Wednesday, August 19, 2015

INTERVIEW: Jeannie Mai Talks Style...And Why Steampunk Rocks!

("I love the touch of gloss in my Steampunk style!")
Hella stylish. Hella passionate. Hella knowledgeable. 

Yes….I absolutely love the relatable, fashion-oriented personality of Jeannie Mai! The bubbly style maven who grew up in the Bay Area, now living in our television sets and on our social media newsfeeds, is testament to the importance of pursuing your passion. 

From enjoying her dark tresses with a funk of blue as she hosted Style Network’s double Emmy-nominated series, “How Do I Look?” (now hitting Asia!) to keeping up with her insightful perspectives and hilarious “Mama Mai” impersonations on Fox’s “The Real,” I appreciate Jeannie doing her thang while naturally bringing diversity to fashion’s forefront. Now, host of the highly-anticipated “Steampunk’d” on GSN (premiering tonight at 10/9c!), Jeannie is helping to bring a whole community and subculture to light – one that is based on pure innovation. Hosting this show in glammed-up, Steampunk style (with the help of her glam squad: Sienree Du/hair, Jamie Leonard/makeup, and Daniel Musto/stylist), it’s clear that all of Jeanie’s experiences led her right to this very point – her roots.

After speaking with Jeannie, it’s also very clear to me that she is an a-typical celebrity with a love for sisterhood. Also a television correspondent to many major networks, including NBC, FOX, E! News, and MTV, Jeannie is proud to have the talent and ability to empower women. In fact, she empowered me just by saying she’s a fan of my blog right before we started to chat! (I know…eek!)

So when it comes to you being host of “Steampunk’d”….I understand that you especially relate to this show due to your own experience with style as a teenager?

Yeah, so true. I come from the Bay Area, and I believe that a lot of the Steampunk movement comes from within the cities of Palo Alto, San Francisco – definitely San Francisco – Campbell, Oakland... And for me, I couldn’t afford a lot of the beautiful things I would see in magazines, but it didn’t matter, because what I really loved were the things that I could make. My idea of putting together an outfit was taking a corset and cutting it, ‘cause I have a really short torso – I’m not one of those beautiful Victoria’s Secret models who we see donning the corsets – so I would go to old playhouses and vintage shops and buy corsets and then just kinda cut them half and distress the edge or finish the edges. And I would just put my outfits together and just stack upon stack upon stack…and there’s nothing that celebrates a woman’s body more than the Steampunk movement.  I mean, the curves and the Victorian shape. And like, more is more, you know? It’s so much fun, and that’s what I really got into when I was dressing up with the Steampunk life…and you feel a sense of strength when you can wear something that no one else can buy because, quite frankly, you made it. There’s nothing that can top that! And I love that the show is bringing that back, and inviting women to upcycle – make or reinvent – all the things that they see in magazines, but even better because they’re shaping it to their own body. 

("It truly is the definition of imagination when it comes to 'Steampunk'd...")

So what was it like working with all the contestants? I’m sure they are so innovative and creative…

They were amazing! I would have to say that everything I described with what I did is a joke to what these Steampunk makers are doing. They are a very illustrated combination of wood makers, carpenters, watch designers, bakers, fashion designers, of course, and just everything you can think of. What’s interesting is that even though we scoured the U.S. for the best Steampunk makers, not one person stands a chance against the other unless they can really put on more hats.  And what I mean by that is that just because you’re the best carpenter there is out there, there are challenges that go through the season where you might have to design something. You might have to literally get into sewing fabrics together or creating a piece that can illustrate, you know, the entire room to a house.  These challenges are really competitive, so these makers have to throw all their tools on deck and really make something happen.  It truly is the definition of imagination when it comes to Steampunk’d, the show.

So, I’m going to assume that this show inspired you even more regarding fashion, itself…?

Absolutely. So my house has a little bit of Steampunk elements to it, because when I was living in San Jose, my aunts and I used to love going through our old furniture, and things like that, and just adding a bit of varnish and giving it the great, distressed edges and color that the Steampunk culture kinda brings. Now, after watching the show, oh my gosh…I learned so much more that you can do. From pipes to woodwork and to borders in the house, every single thing! Like I walk in my house now, and I’m like 'ugh.' I wanna upgrade in a whole new way. And I actually have started the projects throughout my house now.

