"I’m so not materialistic it’s not funny," proclaims NeNe Leakes of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta. "I don’t like to talk money so that’s definitely one of the things that I shy away from."
Although Leakes would prefer not to talk about her family’s wealth, she’s happy enough to spend it on her weakness: handbags. Her latest purchase, a black patent leather Cynthia Rowley purse, is keeping her company as she conducts her phone interview with the press to promote the show. Similarly, fellow Atlanta housewife Lisa Wu Hartwell admits can’t resist feeding her shoe fetish with a new pair of Rene Caovilla heels. Dropping more than thousand on these accessories is all just a part of being one of the Real Housewives.
Leakes, a socialite, and Hartwell, an indefatigable businesswoman, are just two of the high society women featured on the latest installment of the Bravo franchise. They join socialite and entrepreneur Sheree Whitfield, philanthropist DeShawn Snow and aspiring country singer Kim Zolciak. Other than the fact that four of the women are black, Leakes sees similarities in personality to the casts of the previous two shows.
"The very first season they had a young lady in the show by the name of Jo [De La Rosa], and I thought I could see myself in her so much," says Leakes. "And then Vicki [Gunvalson] is a little loud. I’m loud, too, so I could see myself being like Vicki. And then I did watch the New York housewives, and the only one I thought that I could kind of relate to was the Countess [LuAnn de Lesseps]. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe because she’s tall and she had a little smart way of doing things, too."
Comparing themselves to the previous casts, the housewives in fashion-conscious Atlanta — which some call Black Hollywood — deem the New York City cast stylish, whereas the Orange County ladies come up short when it comes to dressing up.
"I never really saw them really get down and stylish at all," observes Leakes. "Our cast is definitely younger than the Orange County housewives. I think you will see us really get down and funky and hip and then you’ll see us in gowns and cocktail dresses. Our cast really likes fashion."
"I just think demographically Los Angeles is more laid back, and they wear jeans a lot," adds Hartwell. "In New York they dress up. But like NeNe said, we’re a little bit younger and we attend a lot of events. And NeNe and I have been in the entertainment so … we got to step out right."
The Atlanta entertainment industry has grown significantly, which accounts for much of the conspicuous excess from those who want to demonstrate their success. It’s also important to keep up appearances for the sake of their businesses — Hartwell owns her own real estate firm — and to stave off gossip.
Leakes explains, "[Lisa] said that when we go out and get dressed we have to get dressed for the women because the women are the ones that are looking at you and talking about you. The Atlanta scene is really bougie, really stuck up."
In the series premiere, Whitfield throws a birthday party for herself so she can stay on the social radar for when her upcoming clothing line launches. And while she hires a party director, publicist and numerous other coordinators to make sure everything goes smoothly, her guests have also hired the services of stylists and makeup artists to make sure they look their best.
Unfortunately, an oversight creates an incident at the party that does not improve the pre-existing friction between Whitfield and Leakes, who claims they’re on good terms now.
"I think Sheree is a lot of fun. She has a strong personality, and I have a strong personality as well," admits Leakes. "Sheree and I sometimes bump heads but when we first met — which was about seven years ago — we would talk on the phone, you know, five and six times a day. We hung out. Our children played together. Just as time went on, things just didn’t work out for us so we are cordial."
Hartwell likens the squabbling friends to sisters and often acts as peacemaker. Nevertheless, as the wife of NFL player Ed Hartwell, she sometimes notices a friendly rivalry between NFL and NBA wives, the latter which tend to be "snootier."
"Well I do have some girlfriends that their husbands play in the NBA and some friends that their husbands play in the NFL," explains Hartwell, who is friends with Snow, the wife of NBA player Eric Snow of the Cleveland Cavaliers. "So it’s just kind of a funny joke. Some of them do have a little snootier attitude and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, we have the guaranteed contracts. We have more money than you guys.’ So it’s kind of that attitude. There’s some that, you know, hold their head up a little bit too high."
She points out though, that just because she and Snow are athletes’ wives, they’re not living just off of their husbands’ incomes. Besides owning the real estate firm Hartwell & Associates, she also owns a baby clothing line and jewelry line called Hart 2 Hart Baby and Wu Girls, respectively.
Even though many of the Atlanta housewives have fulfilling lives beyond just socializing, Leakes is still prepared for viewers to criticize the women.
"Some of the people are being kind and some people are being nasty on the blogs," says Leakes. "Those are the people that have nothing else to do. Everybody has an opinion. You can’t please everyone. We have a great life and we’re not faking it. It’s true. We do have a great life, and people are not going to be happy for your success. Not everyone is happy for you."
For more, check out the Zap2it’s review of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.