We were more than a little disappointed to learn that we missed Dan Stevens aka Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey when he lunched with producer Paula Wagner at Table One on Monday. (Doesn’t he know Wednesday is the day for lunch at Michael’s?) Luckily, today’s oh-so-fabulous lunch with the cast of Oxygen’s new ‘supermodel competition’ series, The Face, more than made up for it. While in town to promote the new series, which premieres Tuesday, February 12 at 9 pm on Oxygen, supermodels Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova, Coco Rocha and renowned photographer Nigel Barker decided to make ‘Lunch’ their sole joint appearance on their whirlwind media tour.
I couldn’t imagine what yet another reality competition series about fashion could bring to the party, but when I watched the screener of the premiere episode in anticipation for our lunch I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from its stellar production values, The Face has some serious fashion cred thanks to executive producer and supermodel coach Naomi Campbell’s considerable star power (along with fellow coaches Karolina Kurkova and Coco Rocha) and unrivaled sense of what works. As host, Nigel Barker is a commanding yet reassuring presence. Everything on the show has an authenticity that real fashionistas will appreciate, while giving ‘civilians’ a true glimpse into what it really takes to make it in modeling. The most refreshing twist the series offers is in its approach to working with the 12 hopefuls vying to be the new face of ULTA Beauty. The contestants also get some major opportunities in the course of the show, including photo shoots with the legendary Patrick Demarchelier and challenges with W magazine. Celebrities Wendy Williams and Amare Stoudemire make appearances as guest judges.
The three supermodels act as mentors to their respective teams and took their roles very seriously. Even though the show wrapped months ago, Naomi, Karolina and Coco forged such strong bonds with their ‘girls’ that all of them remain in touch with the wannabe models, offering career advice whenever the need should arise. “I really worry about my girls,” Naomi told me. “It’s funny, when I’m working in New York or Paris, I always feel like I’m going to miss everyone when the week is over, but after a few days you get on with it. When we finished shooting the show, I felt a little sad. I still talk to my girls and I’m texting them all the time. I really grew quite fond of them.”
Both Karolina and Coco felt the same way. Coco, who is often referred to as the ‘Queen of Posing,’ devotes much of her free time to working with the Model Alliance where she sits on the advisory board that works to establish worker rights for models. In doing the show, she told me she felt a responsibility to the girls to instruct them on how important it was to maintain their integrity in a business that often expects women to check their own values and opinions at the door. “I have a huge belief system and I have always been very concerned about the rights of models,” she said, referring to her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness. “You have to be true to who you are. Sometimes you are asked to do things you don’t want to do, and I wanted to teach the girls to stand up for themselves,” she said. With Naomi at the helm, “I knew this was the perfect opportunity I was looking for, and it gives me a platform for that message. I knew that Naomi would fight for what’s right.”
Karolina, who at 16 was the youngest model ever to grace the cover of American Vogue, has considerable television experience with appearances on several shows including NBC’s Chuck and 30 Rock. She is also the host of The Perfect Model which airs in several European countries, including Switzerland and Germany. When the producers of The Face came calling, she came armed with a list of questions for the powers that be. “I knew what I wanted. I get approached a lot, and I didn’t want to do TV just because that’s the next thing to do. I said, ‘ If I’m going to do something it has to be smart.’ I also wanted to do something to give back,” she told me. “I really liked the format, and it is different from anything else out there. Oxygen put a lot of trust in us. This wasn’t about us. It was an enormous collaboration.”
Nigel Barker, who spent 17 seasons as a judge on America’s Next Top Model, was contacted by the producers a week after he left that show and went into his first meeting about the project unsure of exactly what they were going to say. “I thought I was going to have to pitch them, but instead they wound up pitching me,” he told me. “I told them I’d just come off a fashion show so this had to be new, something with a heart and soul.” He’s thrilled that the experience provided just that. “[Naomi, Coco and Karolina] were so dedicated and spent their days off working with the [contestants],” he said. Nigel told me he thinks what sets The Face apart from the pack is its depiction of the modeling industry for what it really is: a lot of hard work. “If you’re a star, you’re a star for a reason. The show cracks open what really happens. In dealing with the stress of it all, the girls reveal their true selves.” Nigel said of his castmates, “None of these girls needed this show. They wanted to. It was a real commitment that they took very seriously. So often these fashion reality shows are over-produced. The fashion business is glamorous enough. With The Face, viewers see how it really works with an extraordinary cast.”