And you know, a lot of people will struggle with defining what ultimately Steampunk is. But at the end of the day, it’s really just being inventive. You know, re-living the Victorian, science fiction era and re-embracing the technology from back then to now, and just weaving the story into everything you create. The Steampunk community can get really geeked out over everything that they handcraft, because their heart and soul is into it. And that’s why I love the show so much, because you see that.

("It's about getting these Steampunk makers to feel like their voice is heard.")

As you use the word “community,” I didn’t realize that Steampunk makers are really a subculture…

Correct. Yeah, that’s absolutely right. It’s a subculture and it exists everywhere in the world, not just big metropolitan cities…sometimes even just the smallest areas. One of our very own judges, Thomas Willeford, is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. When you go there, you see the WalMarts and the Targets and the families…My husband’s from there, so I’m there three times a year, and I never know such great Steampunk talent lives there! So I’m actually going to go visit Thomas when I go to Harrisburg next. But Steampunk is everywhere!

It’s so exciting to hear this, because the show’s concept is such a part of your personality. They definitely casted the right person to host it! You’re not just filling a role, this is your passion…

Oh absolutely. It’s my passion, and most importantly, it’s not about me. It’s about getting these Steampunk makers to feel like their voice is heard. For me, as a host, it’s important that the judges get a really good understanding of each maker and their story. Why are they here? What do they have to say? What’s their contribution to the community? And, why is it important that they’re recognized as a Steampunk icon? Each person has a different goal, they have a different background, and when it comes to a competition, you know, sometimes voices can get clouded over by somebody louder or more dramatic. But it’s not about that at all in this competition. We have some really smart judges – the judges see right through that.

Well, I’m excited for the show especially because the concept is still new to me. Looking forward to learning even more about it!

My definition of Steampunk has evolved to kind of be a glam punk. Like, I love the touch of gloss in my Steampunk style. I like everything to look glossy and shiny and mystical…and that works for me. All the ladies on the show wear a lot of their own self-made pieces, and that’s the coolest part about it, so you’re getting ideas alone from the contestants even if they haven’t won. We’re representing so many different people that have touches of Steampunk...

("...At the end of the day, it's really just being inventive.")
How did you get involved in the fashion industry and really start making a name for yourself?

I would like to think that it started in San Jose, where I lived and dressed everyday women. I had the blessing of working with great artists, like Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera, and I was touring with them and doing their makeup. At the same time, I was helping them get dressed and style them as well. But when I would come home to San Jose, it would be everyday people that would come knocking on my door for tips and advice that really helped me to understand that everyday women are equally as important as that big A-list celebrity out there. And may sometimes need more help because they don’t have that team, that access to a showroom or designer labels….and these women reflect the world. As much as I love the celebrities I work with, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors, you know. Not everybody is perfect, but everybody is flawed. We all have our own different flaws that make it a beautiful package. For me, it was teaching these women at home, in the town of San Jose, that made me think, 'Gosh Jeannie, you have to teach and help women embrace their bodies.' A woman who wakes up every morning and despises her legs or can’t stand showing off her hips, or wishes that she was five sizes smaller is not a woman who is recognizing her worth. That kind of stuff leaves me awake at night. So, for me, as soon as I moved out to LA, I pitched myself to different networks to have them understand the opportunity they had to do a makeover show. I’m really thankful for the Style Network.

Hearing you talk about your passion is so refreshing, as your authentic appearance on TV mimics who you really are. That said, my last question for you is: What tip would you give 14 or 15-year old kids who don’t like what they see in the stores, limited in their budget, but really want to communicate their personality in fashion?

I would say the first thing you do is visit a craft store, like your local Michaels or Jo-Anne Fabric and Craft. That, to me, is my favorite store over a Barney’s. I love a good craft store, you know, learning how to get pictures on the grommets, learning how to put button holes in, learning how to place darts…they have books to teach you how to line basic garments, and where to place the darting on an average women’s body. A craft store is going to help people, because their books are easy and thank god we have the Internet now. There’s also just tools you need to create anything you want from anything you see out there. Just get lost in there! That’s the best advice I can give.

The premiere of "Steampunk'd" comes on tonight at 10/9 c on GSN! To learn more about Jeannie Mai, be sure to follow her on Instagram and Twitter (if you’re not already), and definitely check out her “25 Things Google Won’t Tell You About Me.” Hilarious! 

(*Fun Fact: The embellished gold dress Jeannie is wearing above was designed by LA fashion designer, Daisy Gonzalez, who was recently featured on Good Girl Gone Shopping!)

Photo Credits: Courtesy of GSN

No comments: