‘I’m not in the mood to do a ‘Where’s Kelly Cutrone?’ story, if that’s what this is,’ says Kelly Cutrone.
It’s an understandable sentiment, given how much press she’s gotten over the last few years, press she’s simply tired of. Much of that stemmed from her role on MTV’s ‘The City‘ and ‘The Hills,’ where audiences knew her as the fearsome maven of fashion PR firm People’s Revolution. Although the company hasn’t posted on Instagram in seven weeks and its Twitter disappeared a while ago, Cutrone claims that it is 100 percent in business. Past social posts reflect an edgier clientele of small brands including OnePiece, Mimi Prober and Namilia. Cutrone makes it clear that she still produces for Jeremy Scott, as well.
But, when it came to herself, that’s about all she’s willing to say.
‘I’m basically doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the last 15 years — being on TV, owning a PR company, raising my daughter, taking on projects that are inside the fashion world and outside the fashion world.’ Some of those projects include executive producing a TV show about the fashion industry with Andrew Fried (of Netflix’s Chef’s Table) and Lionsgate, as well as designing a hotel in Jamaica with Andrew Chapman, a co-founder of Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster eatery in Harlem. She can’t say much about the TV show, which she and her partners will start pitching next week, except that she won’t be on it.
It’s a shame, on some level, as Cutrone has serious audience appeal, with a personality that oscillates rapidly between fearfully biting and undoubtedly warm.
We caught up with Cutrone to ask her about today’s fashion industry, the onslaught of fashion bloggers and the stereotype of the flighty PR girl.
How has the industry changed most in recent years, from your perspective?
Well, everybody knows that staffs have been slashed and burned at most magazines, and a lot of the newspapers have obliterated their fashion coverage completely or do very little. The New York Times has an amazing review process, but unfortunately, there are only three or four people there who can actually review, and many more shows. Reviewers and fashion press used to actually know about fashion — they weren’t, like, 22-year-old NYU grads.
Everyone has a blog now — it’s a joke. If you’re a blogger and you’ve turned your blog into a brand that has access to consumers, well then good for you. You should be there, you earned your seat. But if you are somebody who has a blog called [reading from her phone] ‘All Things Astrid’ or ‘Beauty Between the Lines’ or ‘Cali Street Chic’ or ‘Stainless Style,’ you shouldn’t fucking be there. If you have a thousand followers on Twitter and you’ve never had a job in the fashion industry, but you think you’re a fashion blogger, then you’re delusional.
How has the presence of these bloggers changed PR at the shows?
Before, magazines had a lot of fashion editors and they hadn’t cut their budgets. People were advertising [more] in print media and television. So, when you put on a fashion show, you would personally know about 70 percent of your audience, because these were the people you worked with throughout the year. That’s just not the case anymore — you might not know half the people in the audience, because who comes to shows and how they come has changed.
All of a sudden, things started getting really crazy, because you would be in control of the [invite] list, you’d know everybody that was there. And suddenly, you’d see comments on the internet like, ‘This show sucked’ or ‘The designers are lame,’ but nobody’s name would be associated with them.
IMG actually called a meeting — Peter Levy was there, I think Fern Mallis, and Christina Neault — with about twelve PR companies to discuss what was going to happen with all these bloggers and what IMG was going to do to help control the situation. Nobody really knew, but it’s kind of funny when you look back on it because [that’s when] everything shifted.
But the bloggers aren’t really in control of fashion. The problem is that the publications have less staff, and there’s too many people showing. I’m not an anti-blogger person — if you’re branded and you have a way of communicating a message that can sell things for my clients, then I’m happy to dance with you. I just can’t stand working with and being around people who think they understand the fashion industry and have no idea what they’re doing.
But do you think bloggers have stolen some of the thunder from editorial publications?
I don’t think they have. They communicate quicker, but I don’t know if they communicate better. I think it’s like shame on everybody who agrees to work at an editorial publication for $50,000 a year and yay to the bloggers who get paid $10,000 a day to tell you to wear a James Perse T-shirt. Is it disappointing to see, say, a Kardashian’s makeup artist with a million followers on Instagram when Teri Agins doesn’t? Yeah, it’s totally ridiculous.
