Want to make it in the fashion industry? Study the words of no-bullshit People's Revolution head-honcho Kelly Cutrone. Cutrone has built a public-relations empire, produced shows for everyone from Jeremy Scott to Vivienne Westwood, and her showroom houses the brands your girlfriend wishes she could wear. But what attracts us to Kelly is her unmatched G and her affinity for handing out sonnings every Tuesday night on MTV's The City. Serving as a mentor/boss to Complex fave Whitney Port, Cutrone moves in the industry like Marlo Stanfield moved in Baltimore traps. With the finale of The City airing tonight, we spoke to Kelly about fashion industry do's and don'ts, Jay-Z stealing her all-black everything look, and Hollywood's problem with pharmaceutical drugs. Bow down to the Queen...
Interview by Joe La Puma
Complex: So getting right into the show, this season we've seen Olivia Palermo go out of her way to make it tough for Whitney's "Whitney Eve" line to get placement. What's your advice for dealing with that type of jealousy in the fashion industry?
Kelly Cutrone: Do your best and become as successful as you can because the more powerful you become, the smaller the other person gets, right? So it's like the bigger you are, the better you become, the less power other people have over you. The best thing to do is to always compete with yourself and not to compete with others. The only thing you can control is your own performance and what you're doing to yourself and with yourself. You also have to be careful about how you handle it, because you never know. That one cunt-y person could become the new Editor-In-Chief. Sometimes the nasty person wins. That's why it's always good to compete against yourself.
Complex: This is kind of an obvious question, but do you think that jealousy is a sign of weakness and insecurity?
Kelly Cutrone: Yeah, I mean, sometimes, sure. Sometimes it's also a sign or foreshadowing of the fact that you're not going to get what you want. You could be jealous of a girl who's not as pretty as you, but you just have that feeling that she's going to take your dude, and you might be right. Or you might be jealous of somebody who's not as good at their job as you, but you have this feeling that she's got that something extra that's going to help her move ahead. Whatever it is, you might have that weird feeling, and you might be right.
Complex: You're a competitive person, obviously, but what's your stance on getting revenge? Is it through your work?
Kelly Cutrone: I'm a Scorpio and I'm Sicilian, so I'm an expert on this topic. [Laughs]
Complex: I'm Sicilian too. I know what you mean.
Kelly Cutrone: For me, it's different today. I don't really take pleasure in getting revenge anymore. It used to give me great pleasure to write threatening emails to people but now I know that's not such a good thing to do on a lot of levels. I think we go over all of these things on the show. If you actually kind of slow-mo The City, there's a lot of really great modern-day workplace advice. I think I said, "Whatever you do, don't ever put anything in writing and never say anything when anyone's around." I know there are kids in America who are writing these things down, because they write to me and are like, "Wow, that was amazing! I never really thought of that." My grandma used to tell me, "Success is the best revenge."
Complex: How do you feel about Jay-Z adopting the all-black-everything look a long time after you pioneered it?
Kelly Cutrone: Oh really? Is that what he's doing now? He's wearing all-black all the time? He's probably just tired and busy like me. [Laughs.] Is he wearing makeup now? Is he wearing nail polish? [Laughs.] Yeah, I don't know. All I can tell you is that any time I hear that song I just see my daughter jumping up and down going, "And the Jay-Z song was on!"
Complex: Yeah, Miley Cyrus, right?
Kelly Cutrone: Yeah, that's right. And now when I hear it, I'm just going to see her going up and down in all-black, so that makes it a little easier for me to take.
Complex: At Complex, we deal a lot with blogs that hype product but sometimes don't live up to the hype in real life. What's your advice for people who have trouble differentiating?
Kelly Cutrone: I think the best thing to do is just know that there's a big difference between style and fashion, and that one doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the other. I think people should stop and get off the train. I think they should look at things, and they should sit like a king on a throne and let everything pass by them. They should practice the art of discernment, and they should do that with their dollar, and they should do it with their eye, and they should do it with their ear, and do it with their mouth, and they should do it with every one of their senses. And they should really sit there, and they should make up their own fucking minds. They should do it about government, and they should do it about their art, and they should it about their clothes, and about their music, about their foods. You decide. If you dig it, dig it. If it's fashionable to you, then love it and celebrate it. That's why, you know that kid Taz? I love that kid Taz.
Complex: Taz Arnold? Yeah, we're familiar.
