I have this theory: Have you ever seen a celebrity in public and noticed that, even if they're wearing sunglasses and a hat (indoors), they're always sitting in one of two places? They've either put themselves in the middle of the room so everyone can see them (but acting as if they don't want to be recognized), or they've chosen a corner towards the back, sandwiched on both sides by a blockade of friends. Both strategies command the same amount of attention.
I wouldn't think public relations legend Kelly Cutrone is someone who cares about stuff like this, but I was reminded of my theory when we met for dinner at Lucky Strike in downtown Manhattan and she wanted to switch tables as soon as she sat down. Without explanation, we moved from the side of the room to a wobbly table in the center. It took all of five minutes for someone to notice her — and for her to notice them back.
But the thing about Cutrone is that she does care. After over 20 years in the business (both fashion and entertainment), she's managed to stay alert, never jaded. She doesn't need the compliment, but she'll always take one. From her days at Cutrone & Weinberg, the talent agency she founded with her then-intern Jason Weinberg (now a film producer and co-founder of Untitled Entertainment), to her time as a recording artist signed to Atlantic Records, to the creation of People's Revolution, to her appearances on reality shows like The Hills, The City, America’s Next Top Model, and Kell On Earth(which was centered around her), to authoring two New York Times bestselling books, Cutrone rages on.
But we're living in different times. It's been 10 years since most of the world met Cutrone as the sharp-tongued public who'd been invited to participate in The Hills by Vogue 's west coast editor Lisa Love and, once on-screen, exhibited absolutely no sympathy for Lauren Conrad and co. Cutrone was, and still is, in the business of getting shit done. So, ahead of next year's reboot of the show that helped launch her from stalwart industry fixture to household name, we sat down with the quadruple threat to see what she's been up to.
From Trump and her own #MeToo moment to the state of diversity and politics in fashion and her undying love for emerging designers, the wisdom of Kelly Cutrone is endless and sacred. It's shaken, not stirred — and it's best served straight-up.
So, let’s start with Cutrone + Weinberg.
Kelly Cutrone: "Wow! We’re going to do that? That is some legit shit. You’re the only person to ever ask me about that in my whole career. I don’t know if it’s part of who I am, but it’s definitely intrinsic.
"In 1987, I moved to New York City. I had no clue. I was hired to train nurses for Nutrisystem. I ended up meeting Anthony Haden-Guest. He was the art critic for Vanity Fair at the time, and the brother of Christopher Guest, who did A Fish Called Wanda, This Is Spinal Tap — all of that. We met at a club called Carmelita’s, which was run by a chick named Stacy Fine in an old brothel on 14th Street when hookers actually lived on 14th Street! It’s when New York was really New York. I know every generation says that, but it’s true.
"I’d been living in my friend’s apartment because I was evicted from my apartment on Avenue C between 10th and 11th within maybe eight weeks of moving to New York. My father gave me $2,000, which was his life’s savings, and I was like, I’m gonna move to New York. I got this job!
"I was not prepared at all. I had zero skills. I would go out and hang out at night and then sleep all day. And Anthony [Haden-Guest] told me I needed to have a point of view, so I said I wanted to be an MTV VJ. He was like, 'That’s ridiculous! You’re much too smart for that. You should be a publicist.' And I was like, What is a publicist? And he was like, 'It’s what you do all day! You just talk and put people together.' (That’s not the job, by the way. Everybody thinks that’s what the job is, though.) And he said, 'I’m going to get you a job interview with Susan Blond. So I went to interview with Susan, who was a Warhol Superstar. At the time, she represented the biggest music acts in the world — Bananarama, Simply Red, Michael Jackson, Julio Iglesias.
"So, I went to meet Susan Blond. You can ask her about this. I still know her phone number by heart to this day: 212-333-7728. That is still the number of her agency. It’s like 867-5309. That’s the PR version of 867-5309. She gave me a quiz, and I got every question wrong but one. It was: What is porthenol? And my grandmother was an Italian immigrant who loved lace, so I wrote lace. She was like, 'Oh my God. You know nothing about the music or entertainment industry, but you’re the only person who ever answered this question right. Would you like to be my assistant?' And I got hired.
