Three weeks ago, I received an email from a website that profiles handbag designers, regarding a casting call for a new reality show about accessories designers called Project Accessory, a spin off of the hugely popular Project Runway.  The show had four casting sessions; a weekend long casting session in New York, then one day sessions in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.  Unlike a lot of casting calls for reality shows, attendance at one of the casting sessions was mandatory, so after considerable debate, I decided to head to New York, figuring that it was best to be there when the process was fresh and I had the best possible chance of making an impact.  I loaded up a box full of handbags and took them all over town to see which bags got the best response,  filled out the 24 page application, selected my wardrobe, and flew to Newark for my debut.

My friend Kim, who lives an hour from Manhattan, graciously agreed to get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive me into the city with my suitcase full of handbags and portfolios, but when we pulled up in front of the hotel where the casting session was going to be held, no one was there.  I thought, well hell, I have the wrong hotel and then I thought “Oh My God…I have the wrong weekend!!!!”  I was immediately disavowed of this notion by a porter who asked if I was there for the casting session, then sent me upstairs to the lobby, which was on the fourth floor of a hotel that looked like a cross between a gynecologists office and left over sets from some recent Star Wars convention.

Clinical didn’t even begin to describe the Japanese inspired futuristic white molded plastic interior with “space age furniture” that would have made the Jetson’s proud.   Three other people were waiting on the gigantic purple ottomans that doubled as couches, looking for all the world like a bunch of overgrown kids on a Romper Room set.  One man came with his mother and brother and another man was frantically filing out all 24 pages of paperwork – paperwork which, by the way, took a practice copy and four hours for me to fill out, but he was whipping through it like it was a Sudoku puzzle he had to finish before his train pulled into the station.

The casting director showed up fresh from her workout in the hotel gym and told us we had to wait in line downstairs, so I headed to the elevators and out the front door, when the same porter who initially directed me upstairs accosted me in a thick Slavic accent to ask why I was back downstairs again. When I  told him the casting director sent me there, he loaded me back into the elevator and off we went again to the lobby, where the casting director loaded us back onto the elevator again and down we went.  By this time it was about 7:00 in the morning and we still had another two hours to wait, so the woman in  line in front of me and I traded life stories until a card table was produced with copies of the application on it, and the judging staff began to arrive.

There were three people in line ahead of me; a woman who looked like Rachel Zoe, and who’s participation in the series appeared to be a foregone conclusion.  She knew everyone in the place and had ten times as many samples as any of the rest of us, plus she was assigned a rather attractive young man to help her carry all her crap into the casting room.  She was supposed to be in the casting room for three to five minutes. Fifteen minutes later she came out with an envelope, which was the sign that you had been invited to the next round of casting.  Natasha, the jeweler I had been waiting in line with all morning, was next, and she came out with a very odd look on her face. She asked me if I wanted her to stick around so we could talk after my audition, and I said sure, if for no other reason than to find out what that look meant.  Well the design student who went in next, the one with recently dyed red air that was not a color  found in nature, dressed in yellow and black with a flap on her skirt that had a tendency to stick straight out and who showed up with her mother and fiancee, came out crying, and then I was up.

The door opened and I was ushered into a dimly lit room where eight or so people were lined up on folding chairs against one wall who never said a word.  There was a small folding table under a single beam of light in the middle of the room, and four women at the other end of the room in front of a draped wall with their names on a placard on front of each woman.  I recognized one name from the website that had originally sent out the casting call, but I went ahead and addressed the entire room, as if I were a hostess who was late to her own party.

Now before I go any further, I feel it incumbent upon me to describe the women on the judging panel, at least half of whom appeared to have divorced VERY well, once, if not twice, and they were certain by their appearance and their demeanor to let you know they were someone we were all privileged to be in the presence of.  Between the pilates instructors, manicurists, pedicurists, massage therapists, facialists, stylists, hairdressers, therapists, personal assistants, housekeepers, personal shoppers, drivers, clothing and jewelry budget, and expense report, I would guess that the collective budget for that day’s appearance was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a fact that was later confirmed by the $150,000 Birkin bag that was burnished in my direction, but more on that little tidbit in a moment.

I set my bags down on the table and was immediately asked if they were cigar boxes.  I thought to myself, this is the perfect lead in, so I launched into my well rehearsed explanation about how they were made, when the sound man said he wasn’t ready….awkward pause, followed by a brief salutation to the one woman on the panel I actually sort of “knew”.  The sound man said he was ready, and the entire interview took a nose dive followed by a right turn.  All four women started asking me questions at the same time, and not one of them let me answer until the scrawny little one the second from the left said, “do you compare yourself to Timmy Woods”, a handbag designer who also works with wood because her last name is, well, Woods.  That is kind of like asking an F16 mechanic if he compares himself to a Volkswagon mechanic.  Just because both work with engines doesn’t mean the two are even remotely related, so I said, no, I actually think of myself as the next Birkin bag.

Well I might  have well as been a maitre’d at Manhattan’s hot new restaurant who turned them away at the door, because the scrawny one absolutely imploded.  For the uninitiated, a Birkin bag is handmade in France by Hermes, and because they are handmade one at a time, and delivered on a somewhat unreliable schedule, it can take years to procure one, which makes them the most expensive – and most exclusive – handbag  on the planet.  They cost between $75,000 and $280,000. Victoria Beckham has two.

The woman in the middle, who looked just like Patty, the Millionaire Matchmaker, reached behind her chair, and waved HER Birkin bag over her head while the scrawny woman on her right launched into a lecture about the Birkin bag and why there was absolutely no comparison between MY exclusive, handmade bags and THOSE  exclusive handmade bags and finally Miss Matchmaker said that my line was too “niche”, but she would keep my information on file in case they thought they could ever use me.

There was a moment when I thought, I didn’t crash this casting call to SELL my handbag line to you, I answered a call for one of a kind accessories,  and anyway, you didn’t ask me to produce a pair of shoes I’d made or a piece of jewelry I had fabricated either, so if by niche you mean “one of a kind” as long as it looks like everything else on the planet, this clearly isn’t the reality show for me anyway.

As I hit the door to pack up my stuff in the lobby, a woman who showed up about an hour after the line started, and who looked liked she’d woken up that morning face down in stale beer after a particularly hard night as a cocktail waitress in the Tenderloin District, tottered up to me on her eight inch heels and said, “Your bags are beautiful….how did it go in there”.  I looked at her, smiled sweetly, and said…”it was tough” then had breakfast with Natasha, scored a rush ticket to see a matinee performance of Spiderman,  took in the Alexander McQueen show at the Met, and walked back to Port Authority through Central Park on an absolutely gorgeous afternoon.

With any luck this new show will be at least as dreadful as EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE, which is another reality series I tried out for this year.  We got as far as the third round before being cut.  That casting call called for “ordinary people” but if you’ve ever watched it, these “ordinary people” look like they were genetically produced in a laboratory to exacting specifications based on a rigid set of blueprints regarding what specific types SHOULD look like if those types were going to be featured in a magazine spread in Vanity Fair  shot by Annie Leibowitz.

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