Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In Defense of Rachel Zoe (or, who the hell do you think you are, New York Times?)

I know that Ginia Bellafante's New York Times review of The Rachel Zoe Project came out two weeks ago, but I am unable to get it out of my head. To quote Cher in Clueless, it was harsh. WAY harsh, and I can't move on until I've dealt with it.

I realize that this is ironic, me calling someone else's tv review harsh. I am after all, the one who called Chris Elwood semi-retarded and Alex McCord really fucking annoying, but those characterizations can be supported by their own actions. The Times' critique of Rachel Zoe cannot.

Being mauled by the media on a weekly basis is nothing new for Rachel. Usually, her wrinkles and her weight--which have nothing to do with how she performs her job or who she is as a human being--are targeted. I understand when Perez does it; he trades in gossip and snark, which is fine. But when the NY Times stoops to this level under the cover of journalism and big words, it pisses me off.

I'd like to examine this review piece by piece and expose it for what it is: a nasty, uninformed attack on Rachel Zoe.

Rachel Zoe, a blonde with a relaxed perm and roots that are visible on purpose, is a fashion stylist, which in her fortunate case means that she dresses celebrities, reportedly for up to $6,000 a day.

Describing someone as having a perm, in any form, is aggressively insulting, and Bellafante knows this (if she doesn't, then she has no business reviewing a reality show about fashion). The "roots visible on purpose" is also meant to be an affront. You can almost hear the snort of derision as she calls Zoe a fashion stylist, as if to say "no one with such dreadful hair can know the first thing about fashion." My first response:

My second response: Why don't you try backing up that snotty innuendo? Rachel Zoe is among the best in her field. If you're going to insinuate that she is unqualified, you'd better come up with more of a reason than her hair. If you're going to further imply that she should not be making so much money, then take it out on capitalism, not Rachel Zoe.

More than any other stylist working in Hollywood today, she doesn’t merely peddle clothes, she emblazons an image, turning cipher nobodies into pretend somebodies. Although she has put grown women with viable acting careers into gowns — Debra Messing, Cameron Diaz — she is known more generally for forging a look of girlish vacancy, one that says: “I get up at noon. And then I spend my day refusing solid foods.”

She does turn nobodies into somebodies (does Ms. Bellafante have a problem with PR firms too?)--it's a byproduct of her doing her job well. People don't hire her in order to melt into the background; they hire her because they know she will make them look beautiful and they will be noticed. As for the "girlish vacancy" and "refusing solid foods," I assume this is a not-so-veiled reference to Nicole Richie. Let's take a look at what Zoe did for her.

She took her from this:

to this:

Not bad, huh? The only "girlish vacancy" and "I get up at noon" looks I see are in the pre-Zoe photo. As for the eating disorder, here's a newsflash: Nicole Richie was fucked up long before Rachel Zoe came along. She was an eating disorder waiting to happen. Same with Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton. Don't pin that all on Zoe.

A Starbucks cup is essential to the entire gestalt.

And your point is? A Starbucks cup is essential to the gestalt of half of the country's urban population.

Given that Ms. Zoe is already a pox on humanity — exploiting an aesthetic of dissipation, invading our collective consciousness and spraying it with dummy dust — it is amazing that “The Rachel Zoe Project,” which focuses on her career, manages to send its audience deeper into the territory of smug NPR obsessives who won’t stop ranting about triviality’s conquest of the American soul.

A pox on humanity? Really? Even disregarding the crazy hyperbole, if you're going to call someone a pox, back it up. Once again, Zoe's just doing her job. She has screwed-up, do-nothing clients (although I think most of them have been weeded out) and she has legitimately successful clients (Joy Bryant, Jennifer Garner, Debra Messing). She brings it for all of them. The ones who are anorexic and shoot heroin look like they are anorexic and shoot heroin. The ones who don't, don't. She's not a miracle worker or a drug counselor, she's a stylist.

I can't even respond to the rest of the sentence because I've read it 12 times and I still don't understand it. I think Bellafante is trying to say that watching Zoe's show is causing us all to feel doom and gloom over society's fascination with celebrity? If this is a correct translation, then to this I say "lighten up." This show is about beauty and fashion. It is escapism, and if you don't like it, then go watch whatever it is that smug people watch.

By the way, all of this criticism is pretty rich coming from the same person who called Heidi Montag a feminist hero. Talk about making idleness look chic! Heidi's the freaking poster child for that movement.

