Hot Housewives of Manhattan

021908 gillette web Hot Housewives of ManhattanOn a recent Wednesday evening, Ramona Singer, a blond-haired, brown-eyed bombshell mom of indeterminate age, was sitting in an Italian restaurant near her home on the Upper East Side, waiting for her teenage daughter, Avery, to return home from school.

“My daughter sometimes asks me, ‘Mom, are we rich?’” said Ms. Singer. “I don’t like that word. I tell her, ‘We’re well-to-do.’”

Currently, Ms. Singer, her husband, Mario, and Avery split their time between a plush four-bedroom condo in Manhattan and a swank mansion in Southampton, with water views and a pool in the backyard.

“We live a comfortable life,” she added. “But there are people who do much better than us. There are people who do much worse than us. In New York, you can lose perspective.”

On Tuesday, March 4, at 11 p.m., TV viewers will get a new perspective on the wealth of, um, well-to-do New York women when Bravo premiers the The Real Housewives of New York City—a spin-off of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Ms. Singer is one of the five Gotham “housewives” starring on the new series.

Ms. Singer took a sip of her Pinot Grigio. “It’s a fun show,” she said. “I don’t know what the other women are portraying. But I’m portraying, hopefully, that I’m a grounded mom, who also believes in having fun. I’m not some little wallflower.”

Ms. Singer grew up in a small town in upstate New York. Her father was an engineer for IBM. Her mom was an old-school housewife. Decades ago, after earning a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Ms. Singer went to work as a buyer for Macy’s. One day, she was on a date with a guy who had his own business in the industry. “I said, there’s something wrong with the equation,” she recalled. “He’s making a lot more money than me and working a lot less hours. So I jumped to the other side.”

For the past 20 years, Ms. Singer has run her own business, called RMS Fashions, which purchases excess inventory and resells it to discount stores. “It’s very lucrative,” said Ms. Singer.

She crossed her arms. She was wearing a crème-colored cashmere sweater with a plunging neckline over white designer pants and brown Sergio Rossi boots. A gold Hermes scarf was looped around her slim waste. A curvy cross of imitation diamonds dangled around her neck. She explained that she had designed it herself—part of her line of faith-based jewelry, which she sells at truefaithjewelry.com.

In addition to running her warehouses, raising her daughter, taking tennis lessons, managing her jewelry line, supporting various charities and—of course!—sneaking off with her husband for the occasional hot-and-heavy getaway, Ms. Singer said she recently teamed up with a plastic surgeon to develop a low-maintenance, easy-to-use line of anti-aging skin care cream.

“I’m not telling you my age,” said Ms. Singer. “But I know I look young for my age. Does my skin look good? I do a little Botox, I admit that. Why not? I want to look young for as long as I can naturally without surgery.”

Indeed, Ms. Singer is a kind of housewife we’ve never encountered before. Is she ever actually in her home?

And why, with her already packed schedule, would she want to participate in a reality show? Ms. Singer said that she hoped to provide a positive role model for young women and to pass along some of the wisdom she had received from her mother. Have faith. Believe in yourself. Be strong.

“I work and I’m financially independent,” said Ms. Singer. “I think in our society, with all these books about Cinderella and Snow White and stories about how the men will rescue you, it’s very important to teach girls that they can work and have a family and have it all.”

Indeed! But still, it’s hard to imagine most New Yorkers suggesting that their own 13-year-olds, who probably need strong role models the most, tune into Bravo’s latest number for an educational experience.

 

THESE DAYS, BRAVO airs essentially two types of reality shows. Tightly formatted competitions such as Project Runway and observational documentary-ish series that follow around rich personalities living outrageously. The Real Housewives of Orange County, which debuted in 2006, falls into the latter category. Over the course of three seasons, the show had developed into a solid hit (the season-three finale on Jan. 22, drew some two million viewers), by obsessively chronicling the lives of a handful of middle-aged women in the Coto de Caza gated community in Southern California, as they jockey for love and status and pleasure.

Last year, in an essay in the Atlantic, reality TV guru Michael Hirschorn argued that the series did a better job than its scripted counterparts, such as The O.C. and Desperate Housewives, at capturing the “spiritual decay of life in gated communities, where financial anxieties, fraying families, and fear of aging leave inhabitants grasping for meaning and happiness.”

Recently, Mr. Hirschorn (previously of VH1 and now recent founder of Ish Entertainment) elaborated on his fandom to The Observer. He said the series revealed, with a “novelistic” gaze, what new money looked like—Tommy Bahama shirts, Botox house calls, cubic zerconia-encrusted hubcaps—in a previously underexamined corner of America. He pointed out that the lives of women of a certain age, as they navigated a world that didn’t exist a generation earlier, came alive with conflict (career vs. family), personal dilemmas (Pilates classes vs. boob job) hope (margaritas!) and peril (divorce).