Ba. Na. Nas. It’s a well-known secret: The Rachel Zoe Project is every fashionphile’s little six-episode guilty pleasure.
Of course, there are the gorg gowns, fluffy fur vests, and swank vintage-vintage-vintage -- the petite Pomeranian-like powerhouse Zoe has styled herself as a fierce cross between a posh hippie and a bohemian refuge from Studio 54. And there are the sparse celeb swing-throughs (interesting since so many of her A-list clients remain off-camera, but then few likely want to be shot getting taped into a gown) and expected thrill of shopping (or at least borrowing) for high-glam events like the Oscars. Essentially imagine all those shopping scenes in chick flicks, from Pretty Woman to Confessions of a Shopaholic, boiled down to one Bravo reality TV show.
But the real, universal appeal of the series stems from the characters, starting with the Zoe-ster herself.
Ever-so-quotable catch-phrases roll off the seemingly always busy, fashion-obsessed Zoe like tears of fashionista joy off a vinyl Prada raincoat. Those include “bananas” (she likes it), “beyond” (she really likes it), “omigod” (she’s coo-coo for it, and it’s abbreviated this season by styling associate Brad to “O-M-G”) and “I die!” (she likes it so much she’ll perish and spin in her grave -- scattering sequins, Swarovski crystals and feathers as she goes -- for it).
But beneath the hair and makeup sessions with Zoe’s adorable stylist Joey and behind the hobnobbing with designers like Diane von Furstenberg and Giorgio Armani, we get a glimpse into the high-pressure reality of a stylist who has to assemble multiple red-carpet-worthy gowns -- as well as jewels, bags, accessories, undergarments -- for A-list actors like Anne Hathaway and Cameron Diaz. Harder than it looks, and this season throws that monkey wrench called the recession into the lux works. “I’m getting a little nervous. I feel like designers aren’t putting the same money and energy into making full-on gowns right now,” Zoe confesses to longtime employee Taylor as she makes the rounds of showrooms, studios and runway shows, searching in vain for more best-dressed options.
Even better, we get a glimpse into the make-it-work reality behind the eye and the thick black eyeliner (As Zoe told Entertainment Weekly, “Why does no one tell me I look like a transvestite every day?!”). Her surfer-boy teddy bear of a hubby Rodger waits patiently on the sidelines and gently admonishes her about her spendy shopping excursions (“It’s called recessionary Valentine’s Day,” he tells her this season when she says she wants to hit the stores instead of getting a massage. “You go out and you buy nothing and pretend that you do. Just like everyone else in America”).
And we witness her refereeing, somewhat, last season’s tempestuous “styling associate” wars between longtime employee Taylor and newbie Vogue refugee Brad, and got a glimpse of her stressed-out mother-hen side. The pair are the super-ego and id bookends in Zoe’s world: the ultra-competent, uber-competitive Taylor feels taken for granted beside the new and shiny -- and charming -- Brad, and last season, she acted out, big time, throwing the tearful Brad into the fire and then proceeding to kick him to the curb.
This season Taylor threatens to spread her wings and fly the coop, and Zoe is lambasted in the press for being too thin. Drama! And though the show borders on the absurd in the high drama it generates over dresses, one comes away with something of an understanding about what takes to get paid for dressing celebs -- and to have the power to coax Karl Lagerfeld to alter a Chanel creation for mainstream American eyes intent on the red carpet. You’re willing to follow Zoe beyond, beyond, beyond.
A new episode of The Rachel Zoe Project is aired on Bravo on Mondays, 10 p.m.