Last week, the New York Times credited Joan and Melissa Rivers with changing, for years, the way celebrities approached red-carpet dressing. E! eventually pulled them from the red carpet and from recapping awards-show fashion. But a little over a year ago, their show Fashion Police returned to E! in a weekly format, with the always hilarious insights of Joan and her team on everyone from Snooki to Rihanna to Julianne Moore as they dress for celebrity life during and outside of awards season. And that's just one highlight of Joan's career this year: She was also the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which just came out on DVD; she also shot a reality show with Melissa premiering January 25 on We called Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? that follows the mother-daughter team as Joan moves in with Melissa in L.A. (she now spends half her time there to film Fashion Police). With awards season around the corner, we got Joan and Melissa on the phone to talk about everything from red-carpet fashion to holiday shopping to Kate Middleton.
The new reality show is about you two living together in Melissa's house in L.A. Do you two clash as housemates?
Joan: I am very formal. I mean, I’ll sit down with finger bowls. I think you should sit down, and a meal should be an event — it should be pretty. Everything should be pretty. Life is very rough, and I think you should make everything around you as lovely as possible. I hate eating over the sink, out of a bucket, or out of a carton — and I get it, everybody’s doing take-out, I understand it. But the napkin should match mats.
Melissa: I have a big counter in my kitchen so we sit there for meals. But to my mother, the idea of sitting down to dinner is sitting at the dining or breakfast-room table. So to her, the idea of sitting at the counter even though the counter’s set, is way too informal. She pours out the ketchup into a silver bowl and puts a spoon in it whereas I will put the ketchup out from the refrigerator in the bottle.
We are thrilled with the return of Fashion Police on E!, by the way. How were you able to do it again in a weekly format?
Joan: Well, I'm not on the red carpet anymore. When you're on the red carpet, you get word from on high: "Don’t say anything bad about Angelina Jolie because she’s a friend of the network. Don’t say anything bad about Sarah Jessica Parker because she's a friend of the network." No one says anything bad [about celebrities] — they’re not going to say, "Your ass is too big, and you shouldn’t be wearing that color, and you look like a fool." You can’t say that so what’s the point of doing the red carpet? So the Fashion Police, when they came to me, they said let her do it. I don’t have to meet them on the red carpet. I don’t have to deal with Rihanna. Rihanna and I will never meet unless we both go clubbing together, and I don’t think we’ll go to the same clubs.
Melissa: My first thought was there is not enough material because I used to do fashion news once a week on E!, and I always felt like it was a stretch. But over the past couple of years there seems to be more material.
What do you think of the state of celebrity red-carpet dressing today? Do you think the "Joan Rivers effect," as the Times called it, scared celebrities into playing it too safe?
Joan: That is such nonsense. What they’re starting to do now, which worries me, is they’re all trying to copy Lady Gaga. You want to say to Katy Perry, "You’re beautiful! You’ve got the body, wear a pretty dress.You don’t have to strap electrical stuff on your dress."
Melissa: They’re all so scared. I think a lot of these younger girls are getting shoved into clothes by designers and are too impressed that it’s that designer, and I think that’s where you get a lot of bad choices. Their gut might say no, but they’re too scared to say no and everyone around them is saying yes.
Speaking of Lady Gaga — thoughts?
Joan: Lady Gaga wants to look crazy — her next outfit I know is going to be surf and turf. It’s the ones that think they look great, and you go, "Are you out of your mind?" Or the ones who have become total fashion victims. I just think Prada should be shut down, and truly I think they hate Americans. I think they’re still angry at us for WWII.
Melissa: Lady Gaga — you can’t even put that in the category of fashion because those are truly costumes, but she sells them and everyone goes berserk.
Do you think red-carpet stylists help or hurt the cause?
Joan: Well, stylists are bad people sometimes.
Melissa: I just wish that I had started a stylist management company and was taking 10 percent because I think we put a lot of stylists to work over the last ten years. I think a lot of them are becoming stars, and I think a lot of them have exhibited a lot of bad behavior and caused a lot of drama behind the scenes, and that bums me out. The truth is more of them dress more people than anyone realizes and are quiet and just do beautiful work. You know, don’t tell me someone doesn’t pack for Angelina Jolie when she’s going to Cannes, but you would never know who this person is.
You both use the same stylist, Cary Fetman, who does a lot of shopping for you. How would you describe your personal styles?
Joan: My personal style, I think, is over-the-top dowager. Because I do love the feathers this year, I love the lace, I love all that stuff. The old days they said get dressed and take one thing off, I say get dressed and put one thing on.
Melissa: I’m significantly more casual. And my mom's always like, "Ugh, it’s L.A. versus New York," and I’m like, "No it’s more of a generational thing."
How do L.A. and New York style compare, in your views?
Joan: I think New York women have such style, and it’s not about money, it’s just the look and the pace and the activity. And in L.A., they’re very beautiful and they all look exactly alike, which is good because if we go to war they’re all in uniform. They’ve got the same bag, the same jeans, they’re exactly alike. New York women, they look like they’re going to an art opening. They look smart.
