If there was a breakout star of New York Fashion Week, it was easily Sasha Velour, the avant-garde drag queen and season nine winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Coming off her one-year reign as “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” which ended when season 10 winner Aquaria was crowned in June, Velour is showing no signs of slowing down -- making one splash after another -- most recently collaborating with Opening Ceremony for the brand’s SS19 showcase in September.
Merging the fashion industry with LGBTQ culture in a way previously unseen during Fashion Week, Velour organized a drag takeover of the runway unlike any other. Former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants Farrah Moan, Jiggly Caliente, Miss Fame and Shea Couleé were among the 40 queer artists, models and performers -- “representing the breadth of what drag can be,” Velour says -- that presented Opening Ceremony’s ready-to-wear collection through lip syncs and dancing while Christina Aguilera closed the show with a performance of music from her Liberation album. In the audience, soaking it all in, was Kim Petras, Nicki Minaj, Rosario Dawson, Troye Sivan and Whoopi Goldberg.
“It turned out it was a natural fit,” says Velour, who was in charge of everything from casting to direction. “I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more fabulous lip syncs and dancing on the runway.”
Elsewhere, Velour stunned at Rihanna's Fourth Annual Diamond Ball, where she wore a custom-made dress by Diego Montoya. Invited by a friend, the performer ended up at a table of influencers and activists at one of Fashion Week’s most exclusive events. “The thing that really struck me about the diamond ball is that everyone who was there is both involved in shaping and taking part in pop culture but also really cares about charitable work and improving the world that we live in,” Velour says.
Ultimately, she was amazed by the event’s combination of people making charitable contributions (benefiting emergency response programs) while “looking fabulous,” adding, “that’s what drag activism is all about: wearing a fabulous dress and changing the world.”
Beyond Fashion Week and her reign on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Velour has been busy putting the artistry of drag first as the creative force behind Velour: The Drag Magazine and most notably, the creator and star of Nightgowns, a performance-based drag showcase that first started at a local bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn, before taking permanent residence at National Sawdust, a non-profit artist venue in Williamsburg.
Now, the show is set to take over Terminal 5 in New York City on Friday for its biggest showcase yet, with performances by Couleé, Lypsinka, Sasha Colby, Victoria Sin, Vigor Mortis and K James, and Nightgowns regulars Neon Calypso, Untitled Queen and Vander Von Odd.
The mission of Nightgowns, Velour says, was to move drag from the shadows of midnight performances or backrooms at bars to a space where performers could shine in front of audiences who wanted to see them shine. It was “established as a serious drag show that treats performances with respect and also isn’t afraid to book a lot of different styles of drag in a single evening,” Velour explains, adding: “I could not have predicted how recognized the name Nightgowns is.”
Thanks to online videos of the performances and Velour’s sudden rise on TV, the show has found fans all over the world and continues to grow in popularity, coincidentally as RuPaul’s Drag Race and drag culture gains more mainstream attention.
The long-running series won the Reality-Competition Emmy this year as it continues to reach ratings highs on VH1. Renewed for season 11, the show will also be back with its fourth All Stars season, on which Velour would love to see her former castmates -- Couleé, Trinity Taylor or Peppermint -- all compete for the title.
Ultimately, for Velour to be part of the season nine was a life-changing experience, hoping that her time on the series is just “the beginning of the list of things that I’ve done,” she says. “Now I’m really interested to see what happens when I really have a chance to represent myself, in my own words with my own voice.”