We all know that the fashion indutry revolves around runways. The biannual spectacles and the new collections are what we tend to focus on most often, but the real question is what inspires these designers? The answer, more often than not, can be found in street style and in nightclubs worldwide. It's the nightlife subculture which first introduced the world to drag queens, the most iconic of which started out in the New York 'club kid' scene of the 1980s. Now, thanks to RuPaul and his weekly drag race, these fabulous men in skirts are rewriting the rules of the fashion industry. They're also making society rethink gender concepts, pushing the concept of androgyny until it's practically redundant. Through their confidence, bravery and artistry, these queens have all dedicated their lives to introducing a new kind of creativity to a mainstream audience. They're all entertainers and the majority can sew their own clothes, do their own make-up, act, sing, dance and - most importantly - lipsync for their LIVES! So, this post is dedicated to 10 incredible drag queens (both new and established), for their ability to show us all that - whether male or female, who gives a fuck as long as you're fierce?
It's only appropriate to start this list with the drag industry's greatest icon, self-professed 'Supermodel of the World' RuPaul. This queen single-handedly brought drag into the mainstream by becoming the first ever drag queen to front a MAC campaign (which she did for the second time in 2014). Her impressive recording career spans 21 years and six studio albums, all of which have become cult successes within the drag community. She is the iconic host of the 'Drag Race' series currently giving both new and established queens a chance to shine on the silver screen. Now 53 years old, she looks as incredible as ever and has cemented her reputation as THE ultimate drag mother with her compassionate words and sharp wit. Her indefatigable optimism and incredible outfits are an inspiration to her contestants.. as is her inimitable catchphrase "good luck... and don't fuck it up!"
Born Harris Glenn Milstead, Divine was the iconic drag queen that burst onto the Hollywood scene with her outrageous dress sense, filthy mouth and distinctive look. Divine is best known for the 1972 film 'Pink Flamingos', a grotesque yet fantastic exercise in bad taste which eventually resulted in Divine eating dog faeces on camera ("People talk about dog shit at dinner parties", he later said - "they think it's all I want to talk about!"). The film became a huge success amongst both mainstream and gay audiences, eventually resulting in roles in 'Hairspray' and even an interview on the Late Show - a huge coup, and an indication of success which was unprecedented amongst drag queens at the time. Despite his death in 1988, Divine's iconic image continues to live on in the form of various documentaries and biographies, and her unique look is instantly recognisable as the inspiration for 'The Little Mermaid' villain, Ursula! Divine - the filthiest person alive, and arguably one of the most influential.
3. Sharon Needles
Gaining fame as the winner of season 4 of RuPaul's Drag race, Sharon Needles is important for a number of reasons. The first is her unique aesthetic, focused exclusively around elements of horror and the grotesque - Needles consistently fights against the notion that queens should be as feminine as possible, instead incorporating elements of art and performance into her shows. Another reason is that she was part of the original drag power couple, alongside Season 5 runner-up Alaska Thunderfuck - the pair share the same acerbic wit and unique point of view and, despite an amicable break-up, still perform together as close friends. Needles has a recording career and is seen as a fashion icon by many - by lipsyncing to Marilyn Manson instead of Cher, she is slowly opening the doors of drag to a wider audience.
4. Amanda Lepore
Despite the fact that she's technically transgender, Lepore is one of the most influential figures in the history of drag. Quickly becoming the muse of legendary photographer David La Chapelle enabled Lepore to share her story with the world, as well as recreating some of the most iconic pop culture imagery ever, like this take on Warhol's 'Pop Art Marilyn'. Lepore was so inspired by the '50s starlet that she spent eye-watering amounts on altering her body to match her idol, earning her the title of "The most expensive body in the world". She is still a regular on the New York club scene, and has openly spoken about relationships in both the present day as well as her past relationships on various chat shows. A club kid icon with an intriguing story, Lepore has infiltrated her way into pop culture and given the world an intimate (literally!) look at her transition, establishing herself as an icon along the way.
