With no makeup and a modest all-black wardrobe — what she describes as the “Amish psycho killer” look — Kelly Cutrone has cultivated the type of gay following typically reserved for sparkly divas. The intimidating owner of People’s Revolution, a top fashion public relations and marketing firm, Cutrone grabbed America’s attention as the straight-shooting, scene-stealing mentor to Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port on MTV hits The Hills and The City. Part memoir and part self-help manual, Cutrone’s candid new book, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You, is out February 2 — the day after her own reality series, Kell on Earth, debuts on Bravo. From her Manhattan office, the 44-year-old single mom introduces us to her flamboyant “gay sons” and reveals the truth behind those persistent lesbian rumors.
Advocate.com: I know you’re a busy woman, so thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
Kelly Cutrone: I love The Advocate. Let’s get to the lesbian rumors — you want to start with that?
Oh, well, I was going to ease into it, but sure.
I thought I was a lesbian at one point after my divorce from [Warhol protégé] Ronnie Cutrone, who I married at 21. Everybody told me that if I did all these things, I was going to live happily ever after, so getting divorced at the age of 25 is pretty heavy if you’re in love and you believe in that whole system the way that I did. I was like, I think women are really beautiful and everybody thinks I’m gay, so I must be a lesbian. So I did sleep with and have a relationship with a woman, but it was very short-lived — only two weeks — because I like to have sex with guys. I don’t even think it was the wrong woman or anything, I just like to — I’m trying not to say the f word this year, but, you know. There are so many stereotypes, so I can understand why people think that I’m gay, but if I were gay, I’d be sleeping with a woman and not be uptight about it. I just sexually prefer to sleep with men — like you do, I’m sure.
I know, but the funny thing is that when I was with this chick I was not hard-core — I was like this femme girl. And when I’m in relationships with men, I tend to be, well, maybe not submissive, but a little softer than you might think. Listen, I’ve worked in fashion forever, so I have so many friends who are gay and who are part of my family, so I don’t mind being called a lesbian. One time I was walking down the street and these two lesbians who were collecting money for an AIDS charity yelled, “Hey, you’re our favorite lesbian on TV!” I was like, “OK, thank you!” So you can put me wherever you want — it’s fine by me. But if I do get a girlfriend in the future, I promise I’ll break the story with you.
Your new book is peppered with shout-outs to the LGBT community — from your dog who was afraid of drag queens where you used to live on Christopher Street to the interracial lesbians you describe as “every Manhattan parent’s worst nightmare in the private school admissions process” — so it’s clear that the community has made quite an impact on your life.
Well, I mean, how could they not? I work in the fashion business. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a straight guy.
You write a lot about the idea of finding your “tribe.” Who’s the most important gay person on your tribal council?
I met Nick Philippou, who was Alan Cumming’s lover for many years, when I was about seven months pregnant and exclaimed, “I could really go for a cigarette!” This got his attention, of course, because it was so ridiculously inappropriate. He was like, “What are you doing? You’re about to have a baby!” So I was like, “OK, I won’t smoke.” We started talking, and he told me he was directing a Genet play, Elle, and wanted Jean-Paul Gaultier to make the costumes. I was like, “Fuck that, I’ll get Vivienne Westwood to do it,” and she did. So we became great friends. We call him “Easter Nick” at my house because I’m a single mom, so he comes to play the role of Uncle during Easter time. But Jeremy Scott’s also really important in my life, and Jason Weinberg’s like my little brother. Basically, the people that I roll with and spend a lot of time with are all gay guys.
You also mention in the book that costume designer Patricia Field, who gave you your first push-up bra, was the first lesbian you’d ever met after moving to New York City in the late ’80s.
Oh, I love Pat. Back in 1991, when Jesse Helms was acting like a freak and was becoming totally scary, I did this art show with my husband at the time, Ronnie Cutrone, called “Love. Spit. Love.” We took three couples — one straight, one lesbian, and one gay male — installed them in an art gallery on Lafayette Street, and said that we were white, straight, married, monogamous, and angry that the people picked to represent us were creating a dangerously false morality. The couples had to be naked, kiss, caress, and fuck to love songs from the ’50s through the ’90s with an American flag hanging on the wall, and Pat and Rebecca, her girlfriend at the time, were the lesbian couple! But then they decided they didn’t want to do it and dropped out the day of the show, so I had to pop down the line outside — and this was the largest art opening in the history of America, with about 4,000 people — to find another lesbian couple who would agree to come in, take their clothes off, and have sex in the middle of an art gallery.