"She gave me a Filofax, which in those days was like the original Rolodex. It was a leather-bound thing and she would want you to come in every morning and tell you what was an A priority, a B priority, a C priority. Then she would bark orders out me. I only understood — even though she was speaking English — one out of every eight words. She’d be like, 'I want you to call the Russian Tea Room and find out why they’re giving my table to Dan Rather; I find that very upsetting!' And 'I need you to go to Zezé florist and get some chocolate cosmos, some hydrangeas, and some crocuses.' And I’d be like, I want to be that woman. I want to know how to detonate the concept of baby’s breath. I want to know these flowers and this world. Instead of me being like, I’m being under-utilized, I was like, This is my fucking spirit beast, man. This chick knows what fuckin’ time it is."
So, how did you manage?
KC: "Nobody wanted to give me anything good. The first record I worked on was 'She Drives Me Crazy' with The Fine Young Cannibals and Roland Gift. Everybody threw everything they didn’t want to me because they knew I was hungry. I got this record called New Age Music and it was written by a guy named Dan Hartman who later decided disco was horrible and that the way forward was this New Age-style music. I got this record and they were gonna preview it at Hard Bar and I didn’t know what to do. So, I was like, 'Hi, um, my name’s Kelly. I don’t know you, but I’m working for Susan Blond. We have a lot of great acts like Michael Jackson, The Pet Shop Boys, etc. but I’ve just been given this record by Dan Hartman who did Instant Replay and it’s not very good. It’s a new genre of music called New Age, and I’m scared I might be fired, so would you please, please come?' And they did! I begged people, but at least I told the truth. And that’s kind of how I made my style."
"By 24, I was already tired. I'd just gotten divorced from Ronnie Cutrone, I was living in Topanga [California] with Debbie Harry and hanging out with Joan Jett. After that, I didn't want to do talent anymore. Why would I want to represent someone whose job it is to empty themselves? To take on the persona of someone else? It’s just not what I’m into. We had an amazing run, but it was killing me. Jason [Weinberg] called me and said, ‘We just signed Tina Louise [who played Ginger] but she doesn’t want to talk about Gilligan’s Island.’ And I was like, I’m out.'
What happened next?
KC: "Since 1991, I’ve had a very special relationship with India; spiritual practice and magic. At that time, way before People’s Revolution even started, I was in India and my spiritual teacher said, ‘You’re gonna be one of the most important women in the modern history of fashion. You’re going to change how people enter the fashion industry.’ And I thought, What a delusional fucking crazy person, right? I didn’t even work in fashion at that point."
How did the TV stuff start?
KC: "It was really, really simple. Over the years, people like CNN would call and ask to talk to me about fashion week. Who’s cool? Who’s funny? And then we got a phone call from Lisa Love and she was like, ‘I want you to replace us on The Hills.’ At the time, I had no idea what that was. But I looked at it, and I just thought, This is such a good thing for my clients. And I thought, Why would she put her baby[Vogue] like that on that show? So I did it. I never auditioned."
The fashion world is very elite, so my whole thing was: How do we let people in to see and experience that?
There’s a Hills reboot happening.
KC: "I’m not a part of that. I have no idea what it is."
For people who weren’t there or didn’t see it, how would you describe that experience?
KC: "I don’t think my interpretation of that experience means anything for people who weren’t there. The fashion world is very elite, so my whole thing was How do we let people in to see and experience that? The show was fake, but it wasn’t scripted. The producers would be like, They’re going to come into People’s Revolution on a Wednesday, and maybe Lauren [Conrad], Audrina [Patridge], Stephanie [Pratt], or Whitney [Port] would be there, and you guys just do your thing."
In her memoir, Stephanie Pratt revealed she had a meth addiction from a young age, and that she had an eating disorder on The Hills.
KC: "It’s not shocking. That would make her a lot cooler. She’s so vapid."
Let’s talk about Russell Simmons and your open letter about your assault.
KC: "It was a really horrible experience. I told people about it because, as a young woman, my power had been exposed to a ton of inappropriate, Harvey Weinstein shit. But this went above and beyond that. It wasn’t like, Oh, you want me to watch you jerk off in the shower? He was physically aggressive to me.
