“First comes fame, then comes fortune” is pretty much the m.o. for most reality TV stars, but where others eyed celebrity, Adrienne Maloof spotted a business opportunity.

As the lead marketer of her family’s 150-year-old business, which employs 5,000 people through its various properties including the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, the Sacramento Kings and The Maloof Money Cup, she initially had zero interest when Bravo came knocking for “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” That was, until she realized the potential reach. “With the way that Bravo markets, I knew it was a win-win situation for me. I went in thinking ‘I’m going to make it a business…’” she says. “And hence, here we are and it’s worked for me and I have used it to my benefit. I knew as a businesswoman that this is why I wanted to do the show because why else would you do this show? It’s either for philanthropic work or as a businessperson.”

This story first appeared in the December 19, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In New York for a meet-and-greet Saturday at Lord & Taylor to launch her new shoe line, Maloof made the business trip a family affair. Like scores of other out-of-towners, she and her husband, Paul Nassif, planned to take their three young sons to FAO Schwartz, The Rockettes, Mars 2112 and somehow squeeze in a little shopping. Known on the Bravo show for her level-headed, nontheatrical ways, Maloof has been approached about launching a litany of products, even designer scrubs (her better half is a plastic surgeon who is looking to set up a New York practice.)

Over a caprese salad Friday afternoon at Sarabeth’s, the diminutive star told WWD about her plans for handbags, a clothing line, a lower-priced signature shoe collection, potentially a reality show of her own and a big-time restaurant deal. Wearing a royal blue Trina Turk blouse, Theory pants and black patent leather stilettos from her new line with Charles Jourdan, she described her new office. To get in the right frame of mind for her latest pursuit, the self-described businesswoman put her desk in her shoe closet, where she works surrounded by 500 pairs of shoes and within eyeshot of a quote that reads, “Cinderella is Proof that a Great Pair of Shoes Can Change a Woman’s Life.”

With a personal wealth pegged at $300 million, Maloof is not one for free rides. In fact, the only one she seems to have landed was a full athletic scholarship for playing tennis at the University of New Mexico, where she majored in political science. Hard-charging as she is, a 10-cups-of-coffee-a-day habit keeps her motoring along. “There is no magic wand. It all comes down to hard work, take care of your employees, watch your overhead and give back. That’s worked for my family for 150 years.”
Here, Maloof on business, reality and fame.

WWD: Why do you think you’re so driven?
Adrienne Maloof: Business is in my DNA. I have four brothers. I grew up around the table having dinner with my family talking about various business ventures. I think I’m so driven because at a very young age, my father said, “You want these nice things? You’ve got to work for them.” We were taught to work hard and to give back. That’s been my family’s success for a very long time.

WWD: When you were a child growing up in New Mexico, how did you envision your adult life?
A.M.: I had always loved fashion. I knew that I wanted to be, yes, part of my family’s business, but I also wanted to move into something that I had always loved. As a young girl, believe it or not, I would play with Barbies by putting the shoes on first and designing the outfits around it. I’ve always been fascinated by shoes. I think it’s an art form. In fact, my brothers would say, “How many pairs of shoes does a woman really, really need?” So my dad would say, being the wonderful businessman that he was, “You never know. Maybe she will make it a business.” And maybe that stuck with me.
WWD: Are there words you live by?
A.M.: “Fortune favors the bold.” If you’re willing to take those risks, sometimes in life, that’s how you become fortunate. If you’re willing to put yourself out there, and certainly doing this show, I have put myself out there. 

WWD: Is there anything you wish you could take back that the cameras have captured?
A.M.: Let’s see, where do I start?

WWD: What would we see at your house when the cameras aren’t rolling?
A.M.: You would see what you see when the cameras are rolling, fortunately and unfortunately. It’s exactly the way it is. The production company has really done a fabulous job because they have really captured those candid moments for better or for worse. That’s the beauty of doing a show and sometimes the regrets of doing a show. In those vulnerable moments, you may not be having a great day with your husband or in your business, and you see those moments.

WWD: Will you get a chance to shop in New York? Which designers do you like?
A.M.: I always get a chance to shop in New York even if I have to stay an extra day. I love to shop at Lord & Taylor. It’s my favorite store. They offer a variety of different designers I really love. And the people here are actually very accommodating. Obviously, I like Charles Jourdan, and Alice + Olivia because you get to be a little more cutting edge but they are also classic. If you want to get higher-end, I like Dolce & Gabbana. For my suits, I love Armani suits still. Stella [McCartney], [Roberto] Cavalli, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen. You know who I love and he’s going to be doing my dress for the [RHBH] Reunion: Oday Shakar. He’s fabulous.

NEXT: L.A. vs. NYC, More on ‘Real Housewives’ >>

WWD: When you are in New York, what strikes you about the differences between L.A.?
A.M.: With the weather in L.A., obviously there is sunshine most of the time, and color is very common. On the show, they want us to wear a lot of color because it pops. I’ve never worn so much color. But I love black and I prefer earth tones. Everyone loves to be tan because it is that healthy California look. It’s very casual, laid back. You very rarely see men in suits, unfortunately. And shockingly enough, some of the A-list celebrities you see on television don’t look quite put together in person.

WWD: There were 2.2 million viewers who tuned in for the season premiere. Did you imagine the show would take off as it has?
A.M.: I knew Beverly Hills would because anywhere around the world people want to know about Beverly Hills. They may not know about Atlanta or Washington, D.C., but they know Beverly Hills. I think it’s “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” — oh boy I don’t know if I should say this — with a little “Mean Girls.” It’s relatable. I think they believe that because you live in Beverly Hills and there’s the glitz and the glamour and the association with celebrities that your life is going to be pie in the sky. But when they see we have the same issues, we become relatable….Overall as a cast, we have the same issues as most people. It might just be a different set of problems but it’s still very real. You couldn’t get much more real than what happened this season.

WWD: In hindsight, does it seem as though there were more warning signs of [Taylor Armstrong’s husband] Russell’s struggles [who killed himself in August]?
A.M.: No, I promise you there were absolutely no signs. No, no, he was quiet and he was a little reserved but to assume he would do this? No.

WWD: How are Taylor and her daughter coping?
A.M.: Actually, I just saw Taylor a week ago. She looks great. She looks fantastic. Her daughter is resilient. At that age, I think you can overcome tragedy a little bit easier than you would if you were older. So they’re doing quite well.

WWD: What would people be surprised to learn about the cast?
A.M.: We’re all very hands-on Moms. My children come first ahead of everything. We don’t ship our kids off to boarding schools. We’re with them all the time.

WWD: Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller were married in your house. How are they holding up? It’s been quite a year.
A.M.: They used to live next-door. They live down the street. Brooke is going through a little bit of a difficult time right now. She’s had her struggles obviously, but I think she’ll pull through this. She has an amazing support group. I feel that’s really what you need and you need the will to want to work through this. You know, you have to keep trying. It may be the third or fourth or fifth time, but as long as you are willing to keep trying to make yourself healthy and whole, that’s what important. I have not spoken to Charlie in a while. I do not know how he is doing.

WWD: Is there anything you hope to get for the holidays?
A.M.: Honestly, I love giving gifts. For me, the joy is seeing my children open presents and I will probably have to get something to spice up my husband’s wardrobe. You know, he’s a doctor, so they don’t have time to really get into fashion. It’s better now than when I first met him. He couldn’t get out of that college thing. There were lots of hoodie sweatshirts, sweatpants and scrubs. I met him through a mutual friend. No, it wasn’t from doing Botox. I know people say that. You’d be surprised how many people have asked that. That’s a L.A. question.


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