Kelly Cutrone: Yeah, I saw him one time backstage in Paris, and he had this shower cap on his head, and he had on some operating slippers for shoes. He looked so funny, and he was just jamming to himself. But he was doing it with absolute conviction. And it was in Paris and I was doing a show there, and I just had to meet him. He had no designer clothes on, he just had all this shit he put together himself, and it was genius. And I loved him, I instantly fell in love with him. It was so nice, because he was refreshing, and it was new, and it was original, and it was from the street and from the heart and from the senses, and it worked.
Complex: How do you feel about people who design a few shirts out of their apartment or make a couple of bag designs and then label themselves as "clothing and bag designers"?
Kelly Cutrone: Well, I mean, yeah, I guess you are. I guess any time a dollar crosses art, it's called Prada. I mean, if my daughter goes out on the street and sells six glasses of lemonade, she has a lemonade company. "What do you do?" "I make lemonade." "Yeah, what kind of lemonade?" "I make organic lemonade." "Where's your company based?" "In New York." "What's your distribution model?" "I distribute locally." [Laughs.] She has a lemonade stand. She's a lemonade-maker. Because she sells six glasses of lemonade, she has a lemonade company. Designers come in all different shapes and sizes, like any other business. OK, great, you're a designer. Now what? It's like, you have Pro Tools. Oh, you cut a record. Oh, cool man, you and 20 million other people. Now what? Now what are you going to do with it? Oh, you wrote a book. Great, yeah, me too. [Laughs.]
Complex: What do you think of the shift from print to Internet? Sites reported a while ago that you said print and retail are over.
Kelly Cutrone: Let me clear that statement up. What I meant by that was that print media as we know it, and knew it, will inevitably change and transform. Twenty years ago, nobody would believe you'd get your news instantaneously and for free. Now you get your news for free. You used to have to buy something called a newspaper. The whole thing about magazines is that for me, magazines are going to become deeper and more tutorial, and the nature of the magazine is going to change. These little blog sites post: "Halle Berry loves Shimmer Me Pink Lipstick at $1.69," they're instant hits and they're going to move product. [What I meant was that] perhaps we would return to the source of the type of publishing that had larger, deeper, more Life/Vanity Fair-esque well stories.
Complex: Interesting... .
Kelly Cutrone: I think it's inevitable. What can we say? We all watched half of our friends lose their jobs. I mean, I've been watching this go on. I watched all my friends in recording studios and record labels lose their jobs. I watched a huge part of the fashion industry and the publishing world topple. I think it's going to be a great thing ultimately, but adaptability is a big factor now, and never letting the ego get in the way. Basically, we had to let go of everything we believed in and were taught, because we were taught about exclusivity, and we were taught about not letting anyone in, and only selling to eight stores and only talking to six magazines. Well guess what? That's over, bye! OK, on to the next. And I really think that People's Revolution is an agency where we figured that out a lot quicker than most.
Complex: So you guys adapted early?
Kelly Cutrone: We were doing that years ago, and people were like, "Oh, look at them, they're selling out." And it's like, "No, we're not selling out, dudes." Anna Wintour put her fucking magazine on the show before [I came on]. So why did she do that? That's what I thought to myself when I got a phone call from Teen Vogue asking me to go—I was thinking to myself, 'Why would she have done that? Why?' I thought, 'OK, I would do it too.' There must have been something to it. I'm either burnt and I'm on some kind of kamikaze death spin—I want to go out of business anyway—or there's something here. There's some kind of leap of faith into the future of distributing messaging and content this way. I really didn't know. I talked to a couple of people in my office, Robin and Emily. We talked about it, and I said, "What do you guys think?" And they were like, "Oh, I guess we could do it. We can try it. You realize we might be totally obliterated." [Laughs.]
Complex: You've said that all your scenes are never scripted. Would you have ever done the show if they'd handed you a script? Like, "This is kind of what's going on"?
Kelly Cutrone: I don't think they would have been able to keep me on the show because I probably wouldn't have agreed to say what they wanted me to. Because this whole thing came up for me at an earlier time. There was this girlfriend of mine who wrote this movie, The Next Best Thing, with Madonna in it and Rupert Everett. They actually wrote the part of Madonna's best friend based on me. This girl Mel Bourdeaux wrote the part, and they wanted me to play me. John Schlesinger was the director, and Mali Finn was casting the movie. Schlesinger wanted to see me play the role of myself, and I was telling Mel, "I don't think this is going to be such a good idea." I went to meet John Schlesinger and Mali Finn, and Mali Finn called Rupert and Mel Bourdeaux and John Schlesinger afterward and said, "I really like her, but she's too outspoken and very, very edgy." So not only did I not get the part of myself, my husband at the time's ex-girlfriend got the part. So not only could I not play me, but someone my husband used to fuck could play me better. [Laughs.]
