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Was Layla L’Obatti Mugged by Joe Zee?
Posted by richard | April 19, 2011

Reality TV shows are always best taken with a grain of salt. What viewers see, especially in pre-taped shows, is usually both scripted and edited to accentuate contrived “storylines” that will keep people tuned in.

Even so, it’s hard to account for what happened in last week’s episode of All On The Line, which featured New York lingerie designer Layla L’Obatti and her boyfriend/business partner Josh Verleun of Between The Sheets Lingerie.

AOTL, hosted by Elle magazine’s creative director Joe Zee, is meant to “help struggling designers make their dreams come true” by giving them access to Joe, his market know-how and his enviable Rolodex of industry contacts.

Instead, at the end of last week’s episode, Layla and Josh left crushed and empty-handed, with JZ sniping at them until the credits rolled (and afterward, if you read his blog). A meeting with buyers from Neiman Marcus had disintegrated and the couple looked worn out and worn down after weeks of head-butting with Joe.

(It took us nearly a week to see the show, which isn’t broadcast in Canada. If you haven’t seen the episode, you can view it here online or buy it on iTunes if you live in the U.S.)

Since last Tuesday the show has had a polarizing impact on viewers: Josh and Layla have been swamped both with support and vitriolic hate mail. Yes, hate mail — for a lingerie designer.

To understand how all this unravelled, you need to appreciate the cartoonish “storyline” that emerged from the AOTL show. It goes something like this:

Bitchy, delusional designer can’t make money selling lingerie. Wimpy boyfriend coddles her and pays the bills. Their relationship is on the skids and they can’t get married for the simple reason that she has hoovered up all his cash and he can’t afford a ring.

JZ steps in with a plan: forget lingerie and start making ready-to-wear dresses that people will buy, capitalizing on the “lingerie-as-outerwear” trend. Layla balks. Neiman Marcus walks. The kids get what they deserved, which is nothing.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s as fake as a Hong Kong knockoff, the result of highly selective editing of countless hours of tape shot over three weeks last winter. It makes for riveting (and grim) TV, but people who know Layla and Josh will barely recognize them on AOTL. The couple’s entire lives are reduced to a single issue: can they sell enough underwear to buy a ring and, to quote Joe, “live happily ever after”?

The creative differences between Joe and Layla are authentic, but AOTL’s humiliation of the couple was shamefully choreographed. The show clumsily tries to make it look like the pair are falling apart, which is both wrong and reprehensible. In one creepy segment, Joe takes Josh to a high-end Manhattan jewelry store, ostensibly to get ideas for the buyer presentation. While there, and with cameras rolling, Joe tries to goad Josh into buying an expensive engagement ring for Layla — knowing full well that he can’t afford it. Ugh.

The episode is littered with Joe’s snide put-downs of Layla and Josh, whom he describes as “a controlling designer and an incredibly gracious doormat”. Layla’s work “looks lazy, cheap and amateur.” They can’t succeed by “selling a couple bras and panties.” Josh is just a “bottomless chequebook”.

Layla ends up the villain of the piece simply because she didn’t agree with Joe’s advice for her company. Not surprisingly, the collection she presented to NM’s fashion-forward Cusp label appeared half-hearted. And Josh? Well, somehow AOTL manages to gloss over the fact that his day job is working as an environmental lawyer for a well-known conservation group. Eco-warrior by day, doormat by night?

“People rightly feel sorry for Josh; he got screwed by editing,” Layla told us. “People rightly hate me. Hell I hate how this show makes me look. But I can sleep at night because I know that is not who I am or at all how it went down. Not sure how they’re sleeping.”

The real reason the BTS segment didn’t deliver the rosy outcome that AOTL promises was the huge disconnect between Joe and Layla from the beginning.

Joe’s industry credentials are widely known, but it’s clear he neither appreciates nor cares about lingerie, repeatedly describing the $30-billion industry as a niche market that is too small to make money in. Hundreds of lingerie brands and thousands of retailers will be puzzled to hear that.

Rather than focus on what BTS does (make very nice loungewear and lingerie), Joe tries to steer them toward the RTW trade because that’s what HE knows. At one point, he is surprised to learn that BTS has a highly-regarded diffusion luxury label, and even Keith Pollock, editor of Elle.com, tells him: “We don’t do a lot around lingerie design.”

