The Real Housewives were on set for this week's client challenge "Real to Genteel," and I did not know what to expect. How do you take buxom, blonde, loud, flashy, and overly fabulous, and turn it into the walking, strutting, floating, genteel ladies of the Upper East Side of New York society? To be honest I only watched the first season ofThe Real Housewives of Orange County, so I walked into this challenge without a lot of knowledge of these ladies. Though "you prostitution whore" was a legendary moment in TV history at that point, I did not know which New Jersey girl created such drama (I know now, from watching Teresa in that moment on YouTube over, and over, and over again). I do watch the The Real Housewives of Atlanta, though, who can resist those ladies?
Thank the heavens above that there was no table throwing. Lord knows, when Calvin selected Teresa, I put my safety goggles on.
Emerald and The OC started as very strong collaborators, mainly because these women turned on their West Coast, easy breezy charm like a Southern Belle. But when the clothes started to be produced…DISASTER! Emerald fresh off their first win in four weeks should have had this one wrapped up with a pretty bow on top. They had experience creating something gown-like for almost very challenge (Golnessa's Bodies Exhibit gown was more genteel than her flouncy Malibu Barbie outfit for Gretchen), plus they had Cesar, the gown master, on their side. (Cesar, what happened? You mentioned Mugler, when you know Valentino, de la Renta, Chanel, Saint Laurent and Blass should have been your inspiration for an UES matron). Plus, It seems Cindy has helped elevate Emerald with her taste and craftsmanship as well.
Nami, and the New Jersey ladies had problems from the very beginning (Teresa pointing to David's dress and laughingly stating "that looks like throw up" was cringe- inspiring). Though Eduardo makes amazing "notice me" cocktail dresses, and Calvin, who has made gowns for a few challenges (remember the "yellow" Iman gown), their styles aren't necessarily what I would call genteel. And these Housewives are sharp and to the point with their opinions. Southern Belles they are not, but warm and caring they are. I felt for Caroline, because the initial dragon-meets-Peter Pan gown that David made for her was a fashion problem! Eduardo did create an almost perfect dress for the stunning Dina (Andy Cohen was on set and playfully tell her she looked like her beloved hairless cat Mr. Wiggles!)
I was worried for the designers this week because the guest judge Susan Fales-Hill is so knowledgeable about the culture surrounding haute-couture and "dressing" to best suit the moment. Plus Isaac adores the housewives and wants them to all have an incredible experience. It was going to be tough. Fashion Show #1 Golden Girls
Emerald, lead by Cindy and Golnessa, started their consult focusing on the wrong coast. They mentioned Hollywood red carpets (Oscars, Emmys) and the grand theaters on the West Coast, even though the challenge was clearly Upper East Side, NYC. When I reminded them of this, Cesar and Jeffrey started talking about The Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute's Gala (fashion's grand society ball). They showed me their color palette of taupes, nudes, and golds, while talking about romanticism, real glamorous "Hollywood" goddesses (no mention of Slim Keith, Babe Paley, or Pat Buckley). Perhaps the idea of The OC Housewives confused them a bit. This challenge was all about transformation.
With Hollywood still to heavily on Emerald’s mind, I decided to focus on a movie, The Age of Innocence based on Edith Wharton's novel. To create their fashion show, I wanted the newly transformed Housewives to enter through a red velvet curtain as if their names where being announced to the "grandest of New York society," like a coming out ball, as they enter the "grand salon." I started the show with a rotating spotlight effect, for a fairytale-meets-movie-premiere moment. Then I had the lights in the room fade in to mimic golden candlelight. Instead of a red carpet, I asked the art team to source a stark white carpet as a play on the clean, simple runway of fashion week. However, they came back with a more dingy brown that would have looked too matchy-matchy for the clothes.Instead, we went for a matte white runway surface with no shine, and hoped for the best. Instead of high voltage music, I had a string trio play live, giving the ladies a pleasant lightness of being, while still keeping them commanding and regal as they walked the runway.
During my rehearsal with the ladies (we all held hands and took five deep healing breathes before started our choreography), I spoke to them about John Singer Sargent portraits to set a tone for their performances down the pike (as Isaac calls it).
These ladies were GREAT! Lauri perfected the haute nose in the high pose and attitude, and Gretchen looked like a movie star, though the goal was socialite. (Gretchen's body is amazing in clothes!) Poor and gentle Ashley had to lug all that dress, which seemed like three tons of fabric, wires and boning, that combined together to create a a maid of honor gown thrown in a Theyskens, Galliano, and Montana mash-up. Why do designers have issue with a ladies bustline?! Why are boobs such an issue?!
This show was serene, purposely to wash away the East Coast-bias that West Coasters are "over the top" (though I do love over the top, that just wasn’t this week’s challenge).
Fashion Show #2 Campy and Classy
Nami was lost from the start. Dominique was raw and shaken (losing Ro, plus losing to Emerald the previous week, never mind seeing David wimp, threw her off it seemed); Calvin was making too many gowns for one challenge (though he did have the unpredictable Teresa to dress); David was too conceptual for genteel (the triangle two-dimensional green things he attempted to put on his gown were dinosaur-like). Eduardo seemed the most focused, and created a gown that had beautiful hidden pleating at the waist and bust to hold Dina in place (take note!). The one and only thing they could agree on was that they wanted old Hollywood starlets (just like Emerald) and the song "Moon River" (from Breakfast at Tiffany's, at least it's set in NYC) to be their show's inspiration. At this point, I thought if you can't beat them join them, so I jumped on the Old Hollywood bandwagon.
I told the designers to give the New Jersey housewives Hollywood actress to model themselves after:
Eduardo's housewife Dina would be Grace Kelly (she nailed it).
Calvin's housewife Teresa would be Sophia Loren (Sexy and playful. Did you notice her hands during her walk? GENIUS!)
Dominique's housewife Jacqueline would be Audrey Hepburn (a gamine).
Note: Dominique hated her dress with a red-hot passion, but Jacqueline LOVED it. I told Dominique backstage that her job was to make her client feel beautiful and elegant and she did!!
David's housewife Caroline would be Rita Hayworth (saucy and sensational).
For the show, I cast two male models to play they leading man and gentle escorts. I wanted their show to have a Doris Day at the Plaza Hotel, light-hearted feel with James Van Der Zee family portraits as the theme. The rear projection screen had revolving blue vintage wallpaper motifs that would change while the housewives strutted. The choreography with the hand gesture lovingly earned me an award from the Bravo execs as creating the gayest moment in Bravo history, which is no easy accomplishment (thank you Shari Levine! I'm proud to except the honor!!).
Luckily for Nami, the charm and charisma (and fighting spirit and savvy) of the New Jersey Housewives saved this collection, earning them thunderous applause from the audience. Backstage the OC housewives were asking me why the audience did not clap for them. I don’t know, but the room’s mood for two performances were certainly different. Perhaps it was an East Coast/West Coast thing.