Jonathan Van Ness Interview: On Genderless Haircare and Politics

Photography Courtesy of JVN

“I try to take gender out of haircare, because it’s already too much a part of everything else. Hair is for everyone.”

“In my 20s, if I had $40 in my bank account but I was out of shampoo and conditioner, I would overdraft the shit out of my bank account,” says Jonathan Van Ness over a Zoom call. “Instead of getting food, I would get hair products.” Sound familiar? The hairstylist, Queer Eye star and founder of JVN Hair, sounds like an IRL Carrie Bradshaw, who famously said in Sex and the City‘s fourth season: “When I first moved to New York I was totally broke. Sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I just felt it fed me more.”

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During our call, the grooming guru and fan favourite from Netflix’s Queer Eye illuminates my screen with their megawatt smile, abundance of curls, a pop of green eyeshadow, and a bubbly nature that radiates all the way from across the pond — and my laptop screen. Since FASHION last spoke with Van Ness, they’ve embarked on a new leg of his comedy tour, Queer Eye has returned for its seventh season, and JVN Hair has launched a Pride haircare set in collaboration with GLSEN. (Van Ness is non-binary and uses the pronouns “they,” “he,” and “she” interchangeably. We’re using “they” in this article.)

Needless to say, there was a lot to catch up on. Ahead, Van Ness spills it all.

On finding self-confidence through hair and hairstyling

“I’ve been behind the chair since I was 18. I’ve seen the transformation in clients when they make a change. I see that in the most reason season of Queer Eye, too. It’s like, wanting to change your hair in some way, asking for help, having the courage to try something new, saving your money to do it—there’s a lot of risk. I think when we take risks and it works out for us, that is a confidence-building exercise.”

On the genderless approach to creating JVN products

“I always felt really ostracized from beauty growing up because I was assigned male at birth and so I always had the idea that beauty, or expressing your beauty, was more of a female thing and not really for males. Also when it comes to my girlfriends, queer friends, non-binary friends, whether they’re really into beauty or not into it at all, they’re shamed either way. It’s like either you’re not femme enough or you’re too femme, or you’re too highly sexualized or not enough. There’s always this commentary on the way that you’re presenting yourself. I hate that. And I also hate the idea that men don’t feel comfortable enough to express their beauty or ask questions.”

“But when it comes to gender, men’s and women’s hair is pretty similar. Like, you put it under a microscope, you can’t tell if it’s a man’s hair or a woman’s hair. So I want people to not be afraid to express themselves and have the tools to achieve whatever look they want. That’s why I try to take gender out of haircare, because it’s already too much a part of everything else. I think that hair is for everyone.”

On balancing being a brand founder and not needing products to feel beautiful

“If you ever look at my Instagram stories you’ll see how I don’t mind being on camera with my hair not done, no makeup on. I feel really beautiful whether I’m fully camera-ready or not. I know that my beauty and my worth isn’t dependent upon how I look on the outside. That’s what I mean when I say, ‘You’re already beautiful and you’re already worth celebrating,’ whether or not you’re choosing to style your hair.”

“So if you are going to style your hair I want you to do it because you want to do it and because this is how you choose to express yourself. I think that’s where JVN hair comes in. I want to give you tools for you to express yourself.”

On what makes JVN Hair stand out

“I felt like there was an opportunity for me to make stuff that was inclusive of all hair types, works really well, and wasn’t like $500 by the time you got all the products you needed. And I know there are other products that are not as expensive as mine, but they don’t work as well. We really are proud of the price point that we were able to create and the variety of looks that you can achieve.”

Jonathan Van Ness hair
Photography Courtesy of JVN Hair

“I do hope that transparency and positivity and inclusivity has helped the brand stand out, of course, but because I am kind of a snobby hairdresser in my heart, I hope it’s also because our formulas work really well. The way that we do everything is really about achieving your hair goal versus what your hair type is because, truthfully, so many things work on many hair types. I just want people to achieve their hair goals.”

On their current psoriasis scalp struggles

“I have a lot of dry flakes coming from my scalp which actually makes me feel insecure. It also is the itchiest on my scalp when I get psoriasis. My Pre Wash Scalp Oil really helps hydrate, gets the flakes out, and allows me to rub something soothing onto my head.”

Jonathan Van Ness hair oil

“Just because I’ve been more confident and understand how to style my hair better doesn’t mean that there are not times where I still don’t feel 100% about my hair.”

On embracing wearing their hair down

“All the men in my family lost their hair at some point between the ages of 18 and 30. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to have my hair, so as long as I have my hairline, and as long as this Propecia is working — Imma have this hair long!”

On how beauty helped them explore their sexuality

“I remember dating guys and hiding my heels in a closet. Like I had all my heels, my wigs, and all my hair stuff in a hidden part of the closet because I didn’t want someone who I was dating to see that I always loved to wear heels and I liked to style my hair and I had all these mannequins because I wanted to style their hair. Beauty really helped me ultimately realize that it was more important to be true to myself than to have the validation of potential people who I was attracted to. I think it also helped me realize that anyone who’s going to love me or want to be with me should do it because they’re into the fullness of who I am — not this one shell of who I think you want me to be.”

On the importance of role models and getting into politics

“I think possibility models are really important for us, to see people like us and recognize aspects of ourselves and other people that are older than us. It gives you a possibility model of something that you could achieve. I had Rudy Galindo when I was little. He was the 1996 US men’s figure skating champion, he won nationals, and he was openly gay and openly HIV-positive. He was fearless, open, expressive and incredible. I loved him. I still love him now.”

“At the same time, I wish that we held our politicians to the same standard that we hold our public figures to. As soon as I get my bag together, I’m going to run for office, honey. I really am.”

On the idea of hair holding memories

“That is totally accurate. I know for me, if I’m going through something or I go through a loss or significant trauma, I remember everything that was going on at that time. I remember how I would style my hair and what I was doing clothing-wise. Everything reminds you of those sorts of eras and everything can become a reminder. So I think hair can totally hold onto memories and having a physical change to your look totally resets your relationship with the world. You feel different, and your hair hits you different. When you change the physical sensations that you have, I just feel like it shakes things up. Sometimes it’s more exciting to feel those differences than it is to sit with your grief, pain or whatever.”

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