First I hated the show for passing Ms. Zoe off as an innovator when all she does is recycle a look that has held appeal since
Tom Ford’s days at Gucci. Then I hated it for turning me into Max von Sydow in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” a cranky old person hungering for anachronisms.

She IS an innovator as far as styling is concerned--stylists didn't exist 10 years ago. She's clearly the leader in this relatively new field. As for the statement about Tom Ford, I'm really not qualified to comment on Tom Ford's look at Gucci vs. Rachel's look now, but isn't it all recycled? And if the look "shuts it down," who cares?

The reference to Hannah and her Sisters ALONE makes Bellafante sound like a cranky old person. This whole review makes her sound like a stuffy, you-kids-get-off-my-lawn, cranky old person.

How I cling to my memories of Diana Vreeland. Ms. Zoe replaces the fashion personality’s eccentricity with perpetual dissatisfaction. She gets upset at an underling when rain water threatens to seep into her storage closet.

Oh my God, this is so snobbish and inaccurate that I think I need to go lie down in a dark room with a cold compress. To the contrary, Rachel Zoe is impressed again and again with the work of designers and is sincere and effusive with her praise. In regard to the rain water incident, Bellafante obviously didn't even watch this episode. Water seeped into Zoe's studio, damaging hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of dresses. She was justifiably upset with her assistant when dresses were standing in water and no action was taken to stop the flooding. She didn't like how he handled the situation and she told him so. There was no humiliation, no screaming, no belittling. If that's perpetual dissatisfaction, then I'd like to know what Bellafante thinks of Jeff Lewis.

She wants new pieces of furniture for her stark, modern Los Angeles house, even though she decorated it just two years ago.

“I love our furniture,” she tells her husband, Rodger, “but we’ve had it for a while.”

His hesitation doesn’t stop her. She charges ahead and buys an expensive credenza and a new sofa that looks exactly like her old sofa. “I don’t understand saving for the rainy day,” she says. “Live now. Live every day like it’s your last day.” Her whim isn’t really driven by an inspiration for change: She wants furniture that she hopes will better brand her for a photo shoot for the British edition of Elle Decor.

Where do I start? First, Zoe said that she works in her home and needs to be inspired by what is in her home. Second, Zoe is under constant pressure to be the most chic, the most glamorous. She's savvy enough to know that if she's not perceived in that way, her business will suffer. Anyone who watches the show regularly knows that she is afraid of failure. The furniture was a way to shore up her doubts about her home. Third, and most importantly, she makes an insane amount of money. Why shouldn't she spend it on new furniture if she wants to?

I did agree with the fact that the new couch looked like the old one. But really, who cares? Her money, her couch.

Zoe's comment about saving for a rainy day reminded me of another lover of high fashion who said once that she went through money like "a bottle of scotch, I suppose, if you're an alcoholic." Who said this? Oh yes--Diana Vreeland, notorious for overextending herself in the name of style.

When Ms. Zoe isn’t talking about brand expansion — “I want to do my own clothing line. I want to do denim, obviously sunglasses, jewelry and bags”— she is expanding her own wardrobe. At Decades, a well-known vintage store in Los Angeles, she picks up another Herm├Ęs Birkin bag. One of her assistants tries to dissuade her: “You collect art. You don’t collect Birkin.”

Why wouldn't she want to do her own line? She has a highly-copied, undeniable style. I would buy one of her cocktail rings in a heartbeat. Are we to criticize her for wanting to capitalize on that? As for expanding her own wardrobe, all I have to say is "duh." Fashion is not only her job, but her passion. I would be highly suspicious of a stylist who didn't love buying clothes for herself.

By the way, buying a Birkin is actually a decent investment, and it's surely a safer place for money than feminist Heidi Montag's clothing line.

“The Real Housewives of Orange County” has led the recent wave of reality programming about mad consumption. But it’s a genre that feels downright unseemly as investment banks are dissolving, and unemployment stands at more than 6 percent. It isn’t merely that “Rachel Zoe” lumbers along, asking us to get excited about a corporate work in progress — it’s also that the timing couldn’t be nuttier.

I actually agree with most of this. I am annoyed and feel a little manipulated when The Brand is mentioned, but this is a very small part of the show. The focus is mainly on the daily life of a celebrity stylist. Ultimately, the show is about glamour and beauty, and I'm completely in favor of that.