Says Oxygen president Jason Klarman: “The Face is the perfect fit for Oxygen. It’s got emotion, passion, drama and high stakes. Our audience wants to see girls going for their dream and this show delivers on that promise — a real contract with a national brand.” Naomi agreed, adding, “With so many fashion reality shows you don’t see the winners afterwards like you do on the music competition shows, I wanted the winner to really have something and with ULTA they do.”
Naomi, who spent the morning at Proctor & Gamble working on her new fragrance (Memo to P&G execs: Listen to her! She knows what she’s doing) , told me that despite her “absolute fear of reality television” she knew she’d found something special when producers Elisabeth Murdoch and Shine America first approached her with the idea of focusing the show on mentoring rather than simply judging. “Once they told me that, I said, ‘OK, I’m interested,” she said. Naomi also insisted on assembling an international roster of contestants, because, she says, that reflects the true nature of the modeling industry. “I’m from London, and I said from the beginning that I wanted the group to be from around the world. I think that added a bit of a kick to the show. The girls really had to step it up a bit, and they did.”
The show began filming during Fashion Week last September and the cast shot the seven episodes in 38 days, often wrapping at 2 am in order to accommodate everyone’s schedules. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. This year, Coco is planning to do Zac Posen‘s upcoming show, while Naomi is leaning towards skipping New York Fashion Week entirely. “I’ll do one in Europe,” she told me. “When I commit to doing a show, I really enjoy it. Right now, I don’t want to do it.” And, as for the other news you’re dying to know, these gals ate. Coco and Naomi had the Cobb salad (Naomi even ordered sorbet for dessert!), while Karolina enjoyed the flank steak. Nigel had a beer and some fish, in case you were wondering. Face it, folks — some gals just come from another gene pool. I got an up-close and personal look at these three stunners, and there ain’t no amount of workouts or Weight Watchers that can compete with that. The good news is they were all incredibly nice. Really.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova, Coco Rocha, Nigel Barker, Oxygen Media president Jason Klarman, SVP of orginal programming and development Rod Aissa, VP of communications Julie Rothman and yours truly
2. Actor Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU) — Surprisingly, we didn’t see his faithful four-legged companion anywhre in sight.
3. Producer Bonnie Timmermann and uber agent Rob Weisbach
4. Lew Korman
5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
6. The ‘Imber Gang:’ Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman and Michael Kramer
7. A trio of tastemakers: EIC of Hearst’s Design Group Newell Turner; Dara Caponigro, EIC of Veranda; and Michael Boodro, EIC of Elle Decor
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia and Judy Price
9. Melania Trump and Rachel Roy
10. Dujour‘s Jason Binn and Cornelia Guest, who is going to be doing celeb interviews for magazine. Cornelia is having a bit of a moment these days. A few weeks ago, she won the coveted Rising Star Award in accessories presented by Fashion Group International for a new collection of cruelty-free bags. Congrats!
11. Talk about a coincidence: Geraldine Laybourne, one of the orginal founders of Oxygen
12. Anthony Shriver, who was making the rounds looking a bit blonder than when we last saw him
14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew
15. Charles Grodin
16. Designer Dennis Basso, who stopped by our table to lobby the divine Ms. Campbell about doing his runway show next week.
81. PR maven Lisa Linden and Patrick Murphy
17. Former New York City Council president Andrew Stein
18. Cablevision’s Tad Smith
19. Author Wednesday Martin
20. Agent Freddie Friedman
21. Jessica Reiff Cohen and Tom Rossman
22. Social swans Bettina Zilkha, Anne Eisenhower and Anne Hearst
23. Peter Price
24. CNBC’s Ron Insana
25. Spinmeister Tom Goodman, whose agency pulled off the monumental task of orchestrating the celebration of Grand Central’s 100th anniversary. Bravo!
26. David Poltrack
82. Jolie Hunt
27. PR princess Catherine Saxton with Wendy Diamond, founder of Animal Fair and Khashyeyn Hedaya and Danny Hedaya, founder of Platinum Properties.
28. Bloomberg’s Manuela Hoelterhoff
29. Eden Collinsworth (Love that name, don’t you?) and Nan Talese. Before Eden joined Nan in the dining room, she was chatting with Arthur Becker (Vera Wang’s ex, in case you didn’t know) at the bar.
30 ABC/Disney’s Kevin Brockman
In the Garden Room: The Wall Street Journal‘s David Sanford and Lewis Stein
We’ll be on winter break next week. See you in two weeks!
Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.