Say what you want about power-mama Kelly Cutrone but never say the fast-talking, brutally honest New Yorker isn’t 100% real. In her new book, If You Have To Cry, Go Outside – aptly named for the strict policy she enforces on her interns – Cutrone speaks candidly about breastfeeding in public (“My tits were like the Soho welcoming committee”) and wearing bulky, floral maternity clothes (“I’d rather clean toilets.”) She’s also the star of Kell on Earth, the buzzed-about reality show that follows Cutrone as she navigates the often-insane fashion world at her mega-PR firm, People’s Revolution, and raises her 6-year-old daughter, Ava, as a single mom. Somewhere between all of that, Cutrone found a few minutes to talk to Babble about motherhood – and as usual, the feisty, fresh-faced lady in black had plenty to say. – Andrea Zimmerman
In your book, you are so honest about motherhood. You compared breastfeeding to “rolling your nipples in broken glass while someone shoots hot oil through every vein of your breast.” Do you wish more moms called it like it is?
I’m one of those go-to girls with real talk. With my friends, it’s like, “Oh god, this is really overwhelming, I’m going to call Cutrone because I know she’s not going to judge me.” I think every woman has their own type of pregnancy. I have friends that when they’re pregnant, they are amazing. They’re really healthy, they feel great, they look beautiful. Look at [Matthew McConaughey’s girlfriend] Camila Alves – when she was pregnant, she looked hot. But that wasn’t what being pregnant was like for me. I was like, “Oh god, I’m going to gain a ton of weight, I’m Italian, I’m going to blow up.”
Hey, [pregnancy’s] not always fun. When you can’t see your feet, it’s not fun. You appreciate it, but it’s not fun. Is it worth it to have a baby? Yes.
You also talk about the importance of knowing who you are before you have a child. What do you mean by that?
The whole book is based on the fact that people are pretty much programmed to blindly walk around to the beat of a song that’s not their own. I see other women who get pregnant without their own money, their own career, their own success – a lot of them are barely just starting out. They are 25, 26, three years out of school. But it’s different for everybody. It’s important to know who you are, that you’re not running around doing things just because that’s your family’s legacy. If you grew up in a family full of lawyers and your parents are like, “We want you to go to law school because that’s what we do,” and you secretly want to be a watercoloring poet in Mexico, then you’re not really being yourself, are you?
I think if we don’t find out who we are, that resentment will overrun to our children. And you can see it sometimes in mothers. This is a great example – beauty pageant moms – they never got to do it and then they have a five-year-old kid strung out on hairspray with tons of makeup on, tap-dancing their way through a stage in Minneapolis. It’s not cute. We have to remember that our kids come through us and we can’t fall apart.
You’re from Syracuse, N.Y. – a far cry from Manhattan. What do you love and hate about raising Ava in the Big Apple?
There’s an incredible amount of diversity – true diversity, not fake diversity like in other parts of the country where you have different races living together but they’re always in the same economic bracket. New York has a plethora of religions and ethnicities, so there is more of a communal vibe and not just one way of thinking. There’s so much to do here – we haven’t even done everything there is to do as a family and we’ve been living here eight years. The downside is that [New York] doesn’t have any nature. My response: get a country house. Actually I just found out that the offer I just put on a house is being accepted, so that’s really exciting.
What do you and Ava do when you want to get away from the craziness?
We do really normal things, like go to Target. We go to the Hannaford grocery store in Yonkers with our car. It sounds really bizarre, but it’s just amazing to be at a place where you can get a case of organic drinks and put them in your trunk and not have to carry them. We go to a movie, we go upstate, we go to a place called Fun Central, which is like a video arcade, and we hit baseballs and play air hockey. We just do really uber-suburban things, because we don’t get the chance to do them in New York.
What do you hope Ava learns from you?
To embrace her authenticity – and to be herself no matter what. I let her be herself. That’s the most important thing – for Ava to understand that she has her own soul. She’s not part of me, she’s not part of her dad, but she came through us and we’re watching her for God. This is her life.