I was fully prepared, even excited, to hate Rachel Zoe. I expected her to be a humorless diva with average talent. But she's not. She's happy. She smiles. She laughs at herself. When you add in the fact that she loves her job and has style out the wazoo--what's not to like?

I'm not saying that Zoe is some sort of hero, only that she does not deserve to be shit upon by people who have never seen more than 3 minutes of her show. If you're going to criticize Rachel Zoe, then do it based on her work or her behavior (or just get a blog and be as irresponsible as you like). Call her out on her love of fur or her unbusiness-like valley-speak (which I happen to find endearing) but bring up something substantial. Don't tell me about "dummy dust" or isolated furniture buying. That's not only poor journalism, it's unfair. I expected better from the NY Times.

Ah, closure. Feels good. I'll have the recap from last night's episode up before the end of the week.


Jennifer said...

I think the review was malicious and wrongheaded as well. Plus, I think RZ had a terrible public image prior to the show, as a dour, druggie shrew. The show has done wonders for her public image. Is she flighty? Yeah. She's not the ambassador to Zimbabwe. She's a fucking stylist. She deals in clothes, accessories, looks. She's good at what she does and she's entertaining to watch.

Oh, and she has a fantastic gay!

mamacita said...

Well said.

Except I don't think Sarah Jessica Parker has any style of her own. It's all Pat Field -- the STYLIST, you know, Ginia? Their work is pretty important, in its own way, and highly influential.

I *Heart* You said...

i hope RZ sends you a Birk for this. you deserve it sista! i read that article too and thought what a bunch of shit. obviously this person has only a thinly veiled view of her as a person and wrote the piece with total bias – so not professional.

oh, and you are my rock.

Brilliant Asylum said...

Perfectly said. Bellafonte seems pretty lame.

Cote de Texas said...

Great article, as usual. What she did with Nicole Ritchie alone is amazing - love your pictures of that. I wish I could hire her, God, I really need her!

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

That review made me so mad. Ugh. I always hated Zoe on principal, but from the moment I saw that preview special I have been in love. I find her incredibly endearing and unintentionally funny. I agree with everything you said.

crabapple said...

right on SGM. I've said it here in the comments before, and I'll say it again, I expected to dislike Zoe but after watching the show...I can't. Her genuine enthusiasm for what she does, passion for fashion as an art form, and likability really shine through.

People like this journalist obviously haven't watched the show, and are just responding to the media's cliche of her as representing all that's gone wrong with society...what BS. And lazy journalism.

PS--I also thought Kim Kardashian was very sweet on DWTS...I have never seen her show but here again was someone I thought would be just awful and was actually sweet.

the glamourai said...


better late than never. in your absence i wrote a much lighter weight, but no less heartfelt defense of my own:

however you, as always, hit the nail on the head.
can't wait for the recap!

Amanda said...

Oh thank god you got that off your chest. I could tell it was weighing you down. Maybe, hopefully you'll be back to regular posting now???

Natalie said...

Well said...written...seriously.

faithsalutes said...

Now this should be in the NYT.

Stupid bitches.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Pun intended :)

This is like...a manifesto, SGM. Woe to those who write negatively about those whom you admire. Of course I'm a total Rachel Zoe fan, and I can't wait for your recap!

Decorno said...

This is my favorite part:

There was no humiliation, no screaming, no belittling. If that's perpetual dissatisfaction, then I'd like to know what Bellfante thinks of Jeff Lewis.


I am so glad you are defending her from the that NY Times attack. Shouldn't they be busy getting the next WMD story wrong, or something?

Courtney said...


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

So well said, SGM. Ginia Bellafante is a sanctimonious douchebag.

Ivy Lane said...

Great Post! love Zoe..and her show! Her house is amazing too!

The Harvster said...

Newspapers are failing all over. I think the writers, especially the "culture" reporters, have been instructed to make their stories more TMZ-y: mix the reporting up with smart-alecky, bloggy sass, to compete with the Web.

Honestly, I think this kind of writing is mostly an act of desperation on the part of a dying business.

Anonymous said...

I just don't like how Zoe blows smoke up every designer's ass. Wouldn't your opinion mean for if you could give someone--anyone--some constructive criticism? I guess then the free clothes parade would end. What I can't figure out is why on earth she would spend money on vintage when she could obviously score the latest designs free.

Richie Designs said...


Team Zoe!

Paul Pincus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amber {daisy chain} said...

rock on SGM. I just happened to do a love-fest post on Rachel today, so you can imagine my disgust with this article, how awful! xo

Ava said...

