ATL's finest Lisa Wu Hartwell is about her business. When she was teasingly deemed a closet freak by her "Real Housewives of Atlanta" cohorts, the doting wife, mother of three and savvy fox trademarked it. Last night, Hartwell and her husband, Ed, introduced her fashionable 2010 spring collection, Closet Freaks, with a runway show and star-studded after party. ESSENCE.com caught up with the diminutive hustler to discuss her freaky movement, why "RHOA" already has a third season in the works, and what she has to say to Rihanna.
ESSENCE.COM: Last night was the unveiling of your new collection, Closet Freaks. So exactly how risqué are these garments?
LISA WU HARTWELL: (Laughs.) It's not what you might think. It's more than just a clothing line, it's a movement. I don't claim to be a fashion designer, but I am about women's empowerment. When women wear Closet Freaks apparel they know that they are empowered and confident. You don't have to dress provocative to be sexy. You can still be a lady and leave some things for the imagination and the bedroom.
ESSENCE.COM: We hear that. So what inspired the name?
HARTWELL: (Laughs.) Last season on the show there was an episode where someone was teaching us how to pole dance, and we were sitting around and the instructor said we had to come up with a "stripper" name. I couldn't think of one for the life of me, but when they put on the music and I started dancing (remember, I used to be a hip-hop dancer for Public Enemy and E.P.M.D. back in the day) they all started calling me a Closet Freak and I'm like, Hmmm, I can brand that name and turn it into something positive, so I did. I plan to include thongs and other items as well.
ESSENCE.COM: Ever the businesswoman! So I suppose we'll see more of your bright and marketable ideas on the show this season?
HARTWELL: Of course, but everyone will also get to see a different side of me. People know me as the hustler businesswoman, but you'll see a more human and sensitive side to me this season.
ESSENCE.COM: So you won't be knuckling up to throw any blows and tap someone's jaw like you did on the reunion show?
HARTWELL: (Laughs.) All I'm going to say is that last season's drama was nothing compared to what is going on. I know people criticize and say that Black women are often portrayed to be angry, but it's more than just drama. Of course, we provide entertainment by being who we are, but there's so much more to all of our stories and there will be some pretty deep story lines. And we're definitely doing a third season.
ESSENCE.COM: Well, we can't wait. Speaking of deep story lines, you opened up to ESSENCE about being a domestic violence survivor. Do you have any words of encouragement for Rihanna?
WU HARTWELL: It's unfortunate that she has to heal in front of the world because it's embarrassing, especially if you're a private person. Abuse is abuse. I don't believe a woman or a man should put their hands on anyone. If you have to harm the one you supposedly love then y'all don't need to be together. A lot of people mistake that level of dysfunction as passion. It's not passion; there's some jealousy and control issues going on there so get out. In my situation, I mistook my abuse as my abuser's inability to express himself and his personal history with domestic violence as the reason he did what he did to me. I thought he could change and it would stop. I really thought I would be able to love him through it, but I know better now.
Tune in to see more of Lisa Wu Hartwell on "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" beginning this July on Bravo.