On June 6th, all the way out in Newburgh, New York, ten girls were having the luckiest afternoon of their lives. When Rachel DiCesare submitted her nine reasons she and her friends deserved to have a very special evening in Nine West’s “You’ve Been Prom’d” Facebook contest, her winning entry gave these lucky ladies the prom makeover of their dreams. Not only did they receive individually designed gowns to match the specifications of each girl, accessories galore, and personal makeup and hair stylists, courtesy of Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. They also got a special guest star as well, in the form of Nine West’s new Ambassador of Culture and Noise.
A “You’ve Been Prom’d” bus had pulled up to the unsuspecting teens, depositing People’s Revolution maven and America’s Next Top Model judge Kelly Cutrone at their school, Newburgh New Academy, which was located, The Observer was told, in Orange County’s “inner city.” (This project was about giving back to less fortunate communities, after all.)
The girls shrieked in delight as Ms. Cutrone lead them to their lockers, where sparkling clutches and fashionable heels had been hidden earlier. Faintly, a janitor’s cart could be heard echoing the halls.
It was truly a moment to remember. But it wasn’t quite magical enough.
“Okay, can we have the girls open the lockers again, this time without the noise, please?” The director of the shoot had picked up the janitorial squeak. Now the girls got to rediscover the ostensibly surprise goodies in their locker. It was Groundhog Day, minus Bill Murray. Or just another day in the world of “reality” programming, where an afternoon of excitement can stretch until the sun goes down in an attempt to get the right shot.
It’s a testament to how ingrained this type of entertainment is in our culture, or perhaps the patience of teenagers that is so rarely seen in day-to-day life, that none of the girls batted an eye when asked to enthusiastically repeat a phrase, or react to the same stimulus over and over. Almost college-age, these girls knew the price of doing business with the company that had so graciously donated tailor-made gowns to each of them–not to mention the fabulous Ms. Cutrone.
“Bling bling!” Enthused a young African American girl, holding up her bejeweled clutch.
“Great, can you say that again?” The director–although as time went buy we were not sure if this person was actually in charge of the proceedings–yelled out.
“You’ve Been Prom’d” is part of Nine West’s new Internet outreach campaign to target a younger demographic, and the video created that day would be used to promote Nine West’s new outreach initiative. Unlike a television show, with producers and networks and the like, this shoot was actually a collaborative effort between several different publicity teams. Ironically, the film’s crew might have been the only ones without a stake in this gambit.
“Bling-BLING!” the girl says again, with more sass.
“Bling-bling-bling!” Dangling the clutch in front of admiring friends, the young girl nails it on the third try, without breaking a sweat. Clearly, she’s a fan of those “behind-the-scenes” shows like Top Model, and understands that acting is a natural part of reality. At least when the cameras are on.
After a half hour near the lockers, Ms. Cutrone was still giving life skill advice for up-and-coming socialites. Her lesson on how to accept gift bags graciously was our favorite lesson.
“Here’s the wrong way to do it,” Ms. Cutrone, dressed in her trademark black, which matched her almost-tamed tresses. (Kudos to her companion hair stylist, who dabbed patchouli on his wrist before shaking our hand, inadvertently causing the school security to sniff the air suspiciously whenever we happened to walk by.) Ms. Cutrone picks up a gift bag and starts tearing through it.
“Oh, cool. I love this stuff. Can I get a bag for my friend? Wait, no, I don’t like this product,” the TV personality threw a piece of makeup over her shoulder and the girls laughed.
“Wait till you are down the block, then rifle through the free stuff,” Ms. Cutrone told the students. Sage advice. We marked it down in our notebook under “swag etiquette.”
As for Ms. Cutrone herself: her former reality show may have been called Kell on Earth, but there was none of that attitude on display this Wednesday. While taking a dinner break before the actual costume reveal, (the sun was already going down) Ms. Cutrone tried to pay out of pocket for a gown. One of the girls who wasn’t chosen for the contest just really wanted one, it seemed. Nine West’s reps tried to figure out a way to include a dress for the younger girl, not for the camera, just to help out. With Ms. Cutrone involved, the negotiations quickly devolved into promises of adoption–or possible child-napping.
“I’m going to take you home with me!” Ms. Cutrone promised, giving a hug to the dumbfounded tween.
The winners, being shuttled around as they were, didn’t really have time to talk, but we caught several minutes with Ms. DiCesare’s mother, who was just enormously proud of her daughter who had written to suggest that because of her parents’ divorce, she wouldn’t be able to afford a prom dress.
We bonded with Irene Fitzgerald, the senior director of PR at The Jones Group (the mega-luxe company that owns Nine West, among other brands) and met Morgan von Steen, a high school student from North Carolina who has taken an internship at Fashionista.com for the summer. In her free time, Ms. von Steen raps about fashion editors for her Tumblr. She hasn’t graduated high school yet, and she’s already been invited back stage after performing at Teen Vogue Fashion U in New York (Yes, that exists.) and was asked to do a special report for the magazine. With her brother beatboxing, Ms. von Steen seems less interested in verbal acrobatics than making sure she compliments everyone on the masthead. (Sample lyrics include: “Erin Kaplan, PR director/ making sure the magazine is relevant and happenin’.” And of course, there is the obligatory Amy Astley shout-out.)
When Ms. Cutrone starts in on how much she loves loves loves BryanBoy (who will be joining her for the next cycle of America’s Top Model), we feel distinctly, well, old. And out of touch. Somehow, the high school students of the world have passed us by in their extracurricular quirks. They are laying bare their life stories in the form of Facebook lists, so fashion labels can hook them up with Kelly Cutrone. They have Tumblrs dedicated to the correct pronunciation of “Taylor Tomasi Hill.” They are prepared to work long hours and do take after take.
This is the next generation of celebrity personalities in the fashion world. God help us, they are very, very good. And they don’t seem to need our help at all.
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