Are Drag Queens the Next Supermodels?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday July 24, 2021
Originally published on July 21, 2021

"RuPaul's Drag Race" has brought drag's style and theatricality into the living rooms of millions. But those aspects of the art also fit the fashion world — and big-name designers are taking notice. "Drag Race" alumni have been tapped for fashion shoots, lookbooks, and more by brands like Balenciaga and Gauthier, as Vogue Business recently reported.

Noting that designers are "inspired" by drag — "and we inspire the drag world back" — London-based UK designer Richard Quinn reflected, "It's really great to see the perception of beauty evolve." The popular reality show, which has spawned international editions in the UK, Australia, Spain and beyond, has become a driving force in today's couture; said Quinn, "I definitely get more excited by a person from 'RuPaul's Drag Race' wearing something and bringing it to life rather than a bog-standard influencer."

Quinn turned to a pair of "RuPaul" UK runners-up, Tayce and Bimini Bon Boulash, to help show off his recent Spring/Summer collection.

In the U.S., Baja East founder Scott Studenberg similarly went full drag, casting two of the show's vets, "Gottmik and Symone, as the faces of the Baja East Autumn/Winter 2021 lookbook," Vogue Business recounted.

Saying he and others in the fashion world watch eagerly to see what the show's contestants will come up with, Studenberg summarized: "The impact of the show on fashion is really, really strong... Gottmik and Symone — they are the supermodels of today."

Boulash credits the franchise with helping drive "a shift in fashion in terms of who can get into those inner circles," Vogue Business said. Having worked with Calvin Klein and Depop, Boulash opined that fashion has now "opened up a bit more to people that are different."

He has a point. As La Tonique explained in a recent post, drag performers had to "figure out how to create their own unique visions because of their diverse body ranges" — a case of necessity being the mother of bespoke invention.

It's an evolution that has been ongoing for some time now. In 2016, Marc Jacobs (who has served as a judge "Drag Race") told The New York Times that "Drag Race" "makes me laugh, it makes me cry. There's a lot of power in it, and I'm not a big reality TV show fan at all."

Just as remarkable is the staying power of so many "Drag Race" veterans, over 13 seasons, the original American "Drag Race" has made household names of any number of drag artists. To a large extent, that's a matter of talent finding its way to the spotlight and flourishing from there — and "Drag Race" contestants are nothing if not talented, possessing the skill sets and innate star presence on which the fashion world thrives.

As Tayce put it to Vogue Business: "A lot of people are booking us for these kinds of fashion gigs because honey, we sell it."

That mix of wit, style, bravado, and panache can't be contained by any single industry. But, just as "Drag Race" couture is now spilling over into the echelons of the fashion world, so too is the drag community's energy, humor, and inclination for social outreach and engagement bursting into new realms.

One example is Mrs. Kasha Davis, who didn't make it halfway through Season Seven of "RuPaul's Drag Race" before she was dismissed by a judge as a "workhorse queen" and sent sashaying away. Rather than allow the gibe to characterize her as a "Drag Race" reject, Mrs. Kasha Davis turned it into a celebratory moniker; she was even profiled in a documentary, "Workhorse Queen," that took its title from the snub.

A veritable tornado of talent and energy, Mrs. Kasha Davis "has toured the country and throughout Europe, written two children's books, and now brings her passion for spreading the message of love and acceptance to a new children's TV show in development, 'Imagination Station,'" EDGE recounted in a recent profile.

Another drag celebrity working to expand the mainstream's appreciation and acceptance is Nina West, a star of "RuPaul's Drag Race," Season Eleven. When West joined forces with "Blues Clues" in a Pride month-themed an animated video that shouted out to the many different family configurations that have long existed — but only now are being celebrated — the anti-LGBTQ right instantly pounced with its familiar litany of smears and accusations.

West was unfazed. "What I love about my collaboration with Nickelodeon and 'Blue's Clues and You!' is that we celebrate everyone that makes up our LGBTQIA+ community," she told Entertainment Weekly. "It reminds us all that we are integral for the fight for equality."

As integral, indeed, as drag's style, substance, flair, and bold inventiveness has proven to be for contemporary fashion and so much more.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.