Excellent SGM! I was also ready to jump on the Hate on Rachel Zoe bandwagon. Now? I can't stop saying, "I DIE" at every opportunity. Yes, this is escapism, it's fantasyland for those of us who's main access to couture fashion is watching Bravo. Yes, each little fashion crisis can be a little silly. "This client needs 10 outfits in London by tomorrow! THIS IS A 911!!!!!" But I think she even admits that she's not curing cancer or anything.
Can we talk about Brad and how he is one of the most perfect gays ever? I love him and his Michigan State t-shirt. (Did he go to school there? Is he too from my homestate? I need details.)
Taylor can suck it. What IS her fucking problem? Why does she hate the world so much? What happened? Was she not one of the popular, pretty girls, now she is and can't get over it? GET OVER IT BITCH! You TOUCH couture every damn day. Lighten up. I'm sorry your life is so crappy.
I. Die.

Baking With Plath said...

This is such a great post. That article was nonsensical and everything you responded with was so dead on.

And I'm still confused by the fact that ANYONE could think of Heidi as a "feminist hero". Is that a joke??

Paul Pincus said...

love brad.

kinda have a crush on zoe's make-up artist, joey.

sjp does have style and pat fields will confirm it!

cheers : )

ps excellent post.

Jozette said...

A-FRICKIN-MEN Sister. Seriously. What a bitch that NY Times lady! And fine, be a bitch, but you're right, she obviously doesn't even watch the show as proved by her comment about the flood in Rachel's studio. She didn't even flip out! I would have flipped out! Also, um... she's not perpetually dissatisfied! Stressed out, maybe. So is any business owner with her life and reputation on the line. Go pick on someone who actually deserves it...

this one said...

i love that you are back to blogging. those were tough times while you were gone.

i had to watch tv for myself!!! dont let that pretty little comp die again!

this one said...

i love that you are back to blogging. those were tough times while you were gone.

i had to watch tv for myself!!! dont let that pretty little comp die again!

myx n mingle said...

You are right on SGM! I love Rachel Zoe and personally find her inspiring! To blame her for singlehandedly making all of Hollywood anorexic is completely laughable - that problem was there before RZ, and will be there long after RZ.

The Lil Bee said...

Wow, I had only heard the "wake up at noon and avoid solid foods" quote from this story, so the review recap was great. And this chick called Heidi a feminist hero?! I had to click thru to the link to read it myself. Wow.

franki durbin said...

I L-O-V-E you for this rebuttal.

Go Team Zoe ;)

Jessie said...

Um, is it time for Team Zoe t-shirts yet?

I think we need to get on that, stat, SGM.

Love the article response... you shut it down, sistah!

Anonymous said...

okay, simmmer down SGM. you don't even know RZ, she doesn't know you, and yet defend her like she is your own offspring! lord. and to think, she is clearly anorexic, she shops for and dresses people who are also anorexic and probably have no clue what they are wearing or why, and she runs around saying such stupid things like "I DIE!" and "bananas"...who fucking cares? she's so pathetic. i thought the NYT article was RIGHT ON - it's a statement about our society that people actually watch the RZ show, hello dumbed-down America! gotta love it.

SGM said...

There will be no simmering down for poor journalism, anon. Let me haven't watched the show. Am I right?

Anonymous said...

Do you feel like you have wasted a few hours of your life writing this? I feel like I have wasted 5 minutes of mine reading it.

Anonymous said...

hi sgm, yes - i watched the show! and would only comment because of it. she continues to be ridiculous, anorexic, self absorbed and phony..."I DIE" ...please!!

Anonymous said...

I just want to say job well done on this it, I too expected to not like Rachel Zoe I had imagined someone totally different to the reality.... she is fun, fabulous and v. talented and I absolutely love how passionate she is about fashion. She is a woman who has achieved what she had set out to plus more....lucky her is what I say and she has a husband who she obviously adores to share it with...wish her more success and happiness.... for those that don't like the programme simple solution don't watch, don't participate in forums on subjects you don't enjoy v.simple!

Anonymous said...

I know this article is old, but I stumbled upon it. The best part for me was after the NY Times writer said RZ was no Diana Vreeland, you came back with:

Zoe's comment about saving for a rainy day reminded me of another lover of high fashion who said once that she went through money like "a bottle of scotch, I suppose, if you're an alcoholic." Who said this? Oh yes--Diana Vreeland.