It’s definitely the wild, wild west — the fashion, tech and communications worlds are changing drastically and very quickly, and it’s clear if you’ve worked in the industry for any amount of time that there isn’t, like, a shift afoot — there’s a gorge.
Is this a positive change, overall, or do you miss the way things were?
[When] I was asked me to be on ‘The Hills,’ it was a very elitist industry. I wondered why would Anna Wintour would put her baby [Teen Vogue] on television like that. But I was getting frustrated with the industry, because I felt like it was keeping everybody out and nobody was welcome. So I thought, ‘OK, MTV is a great audience for my clients [to have exposure to],’ and I even did the first season of the show for free.
Things have changed a lot [since then], and I hope that it will be for the better. I hope that people who want to wear fashion, whether they’re from Idaho or Istanbul, will feel welcome in the fashion industry and find a way to make it their own. I feel that way about people who want to work in the industry, too. I want anybody in the world who has an interest in fashion to be able to say, ‘Hey, I want to do that, and I think I can,’ rather than, ‘Well, they’re not going to hire me because I’m fat’ or ‘because of my skin color,’ or ‘because I didn’t go to boarding school.’
It’s definitely headed in that direction, but I think many would argue it’s moving pretty slowly.
Fashion people are very slow [to these changes] — they live in a different world that’s so isolated and moves so fast that they really don’t know what’s going on [in the world] a lot of the time. I mean, if you go to a dinner party and there are two fashion people at the dinner party, and, let’s say there was an earthquake in China and everyone’s talking about this tragedy. The fashion people will go, ‘What are you guys talking about? When was this?’ Even though it’s been all over the news for the last five days.
Listen, I think if you’re a crafty person and you have something cool to say, it’s easier than ever for you to get your message out. When Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were on the [April 2014] cover of Vogue, that for me was pretty much the end of the old fashion world. The vibe of everything changed, all bets were off. I think that if you’re a really smart person that works in communication or media, you’d be a fool to say that you have any idea what’s happening now or that there’s one straight line we’re on, because there’s not.
Was Anna Wintour’s decision to put them on the cover smart?
I think she’s totally intelligent, and we’re talking about it five years later, so it obviously worked. There was a shift back in the day, too — you never used to have celebrities on the covers. In the ’70s, it was models, and then the celebrities killed the models, and then all the celebrities went from being a size six to a size two. So, now, you have a whole bunch of women who are size two trying to take the covers of those magazines.
Do you think everyone having their own platforms online today might negate the need for PR companies?
I don’t think so. PR is not just putting something in a magazine — it’s about messaging, and how to use messages, ideas and stories to sell things or shape something. There are a lot of designers who are naturally good publicists, but that doesn’t mean they have the time to do that. Jeremy Scott, for example, has great messages in his collections, he has a lot of built-in power. Agent Provocateur, a brand that I worked with for 15 years, they have a powerful branded identity.
PR’s a very specific thing, though: It’s about knowing who to tell, what to say and what effect that’s going to have on what your [initial] intention was. A lot of the time people think that PR people just run around, wanting a lot of attention. Gandhi was an amazing publicist and he didn’t say much or do much, either. He just sat down. Sometimes, not talking or talking less is more powerful than being a really chatty Cathy. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into PR, and I think it’s an industry that’s misunderstood, partially because of the people who do it and partially because people think it’s a lot easier than it is.
Yes, there’s definitely a stereotype today of the PR girl who’s very superficial and hard to be around.
It was always that way — like, kind of hot, chatty, shallow, slutty, doesn’t really get it. Someone who lies all the time or talks too much — people like KellyAnne Conway. I mean, she’s a crazy-ass publicist, but she’s a good publicist for her cause. She just makes stuff up, but she’s shaping the message.
How do you handle working with people you don’t see eye-to-eye with?
I’m pretty picky about who I work with and what I do. Sometimes, you’ll get a client and think it’s going to be great, and then the press doesn’t really like it. In my opinion, I then have a responsibility to go to that person and say, like it’s a boarding school, ‘Your kid’s not functioning here. This is not the school for your child.’ I try to do that as much as possible if its not working because, otherwise, what’s the point? You’re just getting into a D-day situation.