Shopping trips on private jets? Check. Free-flowing champagne at a moment’s notice? Always. Long-simmering sister-in-law tensions bubbling to the surface — accessorized with more champers, reality show-requisite tears, and Chanel flap and Bottega Veneta cassette bags? But, of course. Because that's just how Houston’s best-dressed family rolls on House of Ho, which finally returns for Season 2.
But, despite all the excessive spending, top shelf beverage quaffing and snarky backbiting, the HBO Max reality series — or docu-drama, rather — is a Trojan horse. At its heart, House of Ho chronicles multiple generations of a loving, close-knit family living their best lives, while being unapologetically themselves — which is a universal theme. The series also shines a spotlight on the Vietnamese American experience, from nuances in generational dynamics to longstanding cultural traditions, as illustrated through boisterous family meals (where everyone is dressed) and lavish birthday parties (or weekly ones, if you’re rambunctious scene-stealer Aunt Tina).
But first, a quick catch-up: Resident party boi and Ho family heir, Washington, is now sober and focusing on his kids and marriage to Lesley, the pragmatic pharmacist from a more modest Midwestern upbringing. (Remember how, in Season 1, she immediately made a beeline to the sale rack during that private jet shopping jaunt?!) Lawyer Judy finds love again with the sweet, dashing Nate Nguyen, and welcomes his endearingly straightforward siblings into the fold, with all its gossip and fabulous parties.
The latest season opens with Judy's and Nate's traditional Vietnamese engagement ceremony — to appease Judy’s intimidating (and perennially chic) parents, Binh and Hue. You know, after Dr. Nate jumped the gun with an impromptu proposal in the Season 1 finale, while neglecting to give his future father-in-law, Binh, a heads-up.
“For Vietnamese families, the engagement ceremony is a very symbolic presentation of what we stand for: how two families come together, what our parents’ hopes and dreams are for our marriage, and how much their blessing means to us when it comes to our future,” Judy explains to TZR over Zoom. “So I just hope that people get a glimpse of Vietnamese culture when it comes to our traditions, when it comes to marriage, and to families that have now been united.”
Everyone dressed to honor such a meaningful (and on-camera) occasion, too, but House of Ho style, obviously. For Judy and the bridesmaids, Houston-based Danny Nguyen Couture custom-designed all the exquisite áo dài ensembles, which are long-sleeve, ankle-length tunics with side-slits worn over pants. “We just chose based on color and our own personal style,” explains Judy, who just glowed in an intricately embroidered áo dài and majestic headpiece in a stunning coral, her favorite color.
Accordingly, Judy delegated the bridesmaid áo dài design duties to sister-in-law Lesley, who went fabric shopping with Hue. The duo landed on a lush blue palette of cerulean and sky, with an elegant nature-print on sheer long sleeves. “That was a really good marriage of the two colors,” says Lesley, on the same Zoom call, punning with a smile.
Like a true union of two strong families, everyone felt free to be themselves. “I had all the bridesmaids matching, even on Nate’s side,” says Judy. “Some of them went with what I chose. Some just chose whatever they wanted to wear and it was, hopefully, a cohesive look.”
The immediate house of Ho expands this season, too, with cousins moving to Houston from California: 22-year-old Bella from Orange County and 25-year-old Kim from the Bay Area. The two not only bring a fresh Gen Z perspective to the show, but also their playful, individual West Coast style — which Lesley happily consulted for a night out to “the club.”
For feedback from her impromptu stylists, Lesley perused her closet, which evolved from last season with exuberant feathers, bold colors, and fun embellishments, reflecting a better place in her relationship with Washington. "I really didn't pay a lot of attention to clothes," says Lesley, about her mindset last time around, when her emotional focus was on managing Washington's excessive spending and heavy drinking. But now he's sober and working a full-time, 9-to-5 job (!), she can finally let loose with her style — and by creating full glam looks. "I really had lots of fun with the makeup and hair that goes with each outfit," says Lesley, who also allowed herself to be coaxed out of her sartorial comfort zone by the Cali cousins.
“They would come over [and say,] ‘Lesley, yes, that's for the club,’ or ‘No, Lesley! Why are you wearing this? Show more. Show more leg,’” laughs Lesley, who, by the way, still shops designer at a discount, but via online coupon codes. (“Like, the additional 20%-off stuff!”)
Kim and Bella also wield fashion as self-expression, to tell their own stories and illustrate their complementary close bond with each other. “I'm a little bit more held back, a little bit more traditional,” says Kim, over Zoom, alongside her cousin. “Bella's really great at breaking the barriers and being brave and trying out these new styles. So very reflective of our real life and on the show.”
Growing up with ambitions to be a designer, Bella enjoys experimenting with her style based on her personality and mood. Fashion may also be in her genes, considering her father Andy, who’s hands-down the undercover style icon of the series. (He’s also a wise voice of reason, alongside Aunt Tina. Someone give these two a road trip spin-off, please!)
Bella explains that her father’s style evolves with his career and life changes, too, from Ralph Lauren and Vineyard Vines in his youth to “rows and rows” of banker suits to his current “carefree” Harry Styles-like flair for flowing silk shirts. Andy’s enthusiasm for risk-taking and self-expression inspires Bella's self-confidence, too. “I think him being so comfortable with who he is and how he dresses definitely carries over to me and how I feel about myself,” says Bella. “So at the end of the day, he's still influencing me, and being that father figure, even through his ridiculous outfits.”
The admiration is mutual, too. “I swear to you, he will look at what I'm wearing and then be like, ‘Oh, let me change so I can match you,’’' says Bella, with a laugh. “So we influence each other, but everyone just thinks that he looks like a pirate.” (She also points out that Andy’s penchant for his blouse-y, glam-louche shirts is actually just practical for the Texas heat — very much a dad move.)
Speaking of positive influences, later in the season Bella and Kim participate in one of the most synergistic reality show crossover moments ever: meeting Houston-based Vietnamese American fashion designer Chloe Dao. (Cohorts from Judy’s and Lesley’s generation may recognize Dao for making history as the second winner of the O.G. Project Runway.) Bella and Kim really valued the opportunity to take inspiration from another Vietnamese American woman, who pushed boundaries to realize her career ambitions, which some may consider non-traditional.
“Not only did [Dao] teach us a lot about talking to our own parents about our dreams and desires, and breaking from the model minority [myth],” says Kim, who makes a point to support AAPI designers and the community. “But she also showed us her sense of style, and [how] to own our identity through what we wear.”
House of Ho Season 2 premieres the first 3 episodes on HBO Max on Thursday, August 25, with three new episodes debuting on Thursday, September 1, and the final four episodes debuting on Thursday, September 8.