Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Poxes on Humanity: The Rachel Zoe Project

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 at 1:34 PM


Ginia Bellafante, Times television critic, perplexes me. She has been sharpening her talent for reviewing vapid reality series and then telling us exactly how vapid and awful and horrible the people featured on these programs are (except in this instance, where she got a bit confused -- you can't justifiably intellectualize The Hills unless you know who's who!). The whole point of these shows is to put their stars forth as anti-stars. Like The Hills' feared and loathed Hollywood Machiavelli Spencer Pratt, Rachel Zoe of Bravo's The Rachel Zoe Project is a classic anti-heroine who you root against and, usually, can still very much enjoy watching. It's for a simple reason: she is utterly entertaining in her ridiculousness, and the things she does in front of the cameras are likely as pre-staged in her own mind as they are in Pratt's. Unlike Pratt, however, who should never direct another video again, I think Rachel Zoe, Hollywood stylist, is pretty damn good at what she does -- considering her fuck-ups on her way to the top.

One whoops? I'd never go so far as to suggest she's more influential than Anna Wintour. Boy, was that dumb. We all make mistakes, though. And essentially, that was kind of just a part of her whole branding plan: setting herself up as a certain type of character, in a class where she will surely dominate. Even if she is vilified.

Bellefante writes:

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. 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.

Tell us how you really feel! Let's blame the Pullman-esque spread of dummy dust on Zoe. What about Tyra Banks? What about Project Runway, or What Not to Wear? Are those programs for idiots as well? Sure, Zoe is ga-ga for expensive designer shit. She is silly for buying all new furniture to better represent herself in a photo shoot for Elle Decor. She is one-track-mind obsessed with maintaining her client's images to the point where the superficial is raised to a gross level of meaning. We get it. It's part of the shtick, it's more than half of what got her on television in the first place. She's in on it and so are we. Last September, when the Times magazine profiled her, Zoe said:

"I know what people want," Zoe told me. "They want to watch me with my assistants backstage with a star." She isn't unaware of what brought her to the public's (and Todd Shemarya's) attention: without the girls she dresses, who is Rachel Zoe? "That's the challenge," Zoe continued. "I understand what people want to see, but I'm interested in something else. I want my show to be about the history of fashion, about these brilliant designers and their homes and their lives." Shemarya agreed. "We want to do something educational," he told me, "that you can still make money off of."
It's impossible to separate her from what tabloid culture has wrought. Yes: she's paid insane amounts of money to guarantee that celebrities look their best on one of the days when looking your best is more important than the art you have created. Attention is on the dress, not necessarily the film or the story. That's already dunzo. Seems to me like Zoe's main fault is capitalizing on what's already been destroyed.


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