Kelly Cutrone: Fashion Week's Behind the Scenes Superstar

One of New York Fashion Week's biggest stars is behind the scenes.

February 15, 2010, 4:28 AM

Feb. 15, 2010 — -- There are the oh-so-thin models, the open bar fiestas, the fabulously frenzied designers, and of course, the really expensive clothes.

But this New York Fashion Week, going on now, try to catch a glimpse of the woman running the show behind the scenes: Kelly Cutrone.

Maybe you recognize her from MTV's "The Hills" and "The City," in which she served as Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port's hard driving boss. Perhaps you've heard of her new Bravo series, "Kell on Earth," or her just-published book, "If You Have to Cry, Go Outside."

Why should you care about Cutrone and her myriad endeavors? Well, if you wear clothes, parent a child, or are a member of the female sex, she's got things to say that might interest you. Let us break it down thusly:

"Kell on Earth," which airs Monday nights on Bravo, chronicles Cutrone at work, ruling the fashion PR firm she founded, People's Revolution. Her company all but runs this town during New York Fashion Week, orchestrating runway shows for clients who include "Sex and the City" designer Patricia Field and jeans giant Sass & Bide. On Sept. 11, 2002, People's Revolution broke the record for the most shows produced on a single day during New York Fashion Week because Cutrone was the only person willing to put on shows on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For her, fashion isn't frivolous -- it may not be God's work, but it has a purpose.

"There are a bunch of different ways to look at the fashion industy. Is it shallow to work in fashion? Yes, it can be. But does fashion transform a woman who might feel like nothing and unimportant to glamorous and gorgeous? Yes, it does," Cutrone told in a recent interview. "Does it employ a huge sector of America? Yes, it does."

That doesn't mean it can't be fun.

"We see women who go out and want to look like Jennifer Aniston and they're wearing an ill-fitting red dress and ugly gold shoes and they've got flat hair and they can't walk," she said. "People should just express themselves and not worry about trends -- try to use fashion like a compass, an indicator, examples of things that you can be. It's not to be taken so seriously. It's just clothes."

Her goal with "Kell on Earth" is to show the public what actually happens in the fashion world -- the fun, the clothes, the fights, the craziness. (In the first episode of "Kell on Earth," one People's Revolution staffer offers another prescription drugs to deal with a particularly hectic day.)

"There's been a lot of debate over whether the fashion industry has ever really been on TV," Cutrone said. "I think 'The Rachel Zoe Proejct' is very accurate; the rest of them, I think, the game shows, the contestant driven series -- none of these people go on to show in Paris. But we're really allowing people to go right inside this industry that forever used to be on top of a hill where no one could see into it. When we go in to go to work [on a fashion show], there's a full bar, free food -- it's like the seven deadly sins."

Cutrone on Motherhood

But it's not all about work. "Kell on Earth" also spotlights Cutrone's relationship with Ava, her 7-year-old daughter. As a single mom (Cutrone, 44, had Ava with an Italian model who she left three months into her pregnancy), Cutrone has been forced to think creatively about how to raise a child while running a company. Her solution: to literally live at work. Cutrone bought the downtown Manhattan building that houses People's Revolution and turned one floor into her apartment.

"I couldn't do this if that wasn't the case," she said of living and working in the same place. "It is really important to me to let my daughter know that I love her and that I see her every day. That's my upstate New York upbringing coming back."

Along with Ava, Cutrone lives with an astrologist friend from India. She has an on-again, off-again years-long relationship with music producer Jimmy Boyle. (Fittingly, Cutrone said Boyle coined the name of her show when they last "broke up" in July. He said "Kell on Earth" was the perfect title for a show about someone who can be, well, hell.) And she's still on good terms with her first husband, artist Ronnie Cutrone, who ran in the same circle as pop artist Andy Warhol. Cutrone calls it a "very tribal lifestyle," one with which she's happy. But if push came to shove, she'd give up the lifestyle, New York and fashion for Ava.

"I don't take it lightly that I brought a life into this world," she said. "They're waiting for you every day, these sweet little angels. You have to have time for them to interact on a daily basis. I always ask her, 'Ava, do you want to move to India? Mommy would never have to work and we could spend every day together.' And she's like, 'Mommy, I like Target. I like New York. I don't want to move to India.'"

Cutrone on Powerful Women

So until Ava ups and joins an ashram, Cutrone's presiding over the New York fashion world, and she's doing so on her own terms. For someone who works in a business obsessed with the superficial, Cutrone could care less about conforming to anyone's standard of beauty but her own.

"I wear all black because I don't like to dress up and I don't like makeup," she said. "I'm not going to get my teeth capped or get hair extensions. I'm not going to have 11 surgeries like Heidi Montag. I'm just not."

And she has a bit of advice for any woman attempting to conquer her own domain: Forge ahead, as fiercely as the models scheduled to strut through New York Fashion Week.

"I learned quickly that people have strong conceptions about powerful women, and powerful women are not viewed the way powerful men are viewed," she said. "When people see a powerful woman, they start to attack them. And that's fine with me. If you can hold your own and withstand all that firing, they celebrate you. It's like a gladiator sport."

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