From Subculture to High Fashion: How Drag Queens are Shaping the Fashion Industry

While androgyny in high fashion has been gaining momentum for a few years, a new dynamic between masculine and feminine is now emerging in the fashion world. Dramatic, satirically feminine looks presented by male models are cropping up more and more often. This phenomenon can be connected to the hit reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, a competition featuring the best and brightest of American drag queens. Numerous former Drag Race contestants have gone on to become associated with brands like Prada, Moschino and Jean Paul Gautier and featured in magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan. Here is a snapshot of a few former Drag Race contestants who are shaking up and shaping female fashion.

Miss Fame: Season 7 Contestant

Fame is represented by international modelling agency IMG Models, as well as the US-based agency Wilhelmina Models, and is actively involved in the New York fashion scene. She has been photographed for a number of fashion magazines including D4 Magazine and Blanc Magazine wearing the likes of Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, Moschino, and Gucci. 

In September 2018, Miss Fame walked for Opening Ceremony at New York Fashion Week. In October 2018, Fame launched her own makeup line, which was promptly featured by Allure.

Naomi Smalls: Season 8 Runner-Up

Drag Race season 8 runner-up Naomi Smalls has acted as an Instagram Brand Ambassador for countless designers and brands, including Marc Jacobs and Giorgio Armani. Smalls also hosted an interview with rap artist Cardi B on behalf of Cosmopolitan Magazine in February of 2018.

In May 2018, Smalls was featured modelling Tommy Hilfiger for Prestige Magazine Hong Kong. Smalls is most often photographed representing smaller name designers, but this could indicate the beginning of a segue into mainstream modelling for the 25 year old performer and subculture style icon.

Violet Chatchki: Season 7 Winner

Chatchki in Paris for Paris Fashion Week July, 2018

Chatchki is foremost a high-profile burlesque performer, but she has significant high fashion connections as well.

Chatchki posing in a Miu Miu gown before a party hosted by Vogue Italia during Milan Fashion Week September, 2018

Chatchki regularly attends Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks and caused a stir in September with her avant-guard ensembles representing Prada, Moschino, Jean-Paul Gautier and Vivienne Westwood, amongst others. She has walked the runway twice for Moschino, first in a gender-bent take on a classic tuxedo in January 2018 and again in full femme glamour in June 2018. Furthermore, Chatchki has been featured in Vogue and Vogue Italia numerous times. Perhaps most notably, the model and performer was chosen as the new face of Betty Page Lingerie in November 2017.

Catchki betty page

Chachki in a promotional photograph for Bettie Page Lingerie November, 2017

As evidenced by this abbreviated account of the accomplishments of three former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants, the fashion elite are increasingly acknowledging the exaggerated styles so prominent in drag culture.

East Village Eye: New Wave Fashion of the Recent Future

Modern Girls at Play, East Village Eye, June 1979.

Girls in rehearsal shorts

Rhonda, in clothes from East Village boutique Natasha.

Models in a mix of vintage finds.

East Village Eye – a magazine published between 1979 and 1987 – shows the medium’s power to encapsulate a moment and to convey the excitement of collaboration, in terms of its contributors and of the collages of text and images of art, music, fashion and life in general in ‘80s New York. Drawing on the cut-up aesthetic of fanzines and the pop culture graphics of comic books, it brings to mind Guy Lawley’s discussion of their role in crystallizing subcultural ideals: ‘In some important ways, the origins of punk itself are closely linked to the comics medium.  By the winter of 1975-76, the new music coming out of New York’s CBGBs club (The Ramones, Television, Blondie, Patti Smith etc) was generating an intense local buzz, but little wider acclaim. People were calling it things like “street rock” until Punk magazine appeared in December of 1975 to give the scene a catchy name and (the appearance of) a unified identity. Indeed, it is claimed that The Eye was the first to use the term ‘hip hop’ – in an interview with rap pioneer Afrika Bambaataa – and these two subcultures dominate its pages, influencing art and pop culture in equal measures.

The Eye depicts the chaos of downtown and the possibilities that opened up for young artists – of all genres, who were able to rent cheap spaces in a part of the city abandoned by big commerce.  The area quickly became the generator of new art, and home to a string of vintage and fashion boutiques that dressed its participants. It speaks to the significance of space and place in hot housing trends of various kinds, and of the vibrancy of street culture at the time – punk and hip hop intersect on its pages, and the influence and significance of Situationist art co-mingle with graffiti and New Wave.

With its recognizably ‘80s aesthetics, The Eye is a remnant of the recent past, but simultaneously projects a confusing – but fascinating – sense of actually being about the recent future, through its representation of art and fashion culture of the time: it’s gone, but it’s still here, over, but still suggesting something new. This is reflected in editor Leonard Abrams’ statement at the front of the magazine, which says:

East Village Eye is a new newspaper for new culture. Enjoying a mutually parasitic relationship with the East Village and surrounding areas, The Eye … promotes the new mutations of Positivist Futurism, put forth in the watchwords: “It’s all true.”

Inevitably, fashion is a significant component of this mix – a way to embody and perform the new ideals and become a living rendition of the artistic and subcultural manifestos expressed on the magazine’s pages.  And it is now possible to examine these influences in detail, as several copies of East Village Eye are now available to download http://www.east-village-eye.com/issues-year.html, including the June 15 1979 edition with its retro-futurist style fashion supplement.

This edition’s cover and the ensuing pages cut and paste together fashion spreads and adverts that show the promiscuous combinations of periods and styles that somehow coalesced into a recognizably New Wave dress code. Its focus on Pop Art glamour – as seen through ‘40s Hollywood make-up, ‘30s rehearsal shorts and floral tea dresses, is balanced with classic ‘50s casual wear for men and sharp suits that recall ‘30s gangster films. Even the photographic style deployed is a combination of old and new – some are styled to look like Richard Avedon shots of poised elegance, others rehearse the ‘straight-up’ that i-D magazine would come to define a couple of years later.

The focus on second-hand stores and – in most cases – the anonymity of the clothes origins suggest individuality and creative freedom from the ‘official’ fashion world. However, the text recognizes that these same styles and periods were also influencing ready-to-wear. This is a reminder that, as Angela McRobbie has written: ‘Most of the youth subcultures of the post-war period have relied on second-hand clothes found in jumble sales and ragmarkets as the raw material for the creation of style.’ And yet: ‘not all junk is used a second time around. Patterns of taste and discrimination shape the desires of second-hand shoppers as much as they do those who prefer the high street or the fashion showroom.’

Film, literature, music, comics, the street – both of the current and earlier times become cyphers for styling the downtown art/fashion/music performer that The Eye spoke to and for.  Download and be part of the recent future.

With thanks to Leonard Abrams for his generosity in giving access to issues of East Village Eye, and allowing us to reproduce these images.

 

Sources:

http://98bowery.com/return-to-the-bowery/millers-memorabilia.php

http://www.east-village-eye.com/news.html

https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/tag/east-village-eye/

http://hyperallergic.com/161064/the-east-village-eye-where-art-hip-hop-and-punk-collided/

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/04/garden/east-village-new-wave-of-creativity.html

Guy Lawley, ‘”I like Hate and I hate everything else”: The Influence of Punk on Comics,’ in Roger Sabin, ed., Punk Rock: So What? (London: Routledge, 1999)

Angela McRobbie, ‘Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket,’ in Angela McRobbie, ed., Zootsuits and Second-Hand Dresses (London: Routledge, 1989)