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Netflix's 'Styling Hollywood' Is a New Kind of Gay Love Story

Celebrity stylist Jason Bolden and interior designer Adair Curtis talk to VICE about self-made success and Black gay joy.

by Taylor Hosking
Aug 30 2019, 1:00pm

Netflix / Styling Hollywood

Netflix's new series Styling Hollywood follows the happily married couple Jason Bolden and Adair Curtis on their adventures leading a joint business, JSN Studios, where Bolden styles A-list celebrities and Curtis is an interior designer. Their electric personalities, combined with candid appearances from celebrities like Ava DuVernay and Sanaa Lathan, are entertaining on their own. But the show is also strikingly honest about the obstacles the couple faces in their professional and personal lives, making their high-profile world feel surprisingly three-dimensional. Styling Hollywood's candid approach makes it a refreshing window into the worlds of Hollywood stylists and Black celebrities, as well as an upbeat depiction of Black gay life.

We caught up with Bolden and Curtis to hear more about why they decided to let audiences in on their lives and what they hope viewers get out of the show.

VICE: Why did you decide to share your lifestyle on reality TV?

Bolden: We've been asked for years to expose our life, and let people get a window into what it's like to design and style and also have a fun happy marriage. But we never really found partners who we thought really got us, who could actually take care of us and be trusted. Then we sat down with Carlos King [executive producer of Styling Hollywood] and fell in love with him. We felt like he really got us, and he looked like us. We brought the idea to Netflix, they fell in love, and it's become a beautiful process.

You two seem to be so secure and celebrated in your identities compared to characters in popular coming-out movies. Was it a selling point for you to do the show, that you could expose people to this kind of post-coming-out lifestyle?

Bolden: It really sucks that people have to have the experience of not really being accepted by families and communities. We're really grateful to actually have family from day one to now who've always supported us. We come from this really amazing group of people who care about us. So we're really lucky in that sense. And it feels good to share a different story through the celebration and comfort of the show.

A number of TV shows about gay men seem to have a straight gaze to them, as if people or characters are performing gay stereotypes straight people want to see. But your show feels more like you're just living your lives. Did you intentionally want to make this a different kind of depiction?

Bolden: You have these images that are constantly pushed on us as gay men about what [we] look like. But as humans, we have all these different layers. [This show is] an opportunity to see another layer, especially when it comes to being two Black gay men. There are so many public examples of white gay couples who have these shiny sparkly lives and there's no chaos. We never see that when it comes to two Black gay men. Looking back, we see this show as an amazing opportunity to amplify the Black gay community. But we didn't have to worry too much about breaking stereotypes, because this show is really us, through and through, any day of the week. There are loads of stereotypes out there, but the only one we really fall into is being happy and joyful, and that's what we want to focus on.

Why do you think it has been so rare to see the world of Black styling on TV?

Bolden: For a very long time people didn't think dressing Black celebrities was important, but now they're seeing [they were] actually so wrong. This is a big business. [Black celebrities and their stylists] are the people who are shifting culture. All these fashion houses are basing things off of the fashion of these Black and brown women and men. How do we not show [their contributions] and only promote images of brown people on TV that are malicious and awful? For me, I think a big reason [we haven't seen Black styling highlighted on TV] stems from that narrow idea of who Black people are. If you're thinking that way, there's no possibility that Black people can be glamorous.

What do you think Black stylists in particular bring to the process of dressing celebrities?

Bolden: Well clothes are clothes, and people are people. There shouldn't be a real separation of who can dress who, because ultimately, it's just clothes, and we should let the best person win. There are situations where I can chat [with Black celebrities] and share experiences—about what it feels like to walk into a store and be ignored, for example. But mainly, Black stylists have never been recognized. It's always been my white counterparts who have been fully celebrated and pushed to the forefront. We're so lucky that now things are changing, thanks to the help of some of our amazing clients who are screaming our names and thanking us in public.

Your show gets surprisingly candid about the behind-the-scenes or internal drama of your business, and how you work things out. Is part of your mission to show people, maybe young Black people, how they could operate a similar business, or inspire them to see themselves doing it?

Curtis: That's definitely something we always try to do—even if a small touch of something that we did on the show inspires you to become a celebrity stylist, or really anything you want to be, because the options are limitless. I think entrepreneurship today is glamorized, so a lot of people don't understand or see the struggle of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. But our business is a real business. We're not doing this just for the show. So everything you saw is real. We couldn't script that if we wanted to. We struggle. We have to deal with managing the different people in your business who don't necessarily have the same goals as you. So yeah, that was intentional to show, but it's also all just real life.

What have you learned about the essence of Black girl magic working with your clients?

Bolden: I always go back to resilience. All of [our clients] have this drive to shift perspectives, whether it's through the way they want to translate a dress on the red carpet or how they want to change the way people receive other humans on the planet. That is some powerful shit. Shifting this big ass planet? That's amazing.

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