Given his predisposition, one has to wonder why Joe Zee would devote an episode of AOTL to a lingerie label at all. Asking Layla to turn her back on BTS and design dresses instead made as much sense as telling a poet to start writing sci-fi fantasy novels because, well, that’s what sells.

But make no mistake, the real focus of the program is Joe himself; AOTL exists primarily to elevate his status, in the same way that The Apprentice is little more than a promotional vehicle for Donald Trump.

Although he insists “I have nothing to gain from this,” Joe utters another, more revealing comment when his project with Layla starts to go south: “I’m really concerned,” he says. “My reputation is on the line.”

Ah, so there it is: all on the line, indeed.

And what does a true New Yorker do after an old-fashioned mugging? If you’re Layla L’Obatti, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to business. In the next few days, we’ll have a look at what she’s done with the collection she pitched on AOTL. You’ll be surprised.

16 Responses to “Was Layla L’Obatti Mugged by Joe Zee?”

  1. Treacle says:

    Excellent article! Love it. :)

  2. Michelle says:

    Beautiful article well written.

  3. Allison says:

    I like how the article casually forgot to mention some key facts:

    1. The couple is two hundred thousand dollars in debt, and they’ve maxed out all their credit cards, with Josh even selling his car to finance the business. If this isn’t a wakeup call for them that they’re not making money with their lingerie, then what is? And please don’t tell me that that part is edited–not once did they deny the debt.

    2. The bras were butt-ugly. You really can’t expect people to buy that hideous purple thing with lace detail.

    3. Joe WASN’T gaining anything–in fact, he was actually poised to LOSE if something went wrong. He introduces buyers to designers all the time; if anything, he’s taking a risk on his reputation because he’s introducing a major buyer to an unknown.

    4. Nobody wasn’t asking much of Layla. I don’t care how much editing went into it; no amount of spliced tape can ever recreate the amount of ego the girl has–she wouldn’t even use the jewelry that her BOYFRIEND picked out! Not even Joe!

  4. Christy says:

    Editing can do only so much; Layla’s attitude was terrible.

    Why did she become involved with the show if what she wanted was merely reinforcement that what she was already doing was working? It WASN’T working.

    Frankly, I think Joe Zee was a real gentleman. If I were in his position, faced with the passive aggressive attitude and snotty arrogance of this woman, I would have walked out in the first 15 minutes. I AM an entrepreneur in a creative field, and know what it is to struggle, and what a gift a mentorship can be, especially with someone of Joe Zee’s caliber. Layla embarrassed herself.

    The poor devil who has mortgaged his entire future catering to her whims looked deflated from the beginning, and it had nothing to do with Joe Zee.

  5. Lookyhere says:

    Nice hatchet job on Joe Zee and AOTL.

  6. Kerry says:

    What are you – her mother or something – trying to come to her rescue? I don’t think she deserves hate mail by any means, but as has been said, no amount of editing will change her comparing herself to Marc Jacobs, to ignoring his very sound advice to not do the collection in all the same color and fabric – and then LYING to him and saying she will make more in other fabrics when she had no intention of doing it. He never asked her to turn her back on BTS or lingerie just to EXPAND – obviously a word she was incapable of understanding. I mean come on – Victoria’s Secret makes ready to wear. She wouldn’t listen to a single word he said. She went out there and set herself up to fail. She did it all herself. Well, no. The butt kissing boyfriend helped. Yes, he may be a very successful lawyer, but he was no help to her by just yessing her to death. No wonder she can’t take constructive criticism.

  7. Melanie says:

    You could see it in the boyfriends face, THAT wasn’t edited or CD animated. HE is losing everything he is working for by supporting her bottomless pit of FAIL. AOTL didn’t do a hack job, you can’t misrepresent her words or what she says. You can clearly see her manipulation of her boyfriend with her fake tears and her eye shots over the glasses. That is a CLEAR maneuver to grab her boyfriend by the testicles without reaching her arm out. He is just so financially ruined, he feels he can’t leave her in the RARE chance she actually makes something for herself.

    One thing she needs to get clear is that “luxury lounge wear” is full of FAIL. WHO is going to pay for that?! Certainly not college kids. You really are limiting your market value by excluding a large portion of clientele when you are just getting started. That is how designers struggle all of their life and end up backing out of the business.

