Exploring a World of Wonder

Meet Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato of the production company World of Wonder: they're the guys who made Sharon Needles a star, keep Tori Spelling employed, and give a forum to James St. James.

BY Neal Broverman

January 04 2013 8:00 AM ET

It wouldn’t work without RuPaul. You actually worked with Ru at the beginning of WOW. How do you guys maintain successful relationships so long?
Barbato: We have a history; we’re sisters. Even over 20 years ago when RuPaul would walk down the street in a jock strap and boots, we could still have really exciting and intellectual conversations. He’s always been in our soul family and always been a star. The history just makes all that richer. Back then we used to hang out in the East Village and he wore a jock strap. Now, we hang out on Hollywood Boulevard and he shows up in Yves St. Laurent and has his own office on the top floor of World of Wonder. And he’s exactly the same. Same with James St. James, one of the co-editors of the WOW Report, and Stephen Saban of the WOW Report. We know them from the club days.
Bailey: That speaks to why we wrote the book. The secret to longevity is refusing to go away. That was the message we wanted to share.

Speaking of James, the WOW Report is so fun and really reflects your taste. How did it start and how did James get involved?
Barbato: The WOW Report started almost 10 years ago. It was just a list of 10 things we saw as interesting.
Bailey: Like an email blast.
Barbato: It very much reflected the same sensibility of what the Report is now, but it wasn’t a blog. Even back then, when it was just an email, we had this vision of creating this online destination that reflected our sensibility and would attract an audience with similar sensibilities. It took a while to get to that place. That was the original vision and it just seems natural to invite Stephen Saban and James St. James to curate it. They were, again, people who we connect with. And they’re brilliant writers. The thing about Stephen is when he was a nightlife editor at Details, we were always trying to get him to write about us when we were in the Pop Tarts and he never did. So the ultimate solution was to hire him.

Reading the WOW Report, it looks like you guys have so much fun in that office on Hollywood Boulevard. How do you get anything done?
Barbato: Right now, we’re wearing caftans and wigs (laughs). It’s a really special place filled with special people. There’s a great vibe. Every now and then Fenton and I have to be grumpy to keep people in line. That energy is the World of Wonder. It’s all these unique people who work here and it gets a little crazy sometimes.

Would you ever consider a reality show about WOW?
Barbato: They’d have to pay us a lot of money. Talk to us in about five years. When we have plastic surgery.

With your many projects, who was the most fun to work with?
Bailey: There are two extremes almost. The very first show we did was a public access show and we had John Sachs and Dean Johnson. They were both these amazing characters and artists. It was the downtown, East Village scene. Madonna wasn’t the only person to come out of that. It was such an amazing, creative time and to have the luck to be there then was just incredible. But fast-forwarding to the present, with the film we just finished, The Editor’s Eye, we got to meet and interview all the fashion editors who are still alive that worked at Vogue. I know Grace Coddington is getting a lot of attention and I love it, but what’s interesting is Polly Mellen, Carlyne Cerf, Camilla Nickerson, Jade Hobson; these are all incredible characters. Whether it’s 20 years ago or now, the world is full of these interesting people. I don’t think there are boring people in the world, everyone’s interesting, it’s just finding the frequency.

What’s next for you guys?
Bailey: LaToya Jackson!
Barbato: We’re working on a show with LaToya and we’re very excited. And we’re talking about doing a Pop Tarts documentary. It’s really about fame and we might use our failed attempt at pop stardom to talk about fame and the big lie and the disease of celebrity. 
Bailey: Celebrity is the engine of our culture; it’s always fascinated us, but we never knew a way in. Then we realized, our own massive failure as wannabe celebrities is the way in. It’s early. It could be a giant, self-indulgent wank.

The World According to Wonder (World of Wonder Books, $110) is out February 5.

Tags: Books

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