You've already seen her at our Halloween party at Espace earlier this year. But now Kelly Killoren Bensimon is back and ready for more action at Gustavino's on New Year's Eve. Don't let her drama-instigating role on Housewives mislead you: Bensimon is more intelligent, funny, and eloquent than you think, and she's not stopping anytime soon. Love her or hate her, you better get used to her. Joonbug was thrilled to get a chance to speak with her and find out more about her family, her work, and her unrelenting quest for quality.
So what have you been up to since we last spoke in October for Halloween?
Basically, we finished the filming for Real Housewives of New York City, which is really really exciting. And now I'm on vacation with my kids.
You've got two girls, Sea and Teddy. What is the most challenging thing about raising two daughters in New York City?
[Before she can even answer, I hear a little voice saying "I need money, I need money" in the background over the phone. "I'm with my kids, they're on Christmas vacation," Bensimon says. "They're literally the nicest kids on the planet. Except for today; today they are wild."] The most difficult thing is that you expose them to so much, and you want to expose them to even more, but they're kids...and kids in New York can be really confined at times. I mean it's bittersweet because on the one hand, they're exposed to so much art and culture, but on the other hand they're not able to just be kids, to be free and explore and ride their bikes to their friends' house and go to the creek and things like that. Your life isn't the same. That doesn't mean it's bad. It's just different. I just took my kids to the Tim Burton exhibit at the MoMA. I mean, it's amazing. It's an amazing opportunity for them to develop visual integrity. But at the same time, they need to get out, they need to roll in the snow and just be kids.
You were raised out in Rockford, Illinois. Do you think Sea and Teddy are missing out on anything you enjoyed while growing up in the Midwest?
I'm a single mom. I was raised with my mother home all day; my father came home at 5 o'clock every day. I was raised in a completely different environment than my kids. They basically come with me everywhere. So, on the one hand, they're not getting a traditional upbringing. But at the same time, I'm doing the best that I can.
How do you think your family affected by Real Housewives?
We really don't take it as anything but a television show. I love going and being a part of all the scenes and episodes. I love being a part of the show. But my kids just don't really think of it that way. They're kids and I'm their mom. That's how they think of me. They don't think of me in any other way.
Who is your style icon?
What do you think is your best asset?
People say it's my legs, but I think it's my smile.
What's your idea of classic beauty?
Beautiful hair and great teeth.
Fashion week is coming up in February. As a designer yourself, fashion is obviously a big part of your life. Whose collections are you most excited to see?
It's such an amazing opportunity to get to see all these people that I love so much and celebrate their talent. It's really really exciting. I love Derek Lam. I find his designs to be unbelievable. He has a sensibility that I really like. It's very womanly, very feminine, very well-travelled. It's like ‘vacation destination chic woman,' but it's also very sexy. I also really like Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, and Anna Sui.
What's one item of clothing that you could never, under any circumstances, part with?
My Converse. I got my first pair when I was 8, they were purple.
What's the inspiration behind your "Kelly" jewelry line?
It's a Navajo inspired bling collection. I wanted to do something inspired by American Indians, but I also wanted to do something that was bling: saturated with color, and with crystals. I mean every single summer, everyone's kind of looking for the same thing, that rich bohemian chic. So instead of making it bohemian chic, I wanted to make it more American. So the collection is more Navajo inspired, and the Swarovski crystals just added that extra sparkle and gave it a richness.
And where would you like to see the line in 5 years?
I hope that in 5 years, the line will have legs in other things. I love creating accessories. And I really want to expand my brand into many more areas. My ultimate goal is to be on something like QVC. But more than that, I'd really like to have my brand in major department stores. Because that's one thing I've realized - that there's such a void in the market. We say, as editors, to "mix up and be the chameleon." But then you go to places like Arizona and there's no way to mix anything up because there's nothing in the marketplace. So any line I ever do, whether it be clothing or accessories, will all be edited by me. When I sell something, I'll make sure that people are buying what they like. It's so important to me to bring great product to great people.
You're the Page Six "Socializer." How is that role important to you?
I think the great thing about writing for Page Six and The Socializer is that it's a voice that celebrates celebrities and all these amazing opportunities and events in New York. Some people say that it's not all that, but I say "yes it is," and here's why: a lot of the time, it can really inspire people to get out and do things, like see a movie or go to an opening or a gallery or whatever it is. I think the fun thing about doing The Socializer is that it started making me police quality. People think, "Kelly knows quality, whether something is $5 or $500..." People know that anything I like is always associated with quality. I want people to look great. I want to sell them something that's going to help them look the best that they can look, regardless of price. I'm not about status; I'm about making people look and feel amazing.
Your clothing collection features a lot of comfort clothes. Why are lounge clothes important to you?
For me, green is glamorous. Being green is really what excites me, whether it means going to a yoga class, drinking a Green Machine, or turning off the lights in your house to save electricity. Do you need to be a yogi to be green? No. Do you need to be a yogi to be glamorous? No. Do you need to be a bigger thinker? Absolutely. So the line isn't about yoga clothes; the line is about comfort clothes. There are polos, sweatshirts, army jackets...People like the icon and I want to give them a cool product, because if they're going to wear something of mine, I want it to be really really good quality and really cool. I don't want to offer people just some cheap t-shirt; I want it to be something that I would wear. I'm just so adamant about quality. If you walk away with one thing from me, I would love for you to think "that girl wants really really good quality." That's all I want. For you, for me, for my kids. And that really doesn't have a price. If it's good, its good.
