After lending his talents to numerous fashion, talk and reality shows, out style expert and designer Robert Verdi is about to display his own “reality. ”
And what a show it is.
Verdi may have built his career as a style guru and party planner for the likes of Eva Longoria Parker, Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Kathy Griffin, Ana Ortiz and Sandra Bernhard, but “The Robert Verdi Show” finds the 41-year-old TV personality veering into some zany territory — often treating his many jobs as momentary distractions or stepping stones to his true and grand ambitions.
“It’s really a comedy show,” Verdi said. “I think people are expecting to see me styling celebrities and decorating houses. What they see are these snapshots of that, but it’s buried inside the comedy. I just wanted to do something that people didn’t expect me to do.”
Apparently that involves plotting to build the Verdi name into a global-brand empire to rival the name-recognition power of, well, anyone bigger than him.
So, having a successful business, TV exposure and most of the entertainment industry on speed dial wasn’t enough?
“I guess I’m just not a complacent person,” Verdi said. “I don’t know that it’s not enough. I felt that my career put me in this one area, which was fine and I am successful in home design, fashion and entertaining. I felt that I wanted to expand and develop a bigger business and I needed a bigger vehicle to make that possibility come to life. So a television show is a natural fit for me and I have that experience and I know how to work that side of the industry. So I decided to pitch a show that was outside of my box.”
The true charm of the show lies in the fact that half of Verdi’s ideas for his global brand are absolutely bonkers, like a negative-calorie lollipop made in his image, which happens to be loaded with crushed diet pills and laxatives, or authoring an inappropriate children’s book. But he still insists on pitching them to industry professionals, who try to maintain some form of decorum.
Are executives really this polite in these situations or only when the cameras are rolling?
“Yes, they’re polite because the cameras are rolling,” he said. “They’re definitely aware I’m pitching something outrageous. We’re not ambushing them. When I go in, I actually know the difference between my real pitch and my TV pitch. I do have a much more sensitive realistic children’s book that I have written. I wasn’t pitching the real book. So I go in there knowing that they’re not going to publish a book about a shoplifting tote bag that’s addicted to drugs. It’s much funnier. It’s me torqued up.
“Let me say that every idea that we pitch is born of a real idea that I have. It’s hard to explain where the comedy comes from. Yes, I want to actually do a children’s book. Yes, I really have an idea and treatment. The book is written but not illustrated yet. It’s something I really want to do. I happened to be fortunate enough to meet a great executive producer who, when she was kind of vetting me, realized that I’m a little insane and I can do all these things.
“When she met me, I had 30 show treatments and she said, ‘These all strike me as “The Robert Verdi Show.”’ And I said I really don’t need my own show, I need my own network. I said it with a straight face and she said, ‘I’m not sure you’re joking.’ Well, I’m really not. Is it insane and outrageous? Yes. But do I think it’s actually doable? Yes. Every episode follows me as I try to accomplish something that I think, in some strange way, is reasonable.”
Like the episode where he tries to court and marry a royal?
“I’m bad at dating,” he explained. “So I’m just trying to find somebody that I’m compatible with. In the conversation with your friends and inner sanctum, you’re making jokes about yourself and being self-effacing, and you go, ‘I really need a gay royal.’ And it became an episode. It’s a very strange show, but everything in it is something I want to do.”
The unenviable task of making Verdi’s numerous whims, requests and plans for world domination happen falls to his handful of assistants, who earn every cent of their paychecks for all the work, strangeness and good-natured but crass verbal jabs they endure.
Verdi said that even though he makes ridiculous demands and summons his staff by yelling, ‘Bitches!’ he does appreciate his employees’ hard work, input and opinions.
“I have a very untraditional work environment,” he said. “I feel like they’re more like siblings. They probably think of me as a father because I’m old. I’m definitely in a position of authority because it’s my company and I hired them. There’s definitely no holds barred. They definitely tell me what they think. I have a very strong opinion, though. So even if they tell me they think something is wrong and I think it’s right, they will act in my direction. But it’s definitely an open dialogue.”
So what’s the harder job: Verdi trying to please his celebrity clients or Verdi’s assistants trying to please him?
“It’s the same job,” he said. “I think I’m just better at it than they are. When you’re a bigger celebrity, you can afford insulation that I couldn’t afford. Many celebrities I work with earn in a day what I earn in a year. I’m going to say it’s more difficult to deal with me because we have so many things going on. And then it’s really difficult to deal with them because you’d be amazed at how scheduling a flight for a star is a huge problem. You might have to switch it back and forth 10 times to actually get them where they need to be on time, and I don’t have that specific time-management issue.”
Verdi added that having assistants running around for him makes his life easier, but juggling so many projects keeps his professional and social life very complex.
“Having balance and a real life is difficult when you have as many jobs as I do,” he said. “And I have as many jobs as I do because I want to have a certain lifestyle. So I don’t just decorate homes, dress celebrities or plan events. I do all of these things and they’re full-time jobs.”
When asked which of the many TV shows he’s appeared on has been the most rewarding, the fashion expert’s answer was quite surprising.
“I loved doing ‘She’s Got The Look,’ which was a search for a model over the age of 35, just because I see the real women in my life struggle with aging and the perceptions of beauty in our culture,” he said. “Beauty is arrested at 22 years old and even 22-year-old girls on the covers of magazines are airbrushed to seem completely perfect. I tune in to the fact that men don’t face the assault of beauty imagery that women do on a daily basis. There’s a lot of intimidating imagery that appears on the magazines and commercials. That’s a cultural value that’s intimidating to a lot of women. The show begins to crack open the notion that beauty doesn’t stop at any age. I appreciate a show that tries to see the world in a different way.”
Verdi may have a deep appreciation for women’s beauty issues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his services are available to just anybody.
“Anybody could try to retain my services,” he said, “but there are a lot of people who don’t really understand. There’s a lot of women who stop me and say, ‘Oh, I need your help. I would love for you to dress me.’ Great! Go to the Web site and send in a request. We’ll talk. They have to realize that comes with a monthly retainer. It’s not like we’re going to go shopping with Robert and it’s going to be $200. It doesn’t work that way. I try to translate it like this: If you walked into Cartier and you want a watch that’s $25,000 and you have $15,000, you can’t get that watch. The same thing is true with service prices. If you walk into my office, you should know that there is already a bar that you have to jump. It’s based on supply and demand. There’s good demand and so I get to set up a structure that allows me to say no.”
“The Robert Verdi Show” premieres at 10 p.m. Feb. 10 on Logo. For more information, visit www.robertverdi.com.