I would love for her to be a photographer – her godmother is a photographer – [but] Ava has to do whatever she wants. It’s important to me to not try to make Ava into something I think Ava should be. It’s important to me to pay attention to Ava and her cues and to give her as many experiences to figure it out so we can see what resonates and what doesn’t.
You famously run a tight ship at People’s Revolution – you’re especially tough on the interns. But you’re also very motherly to them.
I only yell at the interns, which is something I don’t think people have figured out yet. It’s tough having so many interns in that office. It’s been my thing the last five years, working with them and teaching them. And that’s one of the reasons why I wrote the book. I was learning so much by being with the kids all the time. These kids come from college and get into my office and they don’t know how to take a phone message. It is absolutely freaking terrifying. It’s like, “Are you for real? You’re 20 and you can’ttake a phone message?” I’m actually there trying to help these kids go through our internship program so I can give them a recommendation. I’m helping my industry by preparing these kids. But people like Stephanie [Vorhees, one of Kelly’s employees], who was like “Oh, I didn’t know how to post post-its.” Are you joking?
What do you say to moms who criticize you for spending too much time at the office and not enough time with your daughter? These kids come from college and get into my office and they don’t know how to take a phone message. It is absolutely freaking terrifying.
That’s an absolutely easy shot to take. I don’t have the option to be a stay-at-home mom. If you’re a mom who has a husband who’s paying for everything and having a good time and that makes me a bad mom and that’s what you want to project on me, go for it. I really don’t care. I talk to Ava about it and I say, “If you want to go to India where we can have a house, Mommy never has to work again.” I have enough money where I can retire right now in India. I don’t have enough money to retire in Boston or L.A. or even the small town in Virginia where my parents live.
I know stay-at-home moms who are amazing mothers. And I know women who work because they can’t stand being around their kids so they stay at a bar until their kid falls asleep so they don’t have to see them. I know moms who go have lunch with their kids on their lunch break. There are all different kinds of moms, and my answer is: We have to stop dissing each other. We shouldn’t look and think that we understand each other and what it means to be on the other side of that, unless we do.
What are the best and worst qualities Ava’s inherited from you?
I think she’s good in tribal situations; she can roll with a lot of people. When I was growing up, my house was always the house that everybody went to on Sundays. My mom was always the one cooking and had everybody over. I think she probably inherited that. She’s not a guarded, shy, only child. She’s pretty much comfortable with a large group of people. But she’s not comfortable coming into a fashion show with 600 people staring at her. She’s comfortable in groups of grown-ups. She can move very well from one topic to another and she has very insightful things to say. She’s pushing seven and has a very interesting take on things that are very real.
The worst qualities? She’s not rude, she wears pink, she has good manners, she plays well with others, she’s very loving – we’re nothing alike, really.
What’s your biggest pet peeve about New York moms?
That weird nutrition mommy thing. If somebody comes over for a play date, they’ll ask you what kind of apple juice you have and if you mind diluting it with water so the sugar content goes down. Moms in New York who don’t want their kids touching an escalator because there are germs on the black rubber part. The moms that are just hyper-serious about chemical poisoning and sugar poisoning and non-organic; I’m not like that.
So you’re not too overprotective of Ava?
Yeah, I actually am. You have to tell your kids what’s going on. When I first became pregnant with Ava, I printed out all the registered sex offenders in Manhattan and thought, “Oh, god, I have company with all these bike messengers coming in and out all day long.” It’s a dangerous place. I make her nanny call me every day when she drops her off at school. I like to know that she gets into her classroom safely. I’m terrified that she’ll be on a corner and some drunken person or crazy cab driver will hit her. I’m wracked with motherly worries. I don’t know what’s worse – letting a kid play alone in the yard or having somebody come and grab them. It’s scary being a parent. From the minute you have them, you’re just praying all day long that they’re going to be okay.
What celeb moms could you see yourself being friends with?
Justine Bateman is my best friend – from Family Ties. We got pregnant at the same time. Her kids call me aunt and my daughter calls her auntie. But I’d probably be in the Angelina camp more than the Jennifer Garner camp.
If your fashion career crashed and burned tomorrow, what would make you happiest?
Hanging out with Ava or living in South India and being a teacher at a little girls’ orphanage.