09.15.11

Inside the Toddler Fashion Show

On the final day of New York Fashion Week, Eden Wood of ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ and Kelly Bensimon of 'Real Housewives of New York' meet for a tinier—but no less stylish—kind of fashion show.

At this morning’s Ralph Lauren show on the final day of New York Fashion Week, there were bouquets of hydrangeas, white beaded evening gowns, 1920s-inspired hats, and wall-to-wall twill carpeting.

Twenty blocks uptown at the Toddler Fashion Show, it was a different story.

In the basement of the Bryant Park Hotel, Real Housewives of New York star Kelly Bensimon hosted the “Cowgirl Riders Debutante Fashion Show” for a ragtag bunch of 6-year-olds, the most notable of which was Eden Wood, the platinum blond star of Toddlers & Tiaras on TLC.

Cathy Horyn, The New York Times’s formidable fashion critic, was nowhere in sight. Neither was Nicki Minaj, the outlandish rapper who’s been ubiquitous in the front rows this week. There were no signs of street-style bloggers, no teams of beauty and hair assistants backstage—just some youthful pageant mothers and a handful of reporters from InTouch and Star.

In a way, it was the best fashion show of the week. Each girl had her moment to strut the stage—which meant shimmying and shaking to the tunes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift while Bensimon cheered them on through the microphone. “Can I get a ‘Yeehaw’?” she screamed to the toddlers.

But Wood was the headliner—and with her level of stage-presence, the other nervous toddlers felt a little like filler. The 6-year-old sensation began with a hoedown, in a pair of blue sparkling hot pants and a jean jacket. She worked the room, and before we knew it, she had whipped off her jacket, spun it above her head like a lasso, and released it into the crowd. She then turned around and spanked herself. (That’s when we spotted a stuffed chipmunk inexplicably sticking out of her back pocket.) Bensimon cheered wildly.

“That wasn’t stripping,” the Real Housewives star told us of Wood’s performance after the show. “That was just her having a little fun, girly moment. If she was really doing something, I would have literally moved her into doing something else. I have rules.”

This was a strange place to find Bensimon on the morning that The Huffington Post reported she had been fired from Real Housewives, along with her castmates Jill Zarin and Alex McCord. But when we asked, she dismissed claims that she was leaving the show.

“There are so many rumors about everything,” Bensimon said. “I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I can’t tell you. I wish I had a magic ball that’d say I’m on or off—I really don’t know.” She continued: “If I come back on the show, if I don’t come back on the show, all I have to do is say thank you to Bravo, because I’m really, really grateful.”

The second performer was a shy, curly-haired toddler named Allison, who marched out, tipped her cowboy hat to one side of the stage, then to the other, and then turned on her heels and walked off. Sure, Eden Wood is a tough act to follow—but was that it? The event was paid for by Cicciabella, a line of kids’ booties that come in all sorts of colors and designs (“I first saw these adorable boots in Aspen,” Bensimon gushed through the microphone) and each girl was required to wear a pair on stage, which proved a little cumbersome for dancing.

After a few other performances, Wood returned—this time in a black tutu, lace tights, and leopard-print Cicciabellas—to perform a choreographed dance to a mashup of several songs, including “Ice, Ice, Baby,” and “Can’t Touch This.”

It was a strange sight to behold, but for Bensimon, there were parallels between the toddler pageant circuit and the antics of her castmates on Real Housewives. “Everybody was laughing on the show because I called Simon [van Kempen] ’pageant dad’ to Alex [McCord]—meaning that he’s controlling, and telling his ’daughter,’ Alex, what to do and how to do it, and where to go, and who to talk to and how to talk,” Bensimon said.

When Wood appeared on stage for the third time (“Give it up one more time for Miss Eden Wood!”) we were beginning to tire. But this time she sang her original song, “Cutie Patootie,” in which she brags about her various TV appearances. “They call me cutie…cutie patootie!” she sang, “Rockin' out the pageant stage and shakin' my booty…You see my face in magazines, papers and the TV screen// CNN, GMA, Got my own Facebook page!”

But after the show, Wood had little interest in speaking with print journalists. “She’s just sooo tired,” her publicist said as Wood sat slumped in her seat, glowering at a row of reporters that gathered in front of her. She eventually obliged, and sat with arms folded.

Was it true that she was going to “retire” from kiddie pageantry? “Yes,” she said. “So I can do other things. Go record my music and stuff.” And when will that be? “I don’t know,” she said. “Whenever my momma says. She’s the one who knows everything.”

Wood was coming off a bit of bad press of her own this week, as The New York Post reported that she had “thrown a tantrum” after she had been told she was too young to whiten her teeth at the Allure Fashion Lounge earlier this week.

But Wood and her publicist were quick to deny this.  “I wasn’t upset,” she said about the situation. “They said I couldn’t have it, and I said OK.” Her publicist leaned in: “When you’re a big girl, you’ll get the teeth thing, right?” “No, I already have big girl teeth,” she responded. “Yeah but when they grow in a little more, they’re going to send you one. That’s what they told you, right?” he said. Wood deadpanned: “I’ll be 65, and they’ll be dead by then.”

Many of the other girls in the fashion show had commuted into New York for the day—relative newbies on the pageant circuit. Wood, meanwhile, is in New York for a few more days to film an appearance for the series Next Great Baker on TLC.

We asked Wood if she had any advice for the more inexperienced performers. “What’s advice?” she asked. Her publicist translated: “Like, tips.” “What’s tips?” she replied. “Anything that would, um, help them be like you.”

“Oh,” Wood said, without batting an eyelash. “Smile and dance better.”