A day in the life of the man with the treasured hands behind Solange’s hair, Beyoncé’s dance moves, or Cardi B’s wardrobe is not easy to come by. But for CJ South, it’s as easy as making a phone call to an old friend. The creative consultant and industry vet is leveraging those relationships for his new content platform Creative Jenius Report.
The platform shines a spotlight on the creative talent behind some of the most popular cultural experiences of our time. It currently includes a daily Instagram Live series called Office Hours which hosts interviews with creatives such as celebrity makeup artist Merrell Hollis (Wendy Williams) and hairstylists Yusef Williams (Rihanna) and Ursula Stephen (Zendaya).
But one of its biggest success projects is a series called Respect the Process, which offers an inside look into the life of different creatives as they navigate important events in their lives, and sometimes ours. It’s reminiscent of VH1’s docuseries Behind the Music, but it focuses on the artists (hairstylists, makeup artists, photographers, choreographers) behind the celebrities.
“I was always working with creatives and interested in the creative process,” says South. “When I was coming up as a budding creative director, I always wanted to know who did what. I’m looking at a video and yes it’s Beyoncé, but I’m like, Okay, who are those dancers? Who did her hair, who did her makeup? Oh my God she’s styled so intensively. This is shot so well, who did it?”
“Creative Jenius Report came because I just don’t feel like the creatives get the visibility or the recognition they deserve. So for me, it was one where I wanted to create a platform that also gave them credit,” he continues.
Based on the number of streams of Amazon’s Savage X Fenty show chronicling Rihanna’s creative process of putting the lingerie extravaganza together, the people want that curtain pulled back. But most people don’t know creative talent unless they’ve ventured into the reality TV world to become a celebrity in their own right. They couldn’t tell you the name of the hairstylist who got 100 heads together for that Savage X Fenty show. Or the name of the artist who does Keke Palmer’s makeup. Would you recognize Solange’s hairstylist if he was in front of you in a Starbucks line?
Now you will thanks to this new platform, which includes Respect the Process for Jawara Wachoupe, the man who makes you gag over Solange’s untouchable hair. He’s also responsible for some of our favorite covers from Vogue, Dazed, Vanity Fair and i-D, and sends several looks down the runways each fashion week. In his Respect the Process, we follow Jawara as the lead on hair for the Koché, Mugler and Off-White fashion shows. We get to know him as a person, as an artist through his work, and we get to understand what it’s like to be a part of his world.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough—or unlucky enough depending on how you view it—to be backstage at a fashion week show, then you know how hectic it gets and how difficult it is to get a moment with the teams that fuel the hair and makeup for these productions. Through South we get inside, bypassing airtight security, relentless crowds, the press, and those steamy hot rooms.
He takes his shooter Sekou Luke with him and he gets up close and personal with these creatives. The episodes, like most content these days, are bite-size and easy to follow so they pull you in for just a moment and release you. It’s just enough time for you to fall in love with the creative featured, and make you want more of them.
“We’re not trying to build a site that’s about anything other than celebrating creatives, their process, and these moments that are happening,” he says. “A lot of times there are some [behind the scenes] moments, but we don’t get to know the people. That’s essentially what we’re about; reporting on the people and the processes that shape pop culture.”
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has been a detriment to so many businesses and creative ventures poised to launch this spring or summer, South says that it’s actually afforded him time to work on the platform. It has halted the production of more episodes, mostly due to the fact that creative events have been cancelled indefinitely. But since it just launched this pivot is allowing him to build up a community of followers and supporters.
“It’s been an absolute blessing actually the last two months, because every day I’m on Office Hours. I feel like now more than ever is the time that I want to build this platform because so many creatives are suffering,” he says. “Every day, afterward, I always feel so good because of the feedback from guests or people who are in the chatter. I’m just like, Oh my God, I needed to hear that.”
South says viewers have been asking for more Jawara, and more behind the scenes looks at other artists. While we’ll have to wait for the next installment of Respect the Process, and another component South is working on for the platform possibly called Crew Love, we can catch his daily interviews for Office Hours in the meantime.
For him, the platform is sort of a love letter to creatives for the work they do, and a way to help them become household names like the artists they serve.
“It’s so inspiring to hear their stories,” he finishes. “We’re sharing nuggets of wisdom along the way and [they share] things they learned and give advice to the next generations. It’s kind of like an inspiration celebration kind of platform.”