"I was an entrepreneurial girl. I wasn’t a sexual activism girl. It’s not my calling. But then, when Roy Moore was running for office and the stories were coming out, it was heartbreaking. I thought, How am I alive with a president asking people to vote for somebody like that? I was really upset. I went home, and I don’t know why, but for some reason, I’d seen something of Russell’s on social media where he put the hashtag '#NotMe.' And then I thought, Oh my God. This is the most dangerous thing ever. It’s a license to kill.
"But I didn’t realize it was sick and wrong and twisted. Anytime someone exposed themselves to me, it was a choice: if I hated them, then that was abuse, but if I loved them, I was into it. And so, I think that women need to be really, really clear about the invitation. I’m not angry about it because he didn’t rape me, he didn’t sodomize me, he didn’t rip my hair out and make me suck his dick — I just left. It was a bad night, but it wasn’t the end of my life."
[Editor's note: Russell Simmons responded to Cutrone's allegations via Instagram. He vehemently denied them and declared, "I have never had a sexual encounter that was not consensual or lawful. Ever."]
How do you feel about the #MeToo movement?
KC: "The fashion industry is always behind every movement. It's never current."
Do you feel politics have a place in the industry?
KC: "Politics? What does politics mean to you? Asking smart questions gets you nowhere. I don’t believe in politics. I believe in the truth. I believe in what’s needed. I don’t know what it means to be political. I know what it means to be PR-able, fashionable… I really don’t know. I’ve never seen a candidate that really checks all the boxes. I mean, nobody’s treated worse than women… at all.
"In this world, we need to embrace and understand the feminine. It’s been shunned and cast out. It’s a really serious problem. It’s less about politics and more about a real understanding of magic; day and night; light and dark."
In this world, we need to embrace and understand the feminine. It’s been shunned and cast out.
It's time for a rapid-fire questions. A client you’d kill to have?
KC: "The divine mother."
Who do you think should be sitting front row?
KC: "The divine mother."
What do you think about bloggers and influencers?
KC: "They should meet the divine mother. (I don’t take them that seriously.)"
KC: "Live for it, every day, every second. Fucking legit; too legit to quit."
KC: "Ying, yang."
KC: "Part of my daily life."
Your daughter, Ava?
KC: "My definition of a mom is a slave who loves you — no matter what. I love her."
KC: "Essential for the DNA and evolution of who we are. The best part of university."
The color black?
KC: "It’s all colors! The whole thing about black: People are not into it, but it’s all colors. It’s the agreement of everything. And at the same time, it’s saying, I am here but you don’t have to pay attention to me. But wherever you want me to go, I’m gonna be there with you."
KC: "The breath of my heart."
KC: "A demon. I don’t mean he’s a nasty person. I mean, on an egotistical level, he’s a true demon. He’s the brother of Hitler. I’m serious about that. I’m not joking. He’s a horrible person. He told Howard Stern that he would fuck his daughter. Think about that."
Diversity on the runway?
KC: "Essential. But it should be authentic. My rule about diversity: Don’t give me one or two token models — make it real. Make it part of your mosaic or let’s make it all white. If that’s what you want to do, then own it. And just be ready to explain that and admit that’s who you are. But don’t say, We’ll take 10 white girls and one girl from Sudan and one girl from Korea. I’m not gonna do that. If you’re not going to select people on talent and being photogenic, then fuck it. Just make everybody white."
KC: "It’s one of many currencies. I'd rather roll with the divine truth as a currency. Do you think I’m rich? Do you think people think I’m rich or no? I saw that I’m worth $10 million. I’m so excited to get that money."
KC: "4:44 a.m. I wake up really early. I do about an hour and a half of spiritual practice every morning. I bought into everything people say you should have and it didn’t make me happy. There’s a difference between me and my soul. I was kind of propelled through this experience. You know how they say To [thine] own self be true. But if you don’t know who you are, how can you be true to yourself?
"Everything, including yourself, will fail you. When Ronnie and I divorced, I fucking hated him. We had restraining orders and all this shit. But at the end of the day, when he died, I was the one who showed up for him. I was the one who had him cremated. Love is a real energy. The mind always wants us to figure shit out."
So, what are you excited about now?
