NETFLIX’S ‘Styling Hollywood’ is something new, a different kind of gay love story. Celebrity stylist Jason Bolden and interior designer Adair Curtis have made a show about self-made success and Black gay joy.
Because Bolden’s business, the vowel-spurning JSN Studio, includes an interior-design practice led by his husband, Adair Curtis, the show is also a wholesome domestic soap. The Bravo tone of its living-room makeovers and tailoring challenges is freshened by spritzes of up-with-the-culture earnestness. The representation of a gay black couple is refreshing, and Jason has a charming way of abetting “black-girl magic,” as he says, sincerely sloganeering.
The household quarrels about cleaning and goal-setting and competitive breadwinning have an intriguing texture. Jason and Adair live in Los Angeles, with a goldendoodle deserving of more screen time than he is allotted, in a home they’re still settling into. The pristine condition of their Viking Range indicates that it has never been cooked upon and perhaps never will be, until caterers cruise in to whip up a vegan-ish housewarming dinner party. Jason is the dopey dad on the sitcom of their life, despite not yet being a father. Adair wants to have a kid, and there’s tension around Jason’s avoidance of an appointment with a surrogacy agency. Meanwhile, Adair’s function, beyond terrorizing contractors who are tardy in delivering custom furnishing, is to run their house, to manage their business affairs, to be a sensible guy and a charming plus-one. The season culminates with Jason dressing Ava DuVernay, among many other clients, for the Vanity Fair Oscars party and Adair’s somewhat less glamorous struggle to install a kitchen window for the actor Dulé Hill.
This is a show about the perils and rewards of mixing business and pleasure, about the fake-friendliness of L.A. and the hustle of working connections. In this field, intimacy is a professional skill in terms of both air-kissy etiquette and, more important, in the sense that Jason uses empathetic imagination to put himself in a client’s skin. And, within the headquarters of JSN Studio, we witness some special problems in working with close friends. Beyond the professional friction between methodical Adair and flighty Jason—who sometimes gets ideas for clients’ clothes from dreams, like Coleridge receiving “Kubla Khan”—there are the workplace relationships between older millennials and their youngers, who prove hilariously entitled and innovatively tone deaf. After Adair fires his operations manager, who is also a longtime pal, she texts him to check on his feelings: “Hope u ok.” Meanwhile, Jason points out errors made by John, his put-upon styling assistant, who assuages his hurt feelings with lemon drops and Xanax.
Bolden and Curtis talked to VICE, which said, “Netflix’s new series Styling Hollywood follows the happily married couple Bolden and 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.”
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.
And watch the trailer below.
Photo: Jason Bolden consults with the filmmaker Ava DuVernay, preparing for the Vanity Fair Oscars party, on an episode of Styling Hollywood.