The Kings of Napa pours creativity into the closets and walls of the King family mansion.
Both reflect the interest of the creator, Janine Sherman Barrois, who was inspired to develop the show after a day trip to a vineyard. “My husband and I are big contemporary art collectors. We’ve been collecting for years,” she told ESSENCE.
The creator knew exactly who the family she was introducing was and what artists they would be investing in.
“They might have not have come from money, but they now have money,” she declared.
Barrios wanted to reflect their bloated bank accounts and luxe life experiences not only in the clothes on the characters’ backs, but the pieces that adorn their far-from-humble abode.
“I wanted to show that they traveled around the world. They’ve been to Africa, they’ve been to France, they have been to Italy,” she continued.
“In journeying around the world and going to New York to shop, they’ve gone to all the museums. They’ve gone to the Studio Museum. They’ve seen great work by Shinique Smith or Ronald Jackson or Kehinde Wiley or Robert Pruitt. They’ve seen these artists and their exhibits and they want to celebrate Black excellence on their walls.”
Sherman Barrois’ vision was birthed long before anyone first stepped foot on set. She dove into the research process as soon as she got the green light for the show from Oprah Winfrey herself.
“Before we even started the writers room, my assistant started working with galleries that I knew and artists that I knew that were willing to let us utilize their work in the show,” she shared.
The result is an environment that surrounds the fictional King family with the same glamour Kiki Smith and Richard Phillips gave the original Gossip Girl. Sherman Barrois imagined the art as pieces they acquired at “Phillips,” or “Sothebys.”
She joins Issa Rae and Lee Daniels in highlighting Black contemporary artists on screen. Rae insisted local Black artists work be present during an art walk her character curated on Insecure and Daniels featured majestic paintings from Wiley and other artists on Empire.
“I think that made a difference because oftentimes when you’re producing a show, when it comes down to set deck and what’s gonna be on the walls, it’s sort of like you go to a warehouse, your set decorator picks out pictures,” Sherman Barrois explained. “There might be a Black section and it all looks a certain way.”
She and her team, however, had no interest in generic art fading into the scenes.
“This was very curated. Myself and my production designer, Rupert, we sat and really made sure that when you were in the living room of the Kings you know,” Sherman Barrois added. “I wanted it to feel real.”
It was also important to the showrunner that the family’s values showed through in their various art collections.
“I think that this family spends money and resources on supporting the arts. And so I wanted the audience to feel that,” she said.
“Between the clothes and the art and just the style of the house, I think we got a feeling and a lifestyle that kind of exhibit a high-end lush, Black lifestyle.”
Michelle Lyte helped translate that lifestyle for each cast member’s unique personality. Even the most free spirited among them slips on designer drip meticulously chosen by the costume designer.
“Listen, we have a fierce — when I tell you fierce –we have a fierce costume design artist, Michelle Lyte. She’s Toronto based. She is just one of the best in the game,” said Sherman Barrois.
“When you look at Ebonee Noel, our lead who plays August, she is a sort of a Black Carrie Bradshaw. She is giving you all of the looks,” Sherman Barrois said. “August’s character is fly and on point all the time.”
“Look at Bridget,” she added, pointing out that no character was left behind. “Look at Aunt Yvette, look at the mother, Vanessa, and all of the guys. They came to play too.”
Lyte tapped Black luxury brands like Fe Noel and coveted collaborations from Basquiat x Coach, and Ivy Park x Adidas to achieve this effect. She presented them as interchangeable with items from European houses.
“We have Balmain, we have Zimerman, we have Pyer Moss,” Sherman Barrois said.
Each character’s style helps tell the story behind the pressures built into the family dynamic.
“Part of it is our moms telling us as we were growing up, you know, you gotta look good. You gotta go to a church, you gotta have your nice dress on. You gotta have your tights on, your hair has to be done. And that sort of translated when we got older, you know, that continues,” Sherman Barrois said. “So I think style is really, really important.”
Season 1 of The Kings Of Napa is currently airing on OWN.