KC: “We’re always known for working with emerging brands. We do that. I can’t help myself. If it’s, like, a guy from New Brunswick, I want to meet the guy from New Brunswick. I'm executive producing a TV show with the same people who’ve done Chef’s Table (Netflix). It's called In Fashion where we shadow a designer or person in the industry. Jason Wu is our first subject, then Diane Kruger, Karlie Kloss, Bridget Foley, etc.
What about emerging designers appeals to you so deeply?
KC: "I’m not really interested in cashmere or Calvin Klein. It’s not really my thing. I want Margiela. I want fashion as an art form. To be an underdog is to have a lot more fun. Those types of designers need help more than anyone and some more established publicists don’t want to touch them, because they don’t have enough money or because they’re not going to get in Vogue. But there’s a big bad world outside of all of those things; the industry is more than Vogue."
"The unsung heroes are the designers who capture people’s hearts and make them want to come into the fashion world, like Azzedine [Alaïa], Stephen Jones, or Sonia Rykiel, who would be classified as the freaks outside of the show. As long as I work in fashion, I’ll always represent those types of people. I don’t have three names, I’m not a size two — it’s not my thing. I’m not gonna come in and make you feel safe. It’s not what I do."
When did you adapt to that mindset? When did you stop taking the bullshit?
KC: "It took a long time. And I’m not trying to use this interview to dispel the persona because I don’t really care. People have said so many things about me, like that I make people eat lunch underneath a table in a back room to the fact that they can’t believe I’m a mother — I’ve heard it all. But it’s a very complicated business and it takes a really long time to learn PR. I think a lot of times people say, Oh, PR people don’t know what they’re doing. They just talk all day and put people together. But that’s really not what it is. You have to be able to think really far down the road as to how you want something to go, especially now more than ever.
I want fashion as an art form. To be an underdog is to have a lot more fun. Those types of designers need help more than anyone.
"At the beginning, I was a really open-hearted person. I wanted to work with everybody that I worked with forever, my employees and my clients. And I just wanted to have fun and get shit done. But after years of being taken advantage of, like stylists coming in and returning $10k dresses that were ripped or not dry cleaned or just not returning them at all — and at the time, maybe not having it in my contract that I wasn’t responsible for lost or stolen clothes, so then you work for five months for free to pay the designer back — it basically becomes a masochistic exercise in how to destroy yourself. You have to learn after a while what your boundaries are going to be and how to ask for what you need.
"To this day, I still have my office called looking for samples that haven’t been returned because some stylist stole them or some celebrity decided that they were so famous that they just didn’t have to return someone else’s work. Then I have to get on the phone. And so, because of that 'If you have to cry, go outside' reputation, I don’t have to ask as frequently. People are sometimes like, 'Oh my God, it’s Kelly Cutrone — I don’t want to have that conversation.' It’s like — good, yeah. I want you to not want to have that conversation and I want you to respect my office and my clients."
How has technology influenced your work?
KC: "Well, now I have to deal with people, or 'influencers,' who have, like, 18k followers and live in Milwaukee asking for invites to shows. And they’re emailing me! I can understand if you actually want to learn something about the fashion business — then you can contact me and say, Hey, could I shadow you? (I’d say no because I don’t wanna get sued.) But they have other people write their emails as if it’s them anyway. 'I’m writing on behalf of influencer Blah Blah, with over 18k followers, based in Savannah, Georgia. Blah Blah is taking the fashion world by storm. We’re requesting a front row seat, backstage access, and to be dressed for the show.' And we’re just like, What is going on? Why?
"And people think that’s mean! Like, this is a business. It’s a private event. It’s why I’ve been saying that we should sell tickets to these things forever. Come and buy a ticket and then you can get your front row seat. It’s a for-profit thing — these designers are spending so much money to have these shows and people just think because they have a blog called Running In High Heels that they should have a front row seat at a fashion show. I just don’t get it. I once had someone sneak into a fashion show and steal a front row seat and tell me they were Hamish Bowles. It’s like, you’re not Hamish Bowles. What do you think I am? An idiot? Get up. 15 years ago, that would have never, ever, ever happened. People would just never do that.
"But if you give an assistant from Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Elle, or Harper’s Bazaar a standing ticket, they sometimes will call and say, Thank you so much for letting me come to this show. Do you see the difference? This is someone whose trajectory is probably pretty good to continue on in the business."
So, after everything you've been through, what would make you cry?
KC: "A funeral?"
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