If you're familiar with the area best described as the Far Western Meatpacking District, one feature of Diane von Furstenberg's new reality show, House of DVF — which premiered last night on E! — will stick out to you like the proverbial sore thumb. The entirety of the first episode (and, spoiler alert, the second) takes place within a several-block radius. Contestants circulate from DVF's office (14th and Washington) to their lodgings at the Gansevoort (13th and 9th) to Chelsea Market (15th and 9th) back to DVF HQ, all the while acting as though they are participating in a marathon while coping with dual ACL injuries. And they're constantly stuck in faux-harried situations: How are they going to traverse the single block to DVF's office in time for the big challenge? This impossible feat will be the death of them!
Perhaps it seems sticklerish to insist on geographical verisimilitude, but this detail reveals that the show is not marketed to New Yorkers or to fashion insiders. It presents the same half-baked, running-in-heels, SATC vision we've seen in reality TV since the first season of The Hills.
The ten contestants, too, are reality-TV stock players, with about as much depth as commedia dell'arte puppets. There's the devout Mormon who's conflicted about finding herself amidst this pack of Jezebels; the beautiful sad-sack who doesn't believe in her own worth; and the blonde who constantly declares to the camera that she is better than everyone else. Each girl has left behind something significant in order to be here, we learn during an exposition sequence shot with the grace of a TMZ segment — for the Mormon, it's her husband, for another girl, her job and her boyfriend have been jettisoned. Another contestant sold her eggs to finance the trip. ("All of them?" asks one judge.)
Supposedly, they're competing to be von Furstenberg's new "brand ambassador," a usefully nebulous job description. Their challenges mainly seem to revolve around styling, merchandising, and trying not to sob when confronted with their flaws.
The premiere turns on a classic trope: one of the contestants, Rhianna, starts dramatically shallow-breathing — during the DVF Awards, held at the U.N.! — and an ambulance is called, though it merely lingers outside the entrance of the venue. Ambulance shot! Heavy-breathing shot! Dramatic chord progression! Lather, rinse, repeat. (You'll be relieved to know that no potential brand ambassadors were harmed in the making of this faux conflict.)
At times, von Furstenberg, who is otherwise a canny businesswoman and inspirational figure, seems to be trying to mentally reconstruct where she went wrong. Fellow judges Stefani Greenfield, of Scoop, and Jessica Joffe, of 639 Patrick McMullan photos, don't add much verve to the proceedings. Perhaps the show is best viewed as a period piece set in the extremely recent past — after all, there is a scene set at Spice Market (13th and 9th).