“Queen of All Media. Miss Idaho 1949. Celebrity Gay,” is how Carson Kressley billed himself in an interview with “Off the Cuff.” Kressley is also a style expert, clothing designer, TV personality, the author of two books, and professional wit.
“I do a lot of different things. Television, film production, exotic dancing. Only in very dimly lit rooms on Thursdays in April,” he said.
Kressley, a former stylist at Ralph Lauren, rose to fame the fashion guru on the Bravo makeover show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”, which debuted in 2003. (Comcast is the parent company of Bravo and CNBC).
The show’s launch—and its unequivocal title—prompted Kressley to come out to his family. “We had one of those unspoken things. But we never had the formal, official coming out thing,” he recalled.
“When ‘Queer Eye’ was coming out, the clock was ticking. Everyone was going to know. I wasn’t just coming out to my family, I was coming out to everybody. It was really daunting. It turned out that (it was) the luckiest break I ever had. And just being exactly who I was, was celebrated and rewarded."
The show was hit, and aired for five seasons. But it was derided by some critics for its “stereotypes on parade”. “The criticism was unfair because we never proclaimed to represent everyone,” said Kressley. “Of course gay people are also good at other things, you know? Being flight attendants, hairdressers, animal communicators, as well as doctors, lawyers, football players, NBA pros, policemen - and rhythmic gymnastics.”
Asked if there’s anyone he’d particularly like to “make over” now, Kressley named Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader. “He could probably use a little update,” he said.
Kressley created a clothing line for QVC, and one for ShopNBC. “It behooves the person whose name is on the brand to know where things are being made, that there are fair labor practices. That’s also a big part of your job.” He said he visits US-based factories himself and relies on competent partners overseas.
Kressley’s sense of style is innate. “I grew up outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in a very conservative, small town. We were practically Amish. We were just a very middle class family. But I think people really dressed up back then.”
“I definitely always felt different. When everyone was like, ‘Let's play kickball,’ I was like, ‘Why don't we bedazzle these jeans?’” he said. “I distinctly remember in the first grade everybody (saying), ‘Isn't the $6 million man amazing?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, he's kinda hot.’ I didn't verbalize that.”
“The thing about growing up gay, especially if you're in a small town—you feel like there’s nobody you can go to with your story, or your problem, or your anxiety,” he said. “You feel like you have a deep, dirty secret and that if you tell someone, you're afraid they won't love you anymore. So, yeah, it was very hard.”
Kressley is active in gay rights and health-related charities and causes. “One of the most important things, especially in this day and age, is accepting diversity. The Boy Scouts were worried that they were going to have gay people involved,” he said. “I was like, ‘These are little boys wearing sashes and getting little badges for projects. I'm pretty sure the gays have already been there.’ And excluding gay leadership is probably a big mistake. Who's going to make the sashes, I ask you?”
When he’s not working, he rides horses—his grandparents owned a pony farm, and he competed on the U.S. World Cup team in 1999, in South Africa. “There is something very ironic about how working with horses is so relaxing,” he said, “because when you're trying not to die, you can't think about anything else.”