Melissa: New York is just more formal, but the women in L.A. are just as pulled together. It’s a totally different look, it just doesn’t have as much of an edge to it. It’s less severe.
Where do you shop?
Joan: I shop my closet a lot. I’ve taken a lot of jackets and added things. I work with my stylist on it. Before you cut into a vintage Yves Saint Laurent, you better fucking know what you’re doing. Every time I get together with Melissa we go to Barneys and we go to Bergdorf's. And also the ten-dollar-and-under stores in the airport, where I buy scarves and cheap jewelry that’s going to break, but you can wear it once. And in London, the only place you go is Topshop. I buy anything that sparkles. Topshop is just amazing because you run in, you come out, you look like a whore. It’s great.
Melissa: Elise Walker in Pacific Palisades. In New York, Barneys. I get stuff from Intermix. I mix stuff up — I’m just as likely to be wearing something from Old Navy or Gap with Louboutin shoes and a J.Crew jacket.
Who are your favorite designers?
Joan: Valentino, Gaultier because he’s very showbiz, good ol’ Armani — I don’t pick it that way, that's just what works. Escada.
Melissa: For dressy, I love Dolce & Gabbana, I love Calvin Klein, I love Donna Karan, I love Michael Kors. I’ve got some great Stella McCartney stuff, really cute Chloé. I have a lot of Theory. I’m kind of all over the map but it’s always things that are pretty non-fussy. My favorite dresses this year were a little black dress from Prada and a little black dress from Miu Miu. I wore the dress in front of my mom and she loved it and didn’t know it was Prada.
Heels or flats?
Joan: I wear heels every day — that’s my generation. I like the high heel, but I don’t like it with a platform. You start getting up on the platforms, nine inches — no, no, no, my circus days are over. I have a couple of Chanels with pearls on them and they’re just so beautiful, but I always wear a high heel and usually it’s a Manolo or Stuart Weitzman.
Melissa: At work I’m a heel, in real life I’m a flat. My mom does have Uggs for Connecticut, which I, by the way, bought her. And she only wears then around the house in Connecticut, not in public.
What was the first designer item you bought?
Joan: There was a place called Martha’s, and she had all the great designers, and it was an Yves Saint Laurent velvet jacket piped in grosgrain — a little Hansel and Gretel, but it was so beautiful. I had just hit The Ed Sullivan Show, and I went into Martha’s, and I remember buying it and thinking, "Oh my God, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever had in my life."
Melissa: I didn’t buy it but the first designer item I ever had was a Calvin Klein sweater dress that was a gift. Calvin gave it to my mom to give to me when I was leaving for college.
What trends do you love right now?
Joan: Oh, I love the femininity, I love the lace, I love the sparkle, I love the faux fur or the real fur. Women are looking feminine. When they’re saying to you that everything can have sparkle and glitter and fur, it’s a great year to be a woman.
Melissa: I’m really liking the statement shoes. I’m a big layering fan. I loved all the metallics. I’m a big textile person — I'm all about the feel of the fabric and workmanship.
What trends do you wish would die?
Joan: I don’t like the man suits. Enough with that man tailoring. Enough — unless it’s Judge Judy.
Melissa: I don’t like the open-toe booties — there’s just something about them that gives me the willies.
How is your holiday shopping going?
Joan: Oh, don’t even go there — if I get one more coffee-table book I’m going to kill myself. I haven’t got enough coffee tables! Just send me a candle. No, it’s been going great — I’ve been giving everyone a coffee-table book.
Melissa: So far so good. I still have a couple more people to go. I feel like I can pick things out for my mom. I’m definitely a better gift giver than her.
Do you have any tips for navigating all that holiday food?
Joan: Oh, yeah right — I definitely believe in bulimia. The trick is have a big dinner, sing two carols, and get upstairs to the bathroom. It’s so hard — there’s so much food, and every third package is food. I was invited to Kathy Griffin’s for lunch, I go to her house, and I think we’re going to sit in the kitchen and eat a piece of lettuce. How do you say, "Kathy, I don’t want a piece of chicken with cheese on top of it"?
Melissa: Moderation, moderation, moderation. If I know I’m going to a party where I know I’m going to be tempted, I make sure I eat something healthy before I leave my house. And if there’s something I want to try, take a bite. If it’s fantastic, take another bite. If it’s just okay, walk away.
And we would be remiss if we didn't ask your thoughts on Kate Middleton.
Joan: I think she’s going to be smarter than all of us put together. She’s got the body, she’s very thin, she’s got a great style to her. The hats are the terrible Treacy hats — half of them I swear look like IUDs. But she knows what she’s doing, she’s smart, she’s older — it’s not like Princess Diana at 19. I think she’s looked gorgeous so far.
Melissa: Central Casting could not have sent over anyone more perfect. And people I know in the circle of both Prince Charles and Prince William say she is absolutely a hole in one. I think the clothes are perfect. The next thing is eventually she’ll cut her hair, and that will start a whole other trend. It’s that whole thing where she’s really pretty, but not where she’s intimidating to other women.
Fashion Police airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. EST on E!; Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? premieres January 25 at 9 p.m. EST on We.