The second season of HBO Max’s hit competition show Legendary has officially launched. Full of glitz and glam, the show’s jaw-dropping performances highlight the underground society of ballroom culture.
Contributing to the show’s success is acclaimed costume designer and celebrity stylist Johnny Wujek. As the creative force and mastermind behind several red carpet looks and working with the likes of Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, Shakira, Kate Mara, and Zac Efron, just to name a few, Wujek’s approach to style is versatile, original, and pushing boundaries. Tasked with helping every House on Legendary realize its creative brief on any given week, Wujek is responsible for some of our favorite looks – Father Jarrell’s Atlantis getup, Jeter’s golden mummy vogue, and Makayla’s red pleather deviled costume.
Currently, Wujek is also working as the head costume designer for The Quest, an innovative, unscripted reality competition taking place in a fantasy world, which will soon air on Disney+.
Instinct had the opportunity to chat more with Wujek about Legendary, his remarkable career in styling and costume design, and his mental reboot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instinct: Hi, Johnny! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me. What can we expect from the new season of Legendary?
Johnny Wujek: Your gag reflexes are going to be heightened! It’s bigger than season one, it’s epic, it’s over the top, it’s opulence, it’s legendary. Having season one behind us, we had to top ourselves with season two. It is going to be amazing. There are so many moments that personally, I am like, yes! It is exciting, amazing, and fun.
How familiar were you with ballroom culture before Legendary?
I have been to a couple balls, and obviously, I have watched Paris Is Burning and Madonna’s Vogue, but I learned so much more with this show. Even starting on the promo shoot that we did four years ago, every time I am on the set of Legendary, I am learning new terminology, culture, history, or some kind of dance technique. I am just constantly learning about the ballroom scene, and I feel like I am up to par now. You should see my duck walk.
Be honest, how well can you Vogue?
Honestly. I have gotten really good [laughs].
What do you hope viewers take away from the show?
To the viewers watching Legendary, I hope the show is uplifting, exciting, and visually stimulating. Also, the ballroom scene is not necessarily very mainstream. It is becoming more so with Pose and Legendary, but people who normally would not even know about this world are seeing it and I really hope that people will become less judgmental and accept all walks of life and gender. In the ballroom scene, we are who we are. Everyone accepts, loves, and supports each other. They are like one big happy family.
I know that there are different houses on the show, but Legendary is one big family, and it is all about acceptance, love, and celebration. Especially in the world today and how things are so intense with what is going on in every way, I hope that Legendary can open people’s eyes to acceptance and love. We are all human. Everyone is trying to get by in life and do their thing, and ballroom is such a platform for the world to see this kind of acceptance and love.
What do you enjoy the most about collaborating with each house?
They all bring so much diversity, great ideas, and personality. On the show, there is always the theme of the ball, and it is so much fun to see what kind of ideas these houses come up with. I have always been such a big collaborator and I love working with different people on their specialties, whether it is like lighting up a bra or working on this mechanic. I just love artistry and collaboration, and this is like collaboration on crack. Every house I meet with, it’s like, we want to do this, and then suddenly we are shooting these ideas around and it grows into what it becomes. There is so much creativity and personality in this cast. They are so much fun, and every day on set is exciting.
You are also working as the head costume designer for The Quest, which will soon air on Disney+. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes! That was happening at the same time. It was supposed to be back-to-back, one to the other, but with COVID and technical errors, it had to be pushed back. This show has been an incredible experience. One of my dreams in life was to do something like a medieval, fantasy world. Then finding out it was Disney, I was like, 100 percent. I’m in. The process was so awesome because of the situation with everything going on in the world, they kept pushing the shoot date, so I had more time to go more into detail. The kings and queens, they are all intricate and beautiful, and then you have the witches and sorcerers, it was such a cool world to dive into. I was like, this is a dream come true.
I am so proud of how it turned out, and it is so cool to be part of Disney. I have never really done anything this exciting. Music videos, of course, but like on this level. It is a competition TV show, but it is going to look like an incredible Disney film. It was crazy to do Legendary and The Quest at the same time because they are so different.
You originally moved to L.A. to be a model. How did you fall into the crazy world of costume design and styling celebrities?
I actually moved out of Michigan to San Francisco to work for a dot-com tech company. Weirdly, that is what got me out of Michigan. Eight months later, the dot-com world was not ready, so they shut down. I came down to L.A. with a girl I worked with who brought me to a party, and yes, there was a modeling agent there who was like, move to L.A.! Well, I didn’t want to move back to Michigan, so, sure. I moved to L.A. and started modeling and doing commercial acting. When I was booking jobs, I would get a call from the stylist being like, hey, tomorrow on set, we need you to bring all these clothes, blah, blah. I was like okay, cool.