Complex: What's the biggest men's fashion "don't" you're seeing on the streets right now?
Kelly Cutrone: I think belts with potbellies are pretty bad. I mean, what about an oversized shirt and a trouser? [Laughs.] What about an oversized button-up shirt in linen and a trouser? Do us all a favor.
Complex: Who was a better worker, in your experience: Lauren Conrad or Whitney?
Kelly Cutrone: Um, I'm going to plead the fifth. I mean, I can't do that. I have to pick somebody. It wouldn't be like me not to have an opinion. Whitney. They're both good workers, and they're both methodical, but I think Whitney's heart was a little more in it. But, I like them both.
Complex: You obviously work with celebrities and impressionable young girls. How do you feel about Lindsay Lohan going to jail?
Kelly Cutrone: I am happy for Lindsay Lohan that's she's going to jail. I think she's going to get sober. I know her. I really actually care for her. I think she's a really really sweet, super-talented young girl. I think that she needs to have a timeout. And you know what? So do we all. We all need a timeout. Some of us need a timeout for a weekend, she just needs rest, and she needs to be in a healthy environment. I don't think that jail is probably the best place for her, I think that's a really extreme thing. I don't really know about jail, so I would like to retract that by saying I'm not happy for her that she's in jail, but I'm happy that somebody's going to try to help her get some help. I saw her in L.A., she sat right in front of me at the MTV Movie Awards, and I'd seen her a week before that in L.A. And when I saw her, I had that feeling of like, "I'm really happy to see you." Because I thought that maybe I would never see her again at a certain point.
Complex: Wow, that's intense.
Kelly Cutrone: I think that when you become rich and famous and you get a lot of attention...very few people get to go through that cycle without having a hard time. I think that everybody in their lives has a hard period. I don't know anybody who's ever been alive who hasn't had like, heartbreak, despair, depression, death, drug or alcohol, or weight problems, or health problems. For her, I think she's had a combination of those things and I think it's then super-inflamed by the fact that she is a celebrity. Let's face it, fucking society loves this type of thing. They loved to do it to Britney, and they loved to do it to Robert Downey. This will be great if she can live through it. People fucking love this shit. But in people's defense, they also love the ones who just do well the whole time anyway, like they love Halle Berry. Hopefully she'll be OK, and she'll get an Oscar like Robert Downey, and she'll be on a stage. I mean, look at Downey.
Complex: Hollywood loves a comeback...
Kelly Cutrone: But like, Lindsay's the type of girl I would look at her and think, like Brittany Murphy, I dressed her the first time. I can't believe there are all these people going, "Oh, we need to raise money for all these kids in Haiti, and oh my God, look at all of this stuff." I don't get it. Where is everybody? I mean, all these young kids in Hollywood are fucking dying. Brittany Murphy is dead. There's like all these kids ODing. Michael Jackson, he's not a kid, but all these people are dying on pharmaceutical drug overdoses. I don't get it. I don't get why people aren't standing up and saying, "This is an epidemic problem." Drug and alcohol addiction are a huge problem in our society.
Complex: You're a great motivator and mentor. Who do you go to when you need advice?
Kelly Cutrone: Oh, God. It depends. [But] myself is a really good place to go to, because I usually know exactly what's going on. I think we all always know what's really going on with ourselves and we just don't ever want to listen. Usually I take a little walk around with myself until I'm willing to actually do the work.
Complex: Any parting words for our readership or any thoughts on the finale tonight?
Kelly Cutrone: It's such an exciting time for your magazine right now, and I mean, I think it's going to be as interesting in, like, Michigan because of technology and TV shows. That's what I think is really interesting about a show like The City. I hate to sound old, because I'm 44 so it's just that I'm middle-aged, but there's a huge divide between my generation and yours. We weren't rich so we didn't even have Encyclopedia Britannicas, we didn't have computers so you couldn't go, "I want to be an illustrator," and be able to look it up. Or, "I want to be a fashion stylist," and be able to go, "Oh, Patti Wilson," or "Oh, Michael Roberts"...you couldn't find those people, there was no way to link them. You had to wait for a magazine to come out and read a masthead and that's if you were that smart to even do it that way. Now, everything is just so available, so with something like Complex or TV, these kids are being exposed to everything, and they're all watching. MTV changed my life—and I wrote about that in my book—all of a sudden, you could see style, you could see videos. And MTV, the first video ever played was "Video Killed the Radio Star," and it did, because if you were ugly, and you were fat, and you were old, you were done, dude. You better get your steez on.