By ROBERT RORKE
NOT-SO-DESPERATE HOUSEWVIES: From left: Ramona Singer (in blue), Kelly Killoren Bennisom, Alex McCord, Bethenny Frankel (in red), Countess LuAnn de Lesseps and Jill Zarin (sitting).
Last year, the “Real Housewives of New York City” were the Marie Antoinettes of Suffolk County. They swanned and flounced about the Hamptons, dropping a small fortune on clothes, equestrian events, household help, swanky dinners, private tennis lessons and tax-deductible charity events.
As season two of Bravo’s guilty pleasure launches Tuesday night, housewife Jill Zarin warns, “You’re gonna see some [expensive] toys come out, unfortunately. We filmed the show before the recession happened.”
The recession that has put millions of New Yorkers out of work threatens to make New York’s real housewives appear even more self-indulgent and childishly pampered than last season. Back then, they were merely cougars of conspicuous consumption, spending perversely amusing bundles on themselves. This season, when housewife Alex McCord and husband (some say honorary housewife) Simon van Kampen drop $8,000 on clothing at a Hamptons boutique, their extravagance will likely strike viewers as prodigal in the extreme.
Van Kampen, manager of Murray Hill’s Hotel Chandler, hopes the economy doesn’t turn off viewers to the cast’s wasteful spending habits. “This is escapist television for a lot of people,” he says. “I don’t think there’ll be much negative reaction. Honestly, I think there is less conspicuous consumption in season two.”
Really? Van Kampen says he and McCord spent “a substantial amount of money” renovating their Cobble Hill townhouse. Zarin redecorated her Upper East Side apartment and Ramona Singer hired experts to makeover her teenage daughter’s bedroom.
But, as van Kampen says, “That was then, this is now.” The new season of “The Real Housewives of New York City” wrapped production in the fall of 2008 and these days the show’s stars are pinching pennies – well, in their case, gold bricks – like the rest of us.
Zarin says business is down at Zarin’s Fabric Warehouse, the Allen Street emporium she runs with husband Bobby. “I’m definitely down. Not going-out-of-business down. But I feel that because I’m a discount store that I’ll be less down than a full-price retailer. I have the same stuff as ABC [Carpet], but I’m half the price.”
Zarin has recently reined in appearances at her favorite charity events, claiming that she prefers to “nest” by cooking at home with ingredients from Fresh Direct. She and her husband saw the crash coming and sold their palatial East Hampton home 18 months ago.
“My husband is a brilliant real-estate guy,” Zarin says. “A year ago he looked at me and said, ‘We don’t use the house except in the summer. Included in the price, we got the use of the house for two summers – May, June, July.”