Summing up the overall “call to arms” in your book, you write, “I’m not here to talk to straight guys. Let them build their own army. I’m here to talk to women and gay men.” When it comes to working in fashion and PR, is your advice really interchangeable for both?
Pretty much, yeah, it’s all the same thing — give or take some tasks, emotions, or states of mind. Although my gay sons bring me more joy and entertainment in my office than my daughters do.
So are you easier on gay employees than you are on the straight girls?
Yeah, I am. The girls can get really cranky and mean, but my gay sons and I have a lot of fun during the day.
Gay characters have been conspicuously absent from The Hills and The City on MTV. Will that change since Kell on Earth is on Bravo?
Are you kidding me? Yes, we have the best guys in my office — who, by the way, now want to only be referred to as “the gays.”
Tell me about Andrew Mukamal, your assistant and Kell on Earth costar.
I love Andrew. Isn’t he hot? I once said to him, “I don’t really think you’re gay. I think you’re just trying to get into the fashion business.” He was like, “No, it’s just that no guys want to have sex with me right now.” So we took a survey in the office to see how many girls wanted to have sex with Andrew, and we all raised our hands. But now he has a boyfriend — well, he probably wouldn’t be happy for me to say that because I’m sure he doesn’t want to close his options off, but he met somebody he likes. Andrew’s like my Rob Camilletti and my Wednesday Addams all rolled into one, but sometimes I have to say, “Andrew, you can’t wear skirts during this meeting — and I don’t care if it’s a skort.” He once said, “Yeah, I spend all my money on clothes. What else would you spend your money on?” I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s the meanest thing you could say in America right now!”
Under the heading “Top Ten Career Don’ts — Or, How Not to Get a Career in Fashion” in your book, you write, “Do not overemphasize your nationality or gender as a way of making a point. You may be a gay man, but you still have no right to wear a skirt and twirl around in the middle of the room proclaiming you’re king of the fairies.”
Yeah, that is so not OK. Even if you’re the greatest queen of all time, you have to tone it down in the middle of the day. There’s another Andrew in the office — we call him “Tandrew” — who’s like this pixie version of George Hamilton’s offspring. I tell him he can’t just whiz around calling me “Miss Thing” all day long. Express yourself, but don’t overexpress yourself — unless you’re asked to, of course, and then I expect you to do it immediately. Pablo Olea, our showroom director, only walks as if he’s doing runway — even when he’s just going to the fax machine. He doesn’t say much, but sometimes he wears a cape and sometimes he’ll come by my desk and put the cape over my head like a matador. And every once in a while he’ll put on all the samples from clients who haven’t paid their bills and do a full fashion show in the middle of the office.
Some fashion critics in recent years have blamed many of the fashion industry’s problems — boyish figures of female models, unflattering tent dresses, uncomfortable women’s wear — on gay male designers, which stems from the idea that they aren’t sexually attracted to women and therefore don’t truly understand women’s bodies. Is there any validity to that argument?
No. People don’t understand that it’s society that’s powerful, not the artist. It’s the craziest thing, but the power is really in the hands of the consumer. It’s society that’s pointing younger, thinner, better, more, so the fashion, music, movie, and TV people are just giving the people at home what they want. It’s a gladiator sport. Just from being on TV, I’ve seen how mean people can be and how they want you to conform to and look like what they want to see. They become very aggravated and agitated if you don’t, but I’m not Heidi, so I’m not going to go out and have 10 surgeries until you think I look good.
Speaking of fashionable gays, what do you think about CocoPerez, Perez Hilton’s celebrity fashion blog?
You gotta love the queen of all media.
One major aspect of your life and career you don’t explore in your book is the exposure you’ve received from the MTV shows. Why did you avoid discussing that?
I love The City and I’m really grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be on that — I’m actually filming the third season right now — but I didn’t want to refer to my television life because I wanted to make a book that could sit on the shelf for a while. I didn’t want somebody to buy my book in 10 years, see me talking about this TV show, and have it be like a “So ’80s, Where Are They Now?” thing.