If you're looking for comedy, look no further. Willam Belli is one third of drag supergroup DWV (you KNOW you've heard 'That Boy is a Bottom!) and star of the hilarious Willam's Beatdown, famous for 'reading' some of the Internet's worst offenders. Belli also has a successful Hollywood career, and has appeared in extras in several shows, including Sex & the City! Her 'Britney circa 2007' trash look has become distinctive and her zero-fucks-given policy on discussing sex (she was kicked off 'RuPaul's Drag Race for breaking the show's 'no sex' rule) has made her one of the most refreshing, entertaining and hilariously controversial drag queens of the modern age. Armed with a sharp tongue, quick wit and a great weave, Willam's cutting pop-culture commentaries have established her as one of the future's most promising queens.
6. Leigh Bowery
Although more of an artist than a traditional drag queen, iconic gender bender Leigh Bowery has arguably had a greater influence on fashion than any of his contemporaries. Cited as a direct influence by legends such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen, Bowery's unique style inspired a legion of today's most avant-garde artists. Most recently, the London V&A presented an exhibition entitled 'Club to Catwalk' which referenced Bowery and showed his influence on modern fashion through a series of quotes about his inimitable style; "One day he'd wear a pleated kilt and a Chanel-style jacket, the next a one-piece in PVC'. Leigh's willingness to break gender conventions demonstrated a fearlessness which is finally filtering down into menswear, showing that his innovative eye for fashion will never go out of style.
7. Courtney Act
Aussie superstar Courtney Act is a contestant on the current series of Rupaul's Drag Race - however, she is on this list for a different reason. Back in 2003, Courtney auditioned for Australian Idol and was celebrated by the judges, eventually ending up as a semi-finalist - a huge achievement. The fascinating part is that Act had previously auditioned as a man and been told that his voice was too feminine, so he decided instead to come back in drag and audition; an inspirational decision which led to her releasing a solo single and quickly becoming a household name in Australia (Act was also the first drag queen to have success on the show). With her conventional beauty and strong voice, Courtney Act is proof that drag queens don't only exist on the fringes of the mainstream.
8. Milk / The Dairy Queens
The Dairy Queens are an upcoming drag collective based in New York City, consisting of Milk (pictured left) Yoohoo, Skim Burley, Linda Lake and Juggz and they are, in lieu of a better word, incredible. Collectively, they are a visual mindfuck - member Yoohoo wears his beard with pride, whereas other members are distinguished by the prominent gap in their front teeth. Milk has already succeeded in pissing off his fellow contestants by wearing a beard and a bald cap on the runway, but the collective showcases the potential which is yet to be reached by more conventional drag queens. The collective's determination to stay true to their own aesthetics is refreshing, assimilating themselves with the more conceptual minds of avant-garde designers. In essence, the group takes the provocative elements of designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Vivienne Westwood and injects them into the world of drag - they're different, they're 'ugly' (they're not) and they represent the future of drag.
9. Jodie Harsh
Arguably one of the most famous British drag queens, Jodie Harsh makes the list for her flawless fusion of the worlds of art, music and fashion. Drag culture has always been rooted firmly in nightlife culture, and Harsh recognised this by establishing the hugely-successful 'Room Service' event back in 2010 - a place for young creatives to combine and dance to Harsh's own remixes (she is currently working on music in LA - watch this space). A student at the London College of Fashion and a collaborator with renowned fashion website SHOWStudio (created by Nick Knight), Harsh represents the new UK drag scene, rooted firmly in creativity, community and ambition.
10. Lady Bunny
The final inclusion on this list is long-time friend and collaborator of RuPaul's Lady Bunny. One of the filthiest drag queens around, she is known for creating explicit parodies of pop music and performing on the New York nightclub scene alongside fellow queens such as Bianca del Rio and Mimi Imfurst. Bunny is also famous for organising the annual 'Wigstock' festival, a convention for drag queens which was held for 20 years before closing in 2005. She is classed as one of the true legends of the drag scene, and also had a taste of the mainstream in her Sex and the City cameo and her role as 'Dean of Drag' on Drag Race spin-off, Drag U. Bunny notably declined a role as a judge on the hit show, cementing her reputation as a cult icon.