Issa Rae Shines In The Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori Watch

Issa Rae Shines In The Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori Watch

Adrienne Faurote
By Adrienne Faurote December 21, 2023
Issa Rae Shines In The Bulgari
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Issa Rae has come a long way.

The 38-year-old actress, who most recently starred in Greta Gerwig’s cotton candy-colored comedy confection Barbie, initially rose to fame with her 2011 web series and accompanying New York Times best-seller The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, a witty, realistic portrayal of African American women in Los Angeles. But now, over a decade later, an entirely different epithet conveys where she’s at, both personally and professionally. “I’m ambitious black girl,” she declares.

Rae, born Jo-Issa Rae Diop, isn’t joking. Since developing her platform, she’s leaped from strength to strength, both on-screen and off. She created and starred in the Peabody-award-winning HBO series Insecure, which garnered her multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Her acclaimed follow-up series for Max, Rap Sh!t, debuted its second season on November 9. There was Barbie, which started a global cultural movement, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Sony’s highest-grossing animated debut in history.

On the business development side, she formed HOORAE in 2020, a multi-faceted media company that develops content across media to keep breaking boundaries in storytelling and representation. It’s comprised of HOORAE Media for film, TV, and digital; its music label, music supervision, and “audio everywhere” arm, Raedio; and its management division, ColorCreative. She is also the co-owner of the LA-based Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen, and the Black-focused haircare line Sienna Naturals.

And now, she has yet another venture under her bubblegum pink Barbie belt: her very own prosecco brand, Viarae.

The bubbly libation, which launched in October, is a collaboration with E. & J. Gallo Winery, a family-owned, ever-growing brand based out of Modesto, California, whose diverse range of 130 products includes sparkling and luxury wines, distilled spirits, and canned seltzers.

But for Rae, Viarae was a completely organic fit, born of her undying, ever-present love of prosecco. And I do specifically mean prosecco, not to be confused with champagne (which Rae feels is too bougie) — a love affair that began even before HBO greenlit her Peabody award-winning TV series, Insecure, which is based on Awkward Black Girl), in 2015.

“[Prosecco] was introduced to me by someone that I ended up loving and respecting when I was going through the tumultuous journey of trying to get a show on HBO. The development process was hard, and finding a director was even harder. When I finally found one [Melina Matsoukas, who was, at the time, best known for directing Beyoncé and Rihanna music videos], she took me for a sushi kickoff dinner at Matsuhisa Beverly Hills, which felt so fancy to me. The first thing she ordered was a prosecco, and I was like, ‘What is that?’ She said, ‘Oh, you’ll see.’ So, I had it, and I fell in love with the drink.” [So much so that the writers of Insecure made her character, Issa Dee, similarly obsessed.]

But as much as she loved the sparkling drink, it wasn’t until she went to Italy that she decided to create her own brand. What she found was that, as with most worthwhile ventures, getting Viarae going was not an easy task.

Issa Rae Shines In The Bulgari
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“It has been a journey,” she begins. “I’ve been trying to get this off the ground for three years. I met with different companies, and some of them didn’t really understand my vision and why I chose prosecco. Some companies felt too small for what I wanted to be able to accomplish. And when 2020 happened, the companies that were interested had to fall back.

But then Gallo came along, at a time when we really needed a partner that was willing to step up. They didn’t question my desire to launch a prosecco: they just got it. They were able to step in and supercharge what we had already done. Plus, what they have access to in terms of distribution is crazy. They quite literally own the prosecco market. Until now, [the Gallo-owned] La Marca was my prosecco of choice.”

Luckily for Rae, there are some commonalities between her brand and her former favorite. Viarae’s expressive, aromatic, and subtly dry style is comparable to La Marca, and it also happens to be grown in the same place — the picturesque northern Italian city of Treviso — with the very same 100 percent Glera grapes.

But to make the brand unique to her, Viarae needed to capture Rae’s own vivacious, sparkling spirit — the very spirit that eventually inspired her brand’s name. “There were so many options, but I wanted something Italian; I wanted to respect the culture from which prosecco comes from. I recommend prosecco so often that I fell in love with this name. In Italian, ‘via’ means ‘by way of.’ In that sense, I wanted [Viarae] to reflect that this is very much from me and approved by me.”

As such, Issa Rae the person and Viarae the brand are distinctly synonymous. “I would say I’m approachably luxurious, bright, and celebratory,” she says, explaining, “I feel like I live a pretty down-to-earth life, but I do like the finer things. I am optimistic, and while I’m not bright presenting, I am a bright person, and I do like celebrating every moment.” She pauses, before saying, “My head is constantly down in terms of working and trying to achieve that next milestone, so sometimes I don’t look up often enough to think, I did that. While I need to practice that more, I do think prosecco has helped me in that respect. It’s afforded me the opportunity to celebrate myself, my life, and to learn not to be so hard on myself, on my losses or the things I didn’t achieve. Having the opportunity now to do that, to make the time to celebrate myself, is incredible.”

Speaking of celebrations, we all know that drinking alone is never as fun as convivially imbibing with others. Which is why all of Rae’s most memorable moments involve her nearest and dearest. “It became the drink that I would order whenever I had to celebrate a milestone, or even if I was just enjoying time with family or friends. I associate prosecco with my favorite moments,” she admits.

The most memorable of which, she says, (outside of her 2021 wedding to businessman Louis Diame) was the premiere of Insecure, which took place in New Orleans; she was joined by her closeknit group of gal pals, who flew down to support. She remembers ordering her favorite drink, walking (stumbling) through the streets of the Big Easy, celebrating with her squad and loving life. A more current moment was a recent trip she and her girl gang took to her favorite place: Italy. It was a pivotal time as Rae made herself vulnerable to criticism, allowing her besties to try (and share their opinions on) Viarae for the first time.

