RHONY’s Dorinda Medley: Housewives ‘Weren’t as Scary as I Expected’

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

DianeClehaneLunch_FeaturedAs someone who has watched most of Bravo’s various ‘Housewives’ sagas at one time or another, I was looking forward to today’s Lunch with The Real Housewives of New York City’s Dorinda Medley for a whole host of reasons. One, I always love a good dishy lunch (and as we all know those girls can dish). Two, last year, in her first season with the show, she distinguished herself  as the sanest  — and funniest — one of the New York tribe so I knew she’d have plenty to say. And finally, the moment I saw her on the show I thought she looked very familiar to me — I just couldn’t figure out why. Within two minutes of her arrival, I unraveled the mystery.

Dorinda Medley and Diane Clehane
Dorinda Medley and Diane Clehane

It turns out that Dorinda and I worked at Liz Claiborne at the same time back in the glory days of Seventh Avenue when Liz was the go-to designer for working women everywhere. (I’ll let you figure out exactly when that was, if you don’t mind.) We’d crossed paths in the showroom many times — Dorinda was a saleswoman and I headed up Liz’s public relations (A thankless task if there ever was one, but that’s another story entirely.)

After trading tales about our days dealing with the garmento culture of another era, Dorinda told me about her life after Liz and we discovered we have another connection — with none other than Princess Diana.

Shortly after her stint at Liz, Dorinda met and married her first husband and moved to London. She made friends with her neighbor Sophie Rhys-Jones who just happened to be dating Prince Edward at the time. Industrious Dorinda had just started her own line, DCL Cashmere, and Sophie told her she had ‘a friend’ who loved cashmere turtlenecks and asked if she could bring her over to see Dorinda’s line. They made an appointment and, remembered Dorinda, “None other than Princess Diana walked in.” The royal fashionista was her first client (who favored racer-back styles) and was photographed on more than one occasion wearing Dorinda’s designs.

Dorinda says the decade she spent living in London (during which she had her daughter Hannah and got divorced) more than prepared her to break in and hold her own with the take-no-prisoners gals on The Real Housewives of New York City. “Cracking the English is like peeling an onion,” said Dorinda between bites of her Dover sole. “These [RHONY] women were nothing compared to the English.” She had the entire table howling with laughter recounting how she had to brush up her British etiquette when socializing with “the lords and ladies” who sent handwritten, hand delivered invitations for the simplest lunch. “I’d get these invitations just to have lunch months in advance. I’d get out my fancy stationary and write back, ‘I’ve checked and why yes, I am available that day in May.”

No one has ever accused the RHONY crew of being too polite and being brought into a new social circle where women have hurled [artificial] body parts to get more camera time could be daunting for a lesser mortal. Dorinda told me that her longtime friend Ramona Singer had been after her for ages to try out for the show following the death of her second husband, financier Richard Medley, a former Washington power broker and respected speechwriter, whom she met and married in 2005. (Dorinda got a very warm welcome from the Michael’s staff today as she and her late husband were regulars for many years.)

Devastated by Richard’s death six years later, Dorinda said as a 48-year-old widow, she felt lost. “I thought to myself, I’m not old. I’m not young. What do I do? It was hard to be alone. I had shed the role of wife. At least when you get divorced, you can celebrate and talk about the bastard. When you’re a widow you get [sympathetic looks.]” Unsure about her future, she said, “I thought, do I go back to work? I actually fantasized about working as a receptionist for John Barrett two days a week.”