You've been all over the world. Why do you stick around New York? Why here over anywhere else in the world?
New York is the ultimate melting pot. If you want to be a real American, come to New York. And it's an incredibly eclectic city. New York really gives you the ability to synthesize all these cultures and it's really so exciting. And that's really what an American is, right? I mean it's not like "we're Americans and we wear jeans and t-shirts." No, we are synthesizers. We're working with all these different people from all these different cultures and it's so exciting.
What's the best and worst thing about ‘surreality' TV?
I think the best thing is that people feel like they're attached to you. They can relate to us and realize, "oh, that person is going through certain things, too." Obviously we're edited, and we're not having conversations that people normally have because they are cut and pasted. But if you enjoy us as characters, then it's exciting. I'm just a single mom trying to raise my 2 kids the best that I can, and explore all these amazing opportunities. That's really all I'm doing.
Do you have any regrets about doing the show?
No. In fact, it's so funny because everyone thinks that I do. But everyone who knows me knows that I was so happy to do the show. And to be honest, by making me the villain, they made me a really evocative character. And the great thing about being an evocative character is that I'm making you think. You may not like what I say, but it is making you think. And if I can make you think, then I've done my job.
What do you look for in a man?
I was married to such an amazing man, and dating has been really difficult because I have really high expectations for people. I want the Renaissance man. He should be smart and athletic. He should be able to drink beers with me, and play pool, and go to MoMA and go skiing with me. I want him to enjoy all the fun things that I like to do. And a lot of guys meet me and they say "oh, we're going to go to a party, "or "we're going to a red carpet." I'm like, "Really? We are? Because I've got 2 kids and 2 dogs at home and I don't think it's going to happen tonight. I think we're actually going to be home eating pizza." So I think that the expectations that guys have of me are really different, too. I'm not what you think I am at all.
Any dating advice or philosophies that you'd like to share with us?
Well, I don't think that you should ever have one night stands. I think you should always have a lot of integrity, and that women should enjoy the man that they're meeting and not be so wrapped up with getting married. I think that they should just enjoy life. Self respect is so huge for me. So many people just don't have any self respect, or they're giving it away. I just don't get why. I mean, why not have integrity? Why not get to know somebody. And if you want to be with someone, be with them for the right reasons. Also, maybe not always going out with 10 people at a time. Maybe just spending time one-on-one with a person you care about. I think that's a really big thing. People have these groups and then they never actually go out because they just like to hang in groups.
I read that you once said "part of being in a relationship is fighting." Why do you think that's true?
If you have an argument with someone, then you have the potential to grow from that. Some arguments become these festering wounds that people like to throw salt on because they have nothing better to do. Resolution is really powerful. But when you're fighting and there's no resolution and it's just a boxing match, then I get bored.
You've written 3 great coffee table-ish books. You've also got a degree in writing. Are you interested in doing anything more writing intensive?
Maybe when I'm like 60, I'd love to write a memoir. But I think that right now, I'm not age appropriate to write anything like that. But someday, I'd love to be able to say, "I did things outside the box, I did things in a very unconventional way, and this is how I did it." People may like it or they may hate it, but I've made my mark in an unconventional way and a lot of people watch what I do. I also think its funny that people are like, "oh they're just coffee table books!" For example, American Style, and all that information and all the editing I had to do, was so much work. When you're compiling information from the turn of the century to now, and all these different characters...it's just an incredible amount of information to synthesize. I think it was probably one of the most educational experiences of my entire life. If you've ever done any research, you realize that it's a lot of work. It's a labor of love. And it is not for vanity's sake. I realized that a lot of people just didn't know who Americans were, where they came from, and why we should be so proud. It's like a sign of things to come. I mean look at how great we are, we were. It shows us the potential of how great we're going to be. And that's really the whole point of the book.
What would you be doing on New Year's Eve if you weren't partying with us as Gustavino's?
If I weren't with you guys, I'd probably be in the Hamptons drinking Café Patrón, sitting by the fire, giggling with my kids and watching the ball drop.
Do you have any New Year's resolutions?
I think that, based on the way the show was edited, a lot of people think that I'm not philanthropic. It's just the biggest oxymoron ever. Because everyone that knows me knows that I'm incredibly philanthropic. All of my books donate to the MET or to a wonderful charter school for children in New York, and I was incredibly active with Hale House. I don't throw signage around saying so; I'd rather do something that can really help people than say "Oh by the way, this is my brand, I'm just going to put my name there." I don't want to be a part of that. Working with Food Bank for the past couple weeks has been so mind opening, not only for me, but for my kids as well. If there's any way that I can help to feed and educate children, that's really what I want to be a part of. One thing I cant stand is selfish people. That's the one thing I cant stand in the world. If you're selfish, I don't want to be around you.
New Year's Eve is right around the corner. Are you ready for the party?
I really loved celebrating Halloween with you guys, and I'm really excited about New Year's Eve, it's going to be really really fun. I think it's an amazing opportunity for me to meet all kinds of different people and have fun with them. They can see me in real life, as opposed to seeing me on the show. They're like "Oh my god, I can have fun with Kelly!" And they're going to. We're going to ring in the new year and have a great time. I can't wait, I'm so excited. 2010 is the year of hope. It is. Everything is going to be so much better, I know it.