Style Watch: Smartest Model‘s Mary Alice Stephenson Behind the Scenes

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Mary Alice Stephenson, co-host of America’s Most Smartest Model, is a fashion industry insider whose smart looks and smart tongue control her show’s pretty people. Each Tuesday we talk with her about issues: this time the subjects are Rachel’s weight problem, her hook-up with VJ, and the cocky way Andre expresses himself.


VH1: Let’s talk about weight issues. It’s pretty clear that Rachel Myers has a problem.
Mary Alice Stephenson:
It’s interesting what the edit out of the show. I actually had a conversation with her about that. I think she’s way too thin. She looks unhealthy, and I was concerned about that. I brought it up with the producers, too, explaining that I think it’s very important we present healthy women. . . . “That girl is way too thin.” But then we spoke on camera and she said that she’s always been like that — that she’d had her boobs done, but she had always been super skinny. She seemed really healthy, vibrant and had tons of energy. She didn’t appear weak. But I was definitely worried she was too skinny. She said she eats a lot, and she did eat. We know. There’s people with cameras on those kids 24 hours a day. But yeah, what could you do? I didn’t have the power to kick her off the show for being too thin. But to me, she’s way, way, way too thin. She’s a sweet girl, but her weight . . . I could never cast her in a magazine shoot.

VH1: Are you talking couture or more everyday clothes, or does that even matter?
MAS:
Even if it wasn’t high fashion — even if it was for a more mass brand or something much more commercial, even just to cast her as a catalog model — she’s still too thin.

VH1: Did you know about her affair with VJ?
MAS:
The first time I noticed it was at the photo shoot with Robert Erdmann. I wasn’t hanging around the shoot that much. Ben and I were really kept away from the kids. Every now and then I took a peek in. But you could see, when I was judging that picture, I was like, “Oh my God. They’re totally [hooking up].” I didn’t really know all the chaos that was going on though, you know, like Andre being so crazy and over-the-top. But that picture, with Rachel VJ, was a good picture. Just to clarify: I come from a history of picking pictures for fashion magazines. For me, that was a really great moment, but it was more like an art photograph. It’s the kind of picture I might have on my wall because it’s a great moment, kind of Avedon-esque. But I felt that Rachel and Pickel’s picture was more fashion. Her makeup was more brilliant. It was a beauty picture for me. I was judging it from the fashion perspective. If there was an America’s Most Smartest Model fashion magazine, I’d pick that to represent a beauty moment.

VH1: And Andre’s picture?
MAS:
I didn’t know. I wasn’t on set. If I’d seen him choking her with pearls, I would have stopped it right there. If I was creative directing that shoot, he never would have done that. When I first saw the image, I was really focused on the energy of the shoot, and how it was a really cool picture. He was screaming; she was looking at the camera. It’s an intense picture, the kind you might see in W or Italian Vogue. They utilized the terrible props they had — the disgusting lingerie — but it was really intense. But when I looked at it more closely, I realized what he was doing. I wasn’t contradicting myself. I was responding to the emotion of the image. I like the picture. But I had to make a decision. And if this was a picture going into a magazine, I would never, ever print it. That’s just not something I’d do. I think there are enough scary, disgusting things going on out there. Abuse to women is something I’d never tolerate.

VH1: But isn’t fashion about controversy?
MAS:
You can push the envelope, like great photographers do — Helmut Newton, Steven Klein, Mario Sorrenti. There are a lot of people who can do that, but never something so blatant. Without the pearls — if it was just them reacting to each other in an intense emotional way, that would have been fine.

VH1: How do you know Robert Erdmann?
MAS:
I’ve worked with him at Allure, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar. I’ve known him for the past 15 years. He’s one of the funniest photographers around. He’s got a great personality. He has a wonderful way of pushing buttons, and he’s really good for TV because he’s so verbal. He gets reactions from people . . . . These kids aren’t really used to modeling. The modeling that they say they do isn’t modeling in my world. So they’re not used to working with great photographers. Some of the great photographers don’t interact all that much. I knew that these models really needed someone to give them direction. Because they’re smart models, they’re supposed to be creative directing themselves. Usually, you have a team of seven people there. They needed someone to push their buttons to get something out of them.

VH1: Andre seemed to have ideas about how to express himself on film.
MAS: The whole time, he was very sweet to me. He wanted to make it clear that we were in the same club, like “You know that I know . . . .” But I didn’t know about the chaos. Robert was the first one to say, “He thought he knew it all.” . . . I can’t believe he’s as successful as he says he is. Everyone knows about Kate Moss’s drug escapades, or Naomi Campbell’s anger management problems, but none of those were obvious on set. If Andre’s that cocky in his private life, he’s probably the same way on a shoot. When you have a $100,000 budget and time constraints, that kind of behavior just doesn’t fly.

(Above) Mary Alice wears earrings by Kara Ross.

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