persona as a tough-as-nails boss who says it like it is, whether it’s firing an intern, muscling an uninvited guest out of the front row or barking at an underling through a headset at a fashion show.
But Cutrone is also a deeply spiritual person who believes in the power of the Goddess, and a mother hen not only to Whitney Port, but also to dozens of other aspiring fashion types. Typically dressed in black (usually Martin Margiela or Yohji Yamamoto) with jet black hair and no makeup, season after season she is consistently more interesting than anything on the runway.
That’s a truth that bit her in the butt two years ago when she invited to the Yigal Azrouel fashion show Ashley Dupré -- the former call girl whose association with Eliot Spitzer forced him to resign as New York governor in 2008. Cutrone was summarily fired by the designer after a torrent of tabloid attention. Her famous quote to explain the mess? “We’re all hookers in some way.”
So it’s no surprise that Dupré makes an appearance on the first episode of “Kell on Earth,” during which Cutrone sagely counsels her against crashing the designer’s fashion show again, this time while wearing an “Ashley Loves Yigal” T-shirt.
The rest of the action in the episode focuses on crunch time leading up to New York Fashion Week. Viewers are introduced to the arcane runway show seating hierarchy. (“If you are in the first three rows you’re in the game,” Cutrone explains.) Uninvited guests RSVP, printers break down at the last minute and drama ensues.
We also see Cutrone out of the office in the role of single mom, cooking in a caftan and raising her 7-year-old daughter, Ava, who is well on her way to divadom. In fact, Ava may have the episode’s best line: “I don’t want to dress up if I’m going to be in the third row.”
As with all reality shows, there is a secondary story arc, so Cutrone’s assistant Andrew Mukamal is the one who is lovelorn. With long lustrous hair, black nail polish, an armful of goth jewelry and an affinity for wearing women’s clothing, he’s a promising TV sidekick -- especially when he’s crushing on male models. Business partner Robyn Berkley, a singleton who lives in a room behind a rack of clothes in the office, is also relatable.
But mostly, you’re waiting for Cutrone to come back on screen, preferably with one of her cutting bon mots such as, “If you have to cry, go outside.”
Which happens to be the title of her book in stores Feb. 2. “If You Have to Cry, Go Outside and Other Things Your Mother Never Told You,” , co-written with Meredith Bryan, who penned the Observer piece, is aimed at teenagers but entertaining for all.
It makes you wish the Bravo cameras had been following Cutrone during her early years in Syracuse, N.Y., where she was a promising figure skater who studied nursing. Or when she moved to New York City in the late ‘80s, became a party promoter and shacked up with Vanity Fair art critic Anthony Haden-Guest before marrying (and subsequently divorcing) a Warhol protégé, artist Ronnie Cutrone. Or her spiritual awakening at the Beverly Laurel Motel in L.A. after a descent into drugs, her supporting herself by reading tarot cards on the Venice Boardwalk and cutting an album (“part Lou Reed, part Mazzy Starr”) with Atlantic Records.
That, of course, was all pre-People’s Revolution.
Over the years, Cutrone’s PR firm has earned a reputation for taking on upstart and underfunded fashion designers (Paco Rabanne and Thierry Mugler among them). Which no doubt made her TV appearances and projects all the more attractive.
But like a hall of fun-house mirrors, Cutrone now finds herself in the same spot that so many of today’s TV stars are in, stuck between real-reality and faux-reality. “We have not entered into any business relationships with TV as a promise because that would be integrated branding,” she says. “And that would be an issue that would have to be taken up with the network.”
Still, it’s bound to be a bonus for clients, such as orange-haired Spanish designer David Delfin, who appears in the premiere episode. It’s genius, really.
Maybe Cutrone should start casting for designer clients? Then her show could be a kind of “Kell on Earth” / “Project Runway” hybrid. Instead of “auf Wiedersehen,” she could say, “Wake up and smell the brimstone.”
After all, now that designers are increasingly taking their brands directly to consumers -- tweeting about store openings and red carpet placements, and live webcasting runway shows -- the only thing for a fashion PR maven to do is make herself the brand.