I would bring all my clothes, and they would be like, that’s amazing, can we borrow this shirt for this other person? Sure [laughs]. But how I really transitioned to costuming and styling was when that girl and I became partners in styling. Her cousin was a movie director, and we just got in that way. We started assisting and interning for free on movies, then we got an agent, and then we started styling celebrities. She got pregnant and had to quit, but I kept going. So, it just kind of all happened organically. Before I knew it, I met Katy Perry at a party one night, and then I ended up making her costumes. That just blew up into something bigger. Everybody is like, who is this guy making your costumes? Then it was like, I am working with Nicki Minaj, Arianna Grande, Britney Spears. It just all fell into place.
Can you talk more about your unique approach style?
For me, style is such a way to express, which we all know, but I have never been one to blend in. I am always like, let’s make a statement. Let’s turn some heads, get laughter, create some shock. I always approach it in a way of like, that’s cool, but how do we amplify it? How do we make it different? How do we make it unique? In fashion, things get recycled, revisited, and reborn, so it is a constant challenge to push the boundaries creatively and thinking, how can I do this differently? How can I make it more visually exciting and make it do something to push the boundaries?
One word that really sums up me and my aesthetic is “disruptive.” I love to disrupt things, even if it is emotions or visuals. You know when you are going to work with me, we are going to create something shocking, fun, colorful, and, glamorous.
If given the opportunity, is there a celebrity you would love to work and collaborate with?
There are so many incredible talents, but to be honest, I think it would be fun to go back and dress Marilyn Monroe. I know this may sound weird, but I remember as a kid watching Wheel of Fortune, and I would be like, Vanna White is so glamorous. Look at her in her gowns going up there being like, whatever. After I did the Super Bowl with Katy Perry, in an interview, I mentioned how I would love to dress Vanna White. Literally, two days later, I was meeting her, and I got to dress her for a week. Saying I got to dress Vanna White, I could say I’m done, but sure, there are people like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. They would be cool. If the opportunity comes up and I am not stepping on any toes, hell yes!
How have you been doing during these times of COVID? I heard you had a glow up, which resulted in you losing over 40 pounds and refocusing your diet. Can you talk more about that?
When we wrapped season one of Legendary, I went home to Michigan to visit my mom for three days, and I stayed seven weeks. That was a huge thing because I moved 21 years ago and have not been home for more than, like, four days at a time. So, to literally immerse myself there and seeing not only where the world was going, but where I was going, I was not taking care of myself. I was so busy, smoking cigarettes, eating like shit, and I was like, you know what? This is an opportunity for me to pull the reins and get healthy. If I want to live and have this life, I need to be healthier.
It was just a switch. My first move, I called Kerry Gaynor, who is a hypnotherapist, and she got me to quit smoking. One phone call, and I never smoked again. I was like, okay, great, now I can breathe. I hired a trainer, I started working out, I changed my whole diet, and I started eating healthy. No more being like, I’m too busy, so I will just grab something from In-N-Out Burger. I really focused my attention on self-care, and I swear to God, with that, so many things in my life have changed. So many opportunities have come my way, I am clear headed, and even to do Legendary, I needed to be like an athlete. I needed to be strong and aware, so it has been awesome.
I work in fashion, and I would hate getting dressed. I hated the way my body looked, and I hated the way I felt in clothes. Now, I am like, hell yes! Shit fits me again, it is fun to dress up, I am going all out, and I am going to have fun. It just feels good to be healthy in the end, and it feels good to care. Because of life and everything, you just get distracted, and you are working so much for other people that you are neglecting yourself. I am 41, I have to check myself. So, I made it a priority. Now, I am 44lbs down. I am there.
What more do you hope to accomplish with your platform?
The sky’s the limit. My joy comes from inspiring. Even with this fitness journey, people are like, you have inspired me to get into the gym. So many people have reached out, and I am not a fitness guy. I’m in fashion, I do costumes. Also, there are some big plans in the works. Maybe some sort of fashion line will be happening, different opportunities, just spreading the Johnny Wujek brand and joy across all platforms. I just really want to keep inspiring and sharing my magic.
Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention a plug?
I am not sure if I can really say much, but you will be seeing a lot of Johnny Wujek!
To stay up-to-date, follow Wujek on Instagram. Episodes of Legendary are streaming on HBO Max, with new ones posted on Thursdays.
Photos courtesy of Paige Goldstein, Rony Alwin, and HBO Max