Kelly Cutrone: Bitchiness, Bossiness, and Business
My one foray into management happened when I was 17 years old. I was a swing shift manager in a fast food restaurant. I worked up to this illustrious post the usual way: I cooked a lot of frigging french fries before my natural talents were recognized. Just imagine this scenario. I was in charge of 15 and 16 years old and was getting my first taste of real power. Plus I didn't have to clean the milkshake machine anymore. I definitely had an inflated sense of importance.
Well, one day I was working a busy lunch rush and trying to manage the front of the store, most specifically the "bin" where all the food was placed as it was cooked. The bin was shockingly empty and I started yelling at the poor kids behind the grill. I actually said, "You are probably two of the stupidest people I have ever worked with in my life!" Ah, Cheryl. If only I could go tell my 17-year-old self how many truly idiotic people I would encounter over the next 20 years. That comment cost me everything. I was demoted, and I subsequently quit in disgrace.
I was reminded of this experience as I've been watching the show "Kell on Earth" on Bravo (Mondays, 10pm EST). Kelly Cutrone is the owner of a fashion PR firm and this show documents her interactions with her clients and employees. I will once more reiterate here my extreme and intense interest in fashion. This is not only limited to the pretty fluffiness that comes down the runways. I love the personalities, particularly the designers, and am fascinated by the entire process, from design conception to sales. Kelly is an insider in this world, and last week when I watched the first show, I hated her guts.
Why did I have such a visceral reaction? First, she looks like a complete slob. I guess I am still laboring under the delusion that everyone in fashion is gorgeous and perfect. Perhaps I should listen to Kelly when she says, "It's not all Barbie dress-up here, people." You'd think after seeing The September Issue (the documentary about Anna Wintour and the inner workings of Vogue magazine) and all the shockingly haggard women who were profiled, that I would realize it's not all about glitz. But Kelly works in PR! Surely she can comb her hair and throw on some mascara? OK, fine. I am superficial.
The other thing was all the swearing. Now don't get me wrong. I can drop an F-bomb with the best of them, and have definitely resorted to this language in the workplace when under extreme duress. But I felt like half the show was bleeped out and she spewed unnecessary vitriol at her poor underlings, most of whom did not look a day over 14. The second episode was much less potty-mouthed, but her temper was evident and she often resorted to fits of screaming and kicking them all out of the office.
Surprisingly, Kelly allows her failures to be documented. This is when I really started to come around to her. She's letting us see past her ego. A designer fired her last year after she allowed Ashley Dupre (famous hooker/consort of disgraced NY governor Eliot Spitzer) to sit front row at the show. Apparently she misjudged the country's appetite for "hooker chic". Also, it was a good lesson that perhaps any publicity is NOT good publicity. This season she was fired by a high-profile designer after a seating chart snafu caused complete chaos at the venue.
At various points in the show, many comments are made by staffers that she is "maternal". Uh, someone call the Department of Children and Family Services. That being said, there are some very sweet moments with Kelly and her daughter, Ava. Kelly is a single mother, and she has an apartment in the same building which houses her office. She noticeably softens around her daughter, and it's admirable the way she balances running a business and being a mother.
I happen to be working with a group of young women in their 20s who all aspire to work in the fashion industry. They look up to Kelly as an inspiration. This initially concerned me, but I'm warming up to her. She's a classic pulled-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps sort of broad, doesn't care what other people think, and has managed to keep her business afloat during one of the toughest times for fashion in recent history. I think there's a lesson here. And she's an entertaining and smart reality TV persona. Rare in the age of "Jersey Shore."
So, while I don't recommend calling anyone a motherf*cker at work, perhaps a bit of Kelly's management style will get our beleaguered businesses back on track. If you get fired, don't come crying to me though.