  8. Flo says:

    I completely agree with Liv above. I think her boyfriend was dropped when he was a baby. He needs to have some kind of self-confident booze. The clothes or whatever she calls lingerie is something I can get in Victoria Secrets. She is playing fashion designer and she found a boyfriend that is willing pay for her fun games. I thought Josh had the same idea and concept with Joe Zee. He is getting himself so much in debt (His personal loans and credit cards) for HER business and his opinions doesn’t even matter! This episode makes me feel for him but he made this horrible choice. Someone needs to snap him out of it. Let her rot in debt by herself. Honestly, Josh is a lawyer and that scares me because he is such a push-over, you would lose your case indefinitely.

  9. Josh Verleun says:

    Thank you to Lingerie Talk for taking the time to write this article and thank you to all the commenters for caring enough about what you saw on the episode to voice your opinion.

    Layla and I knew the risks and rewards when we decided to go into business together. And after 2 years in business, an experience that has torn apart many couples, we are happy to say we are still if not more in love.

    All of this speculation and judgment about our relationship and lives beyond what you saw of us on the show is not unexpected, but has been both disappointing and disturbing.

    Contrary to what was portrayed I am not a “bottomless wallet” nor a “doormat”. Indeed over the course of the weeks that we filmed I frequently spoke up and for reasons of my own expressed my disagreement with the path that was laid for us by Joe, the network, and the producers.

    Layla and I have both invested our savings and many hours in this business. In reality I have a day job, so her more hours than me, but that only makes sense since she is the designer and this is her dream, but I have wholeheartedly embraced it as my own as well.

    At this point we would like to move on from this experience. We have and continue to take great care in growing our business and part of that includes keeping relationships with buyers and press, and as the article remarks, those who know us or who have interacted with us know the characters that have been depicted in this show are not really who we are.

    If you want to learn more about me you can visit my website and contact me directly. Any comments will be read and I will respond to all that are written respectfully.

  10. notaliar says:

    Josh Verleun is the Kim Jong Il of this website. He is also the door mat of the universe. Even if the show did lie, I can still look at Layla’s tweets and tell that she treats you like crap. I mean, saying your friends suck? What is that? Anyway, whatever dude believe what you want.

  11. Pearline says:

    Just watched the episode On Demand and Googled to see what other folks are saying. This blog entry to crazy. And Josh you’re clearly in love but your girlfriend through away the big opportunity that Joe Zee delivered for you. It’s mindboggling, really.

  12. Beth says:

    Bottom line – she’s not really that talented. I wasn’t impressed with any of her RTW designs, nor did I like her lingerie. Not only that, but she needs some serious help with her photo shoots. The models, styling, and lighting were all terrible on her website. Amateur at best. I couldn’t get over the fact that she wouldn’t accept any of Joe’s jewelry when styling her collection – just rude and unkind. I’m not a Layla fan. “Hatchet job” or not.

  13. lisa s says:

    Layla was truly terrible and did not move one step towards him, while he kept on trying to help her.

    I’m looking for this kind of mentor and this kind of opportunity for so long.. That doesn’t mean I’ll agree with everything he/she says, but I hope that someone will reach out and open a door for me like that.

    It’s like she kicked him in the face! Unbelievable!

  14. Karen says:

    It’s so easy to be unkind when you can hide behind a screen name and email account. Really.

    And I don’t know how you define talent Beth, but I just looked at her website and her stuff ROCKS. Very fresh and inventive, miles away from the large brands that every other lingerie shop stocks. So nice to see something different.

  15. Daffy Dill says:

    What a blown opportunity for Layla L’Obatti. And worst of all, a public relations nightmare. All for the sake of “staying true” to one’s vision? If that vision is bankrupting you, not returning on your investment then–here is an idea–you should try something different. Seems like Joe Zee had some great ideas to turn things around. Even meeting him half way on “All on the Line” would have saved it. But, the no compromise, no prisoners attitude, while might seem romantic and in service to artistic vision, is a complete fail when it comes to running a business. You can’t have that kind of ‘tude most especially if what you are doing is not working. I imagine anyone thinking of doing future business with Between the Sheets might think twice when they see how stubborn and unyielding Layla appears. Good luck putting this behind you. The fashion world is very, very small. This negative characterization was utterly needless–if they had just played along, even half way for cripes sake. Even just pretended a little bit. You cant buy that kind of great advertising for your business *slaps forehead* Instead they end up looking like the amateur hour duo with zero business savvy.

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