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“My friends and I took an impromptu trip to Rome, and they had never tasted [my prosecco],” she recalls. “We were out on my hotel balcony, and I was nervous for them to try it. To them, it was a crime that they hadn’t. When they did, I remember one of the girls saying, ‘I’m so glad this is good, because I didn’t want to have to be out here pretending.’ To have them taste it for the first time and approve it meant the world to me. They are so much of my foundation, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. To have my happy drink in Italy, my happy place, was everything.”

Because her friends are her inspiration, they are, ultimately, her key audience. “[Viarae] is for women. I always think about the Black woman first with anything I do, because that is my primary friend circle. But really, I think this is for anybody who’s ambitious, who wants to celebrate themselves, who wants to toast just because… and obviously, lovers of prosecco.”

It also sounds like something another star with a similar squad of friends might enjoy — despite her own “champagne problems.” Rae laughs, and says, “Hey, if Taylor Swift wants to drink Viarae, then I’m not mad at that at all!”

I have a burning question, and Issa Rae has the answer. What, specifically, is “yacht shit”?

It’s a conundrum that plagues me as I read through Viarae’s press release. It closes with: “Let’s shamelessly indulge and taste what yacht shit is all about.”

Rae heartily laughs at my question before responding, “I remember tweeting, in maybe 2017, that I just wanted to get on a yacht and do yacht shit with my friends. And then the next year, it came to a point where I was like, “Oh, wait, I can do yacht shit. I live in LA, I can rent a boat, and I can do yacht shit with my friends.” So I did, and then invited a bunch of my friends and it became a way to let loose. It became an opportunity to meet new people, to dance on a boat during the day, and have a good time. It’s a party, just a little kickback. I think I’ve done it four times now. [And] for me, it represents luxurious, uninhibited celebrations.”

Yacht shit might not be a global thing yet, but if Rae puts her mind into making it so, it will happen. I am a witness to her drive, and it is both exhausting and inspiring. When she tells me she’s only drawn to things she’s passionate about, I think, “Thank goodness” and, simultaneously, “She must be passionate about a lot.

This drive, she says, started during her undergrad years at Stanford University, from which she graduated in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts in African and African American Studies. “I was by myself and put in an environment where I was forced to make a name for myself — make something of myself and decide who I wanted to be; what I ultimately wanted to do. It was the best place to encourage collaboration. I used to be very competitive, and I think it was instilled in me to like one or two things by myself because then, you get the credit for it. You can’t rely on people; that’s just not been my experience.

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“Yes, I’ve had bad personal work experiences, but generally, I have such a good eye for what people are capable of and what we can do together. I put my first play on in college because I watched somebody else do it. I have a mentality that’s like, ‘I can do it, too.’”

Take Viarae as just the most recent example. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do that seemed fun, is fun, and has been fun, so it doesn’t feel like work at all. Meeting sales reps and traveling is work, but it’s also fun because you get to talk about wine, drink it with people, and hear about their love of it. Plus, I’m learning so much, too.”

That said, the reason she’s all lit about by this latest venture is because she’s enthusiastic about it, because it’s a natural fit. You’ll never see Issa Rae hawking motor oil — it’s just not on brand.

“It has to be organic,” she explains, sharing that her partnership with Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen came to be because she wrote in coffee shops. She didn’t have one in her neighborhood, so she built one. Similarly, finding the right natural haircare products — and helping her sister-in-law expand the Sienna Naturals brand — has been part of her journey. Coming from a web-based background and knowing what it was like not to have the resources to take her career to the next level was her impetus for creating ColorCreative, with an eye towards not only discovering talent, but helping them navigate the industry and providing them with opportunities and connections to do so. Even the decision to set up HOORAE’s headquarters in the heart of South LA — where she’s from — was intentional.

“All of these companies were born from things that I’m already doing, or things that I want and want to be involved in. They feel like extensions, as opposed to laborious new businesses and separate entities,” she explains. “I don’t want to just be out there putting my name on everything and doing anything. It has to feel special to me. I want to do more that fits, that I can’t resist not doing. So maybe there are more collaborations in me, but for the most part, I’m a writer, a storyteller, and if [something doesn’t] contribute to that, then, to me, it’s not worth doing. So, my focus right now is the next project I want to put on the screen; the next big story I want to lend my name to; what I have to say about the world and the culture right now.”

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Rae says that she has a few projects in the works. “[I want to be] very specific about what I put out there because there are more eyes on me now. Initially, people were more forgiving. But now that there are eyes and expectations, I have to be a bit more careful and intentional about what it is that I want to put out next. I do have that next thing, I think, on the TV side, and I really want [to find] that next thing on the film side.”

Which is how we get to where Issa Rae is now: in her era of ambitious black girl.

I think I’m an ambitious black girl now because I know that there’s so much more that I have to do in the storytelling space that I have not done yet. In that way, and in navigating this industry that’s rapidly changing, I’m trying to find the different modes in the same way that I did 12 years ago with Awkward Black Girl. Back then, nobody was taking my scripts, I couldn’t find representation. Even now, while I’m in a much different and privileged place, there’s still something bursting in me to do more and to tell more stories. But now, I’m thinking: what’s going to be that right story?”

I don’t have the answer Issa is seeking, but I do know this much: she will figure it out, and she’ll have a glass of prosecco in hand and a smile on her face while doing so.

Issa Rae Shines In The Bulgari
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