Stylist explores ‘The Queer Advantage’ with Michael Kors, Dan Levy and more
Like plenty of teenagers who dream about Hollywood from afar, stylist and writer Andrew Gelwicks used to steal his mom’s Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines to escape into the lives of the rich and famous.
“It never even occurred to me that that was actually a career path,” he said on a video call, explaining that everyone in his family is a lawyer. “Sometimes, when I’m on set, I’m like, ‘I’m getting paid for this?’ It’s the ultimate fantasy.”
For the record:
5:06 PM, Nov. 23, 2020A previous version of this story said Andrew Gelwicks was 25. He’s 26. Also, for his book, “The Queer Advantage: Conversations With LGBTQ+ Leaders on the Power of Identity,” Gelwicks interviewed 51 notable LGBTQ+ people, not 50.
The fantasy has definitely become a reality for him. Gelwicks, who grew up in Ohio, is now best known for styling “Schitt’s Creek” star Catherine O’Hara, whom he met on a People magazine shoot. “What’s going on in my life right now is mind-boggling to me,” Gelwicks said. “I dressed Catherine O’Hara for the Emmys in Valentino. She won. I’m talking with you about a book that I wrote. I’m sitting here in New York City in an apartment that my boyfriend and I just decorated together.”
As for working with O’Hara, he said, “We just really connected, and she didn’t have a stylist. I expressed my interest and was like, ‘Look, if you need anything, I’m here. I would love to.’ She’s the epitome of the woman I want to dress. Not only is she mega talented in everything she’s done but she’s so kind and smart and fearless.”
Life appears to be going well for the 26-year-old stylist, who has written for Harper’s Bazaar, Out and the Hollywood Reporter and worked as a celebrity booker for Teen Vogue in addition to styling Michael Douglas, “Riverdale” star KJ Apa, “13 Reasons Why” actor Tommy Dorfman and singer Tove Lo.
That wasn’t always the case. It’s one reason Gelwicks wrote “The Queer Advantage: Conversations With LGBTQ+ Leaders on the Power of Identity," which he said he was initially hesitant to work on for fear of confusing clients or the worlds of fashion and entertainment. Traditionally those industries prefer that people stay in their lanes. “I was so nervous about stepping out of bounds,” he said. “I was like, ‘Am I allowed to do this?’”
His hesitation faded. (After all, it doesn’t hurt that Gelwicks wrote his first book in the fourth grade. “I started emailing agents,” he said. “They didn’t realize how old I was. … I was convinced that it was going to be the next ‘Harry Potter.’ I did one draft, and I started planning out my outfits for my book tour.”)
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For “The Queer Advantage,” he set out 2 ½ years ago to explore how his experience compared with other like-minded individuals and LGBTQ+ leaders. “For the first 20-something years of my life, I thought that being queer would be one of the biggest obstacles,” he said, clad in a playful animal-print sweater with his signature wire glasses. “Based on what society tells you, I had come to think that it was a burden, but I started realizing: Maybe this has actually been the best thing that ever happened to me.”
His 368-page book, which has received praise from Chelsea Clinton, Gus Van Sant, Nate Berkus and Gigi Gorgeous since its release last month, is a collection of candid Q&As with 51 notable LGBTQ+ actors, designers, producers and other leaders on how their queerness contributed to their success.
Among the high-wattage participants are director and producer Lee Daniels (“When you look at some of the great fashion, art, music, film, literature, there’s a queer person in the mix, in a very big way, making that happen,” Daniels told Gelwicks), writer and actor Dan Levy (“The success of ‘Schitt’s Creek’ was because we didn’t write anybody differently than anybody else”), fashion designer Michael Kors (“Humor became my shield. My guard is still up in hyper-straight, macho situations. It never goes away”) and actor and writer George Takei (“Being gay gives me another way of looking at people. Characters. Another sensibility. That’s a unique thing that I bring to my work”).
Gelwicks, who dedicated the book to those “who have yet to realize their advantage,” also chats with A-list movers and shakers including Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, singer Boy George, figure skater Adam Rippon, writer and producer Our Lady J, marketing executive Jonathan Mildenhall, tennis legend Billie Jean King, “Special” star Ryan O’Connell and comedian Margaret Cho.
However, it wasn’t a matter of tapping into a personal Rolodex of celebrity friends for the book. “I wish I had a relationship with Michael Kors,” he said with a laugh. That interview was a full-circle moment for Gelwicks, who had interned at the fashion label during college but had never actually met the designer. “I still think I’m that Midwest kid who’s like, ‘Oh my God! Michael Kors!’”
As he worked on the book, he said, “A few people told me, ‘I usually say no to requests like this. I’ve talked about being gay. I’ve done it. Right now, I just want to live my life. But no one’s ever given me the opportunity before to talk about the positives, and that’s why I’m talking with you right now.’”
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This surprised Gelwicks, who realized how important “The Queer Advantage” could be in advancing the conversation for a new generation or for those understanding their sexuality. “What an opportunity this is to change the narrative on how queerness is discussed,” he said. “The hurdles, the obstacles, the struggles — those are all valid and important conversations that need to be had — but what about the amazing positives that come from it, and how do you turn those struggles into your strengths?”
To that point, Gelwicks’ interview with singer Troye Sivan has stayed with him. “He was saying how as queer people we’re having these really intense, complex conversations with ourselves at such a young age,” Gelwicks said. “Those are often maddening. I hated those. It led to a lot of sad moments for me, but how profound those moments are and how much better I know myself now?”
That introspection has benefited Gelwicks throughout his life and has led him to become a master at the art of the pivot. Gelwicks credits his success to the very thing that he once thought might hold him back.
Growing up in a conservative part of Cincinnati, Ohio, Gelwicks struggled with depression as he navigated self-acceptance. At the time, he couldn’t look past his present reality to realize all the wonderful things that lay ahead. “I really didn’t know/think I would ... make it to my 18th birthday,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Did I even think further than that?’”
After plenty of self-reflection, which included time spent at a residential treatment center in Salt Lake City during his junior year of high school, Gelwicks not only found his way but found that by his early 20s he was, personally and professionally, thriving.
While working at Teen Vogue in 2016, Gelwicks built a styling portfolio on the side by contacting modeling agencies and offering to style spec shoots for free. Although working full-time, he did two to three pro bono shoots each week.
After Gelwicks built a portfolio, a publicist friend connected him with Kent Belden, founder and chief executive of the Only Agency, which represents talent including Law Roach (who styles Zendaya) and Cristina Ehrlich (who works with Penélope Cruz and Brie Larson). “I went into the meeting thinking, ‘All right, Andrew, you’re going to have to intern,’” he said. “‘You’re going to have to quit and go back to being an intern for these stylists and learn the ropes.’” Instead, Belden signed him on the spot. Gelwicks initially worked with young influencers and models such as Delilah Belle Hamlin, Sistine Stallone and Larsen Thompson.
Now a published author, he said he hopes “The Queer Advantage” has a positive effect on parents of children in the LGBTQ+ community and anyone questioning their identity. “I hope it’ll be comforting,” Gelwicks said. “I want them to realize that this is a gift and something so powerful, and I still think if I had this book [growing up] how different things would have been for me.”
With the book in stores, Gelwicks, who has split time between the East and West coasts since graduating from Butler University in Indiana, could find himself in L.A. more often down the line. “There are a few things that, if they come to fruition, may take me to L.A. more often or more permanently,” he said, declining to share what he’s working on next.
No matter what happens, it seems safe to say this is only the first chapter for Gelwicks. Perhaps he’ll share his Hollywood adventures in the future — in a midlife memoir.
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