On Friday night’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5, competing queens were tasked to create a look for the runway challenge that reflected the theme: "Love the Skin You're In.” For her catwalk creation, Shea Couleé—a frontrunner this season, who also won this week’s Lip Sync For Your Legacy—conjured up an ensemble that took the fashion theme to a whole other level. Her glitzy outfit was an interpretation of Sandro Botticelli’s famous painting The Birth of Venus, “but BLACK,” wrote Couleé on Instagram. She took inspiration from the goddess Venus—traditionally depicted as a white Roman woman governing over love, sex, beauty, and fertility—and then twisted it to celebrate Couleé’s own black body instead. It made for a powerful message that surpassed just aesthetics, especially as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain momentum across the nation along with anti-racism protests. While the episode was filmed last year, the statement resonated today. It was clear and dead-on: I am beautiful.
Couleé explained the deeper meaning behind the look in an Instagram caption this weekend. She shared a photo of herself standing in the place of Venus in the painting, wearing her runway ensemble from the episode. “‘Love the Skin You’re In’ is a concept that took a long time for me to come to terms with,” she wrote. “I’ve been told that I’m too dark, too nappy, too femme to be considered beautiful. That’s why I wanted to fully embrace Black beauty in this runway presentation.” Her crystal-covered, transparent bodysuit was designed by Michael Brambila and Troy C. Ford (yes, they also designed the crystal nipple covers). She even enlisted fellow drag queens from the House of Couleé to star in the Botticelli-style images alongside her as well: Kenzie Couleé, Bambi Banks-Couleé, Baby Couleé, and Khloe Couleé all depicted various Black goddesses alongside her in the new striking photo series.
Since the episode aired, Drag Race fans have gone wild for Couleé's look on social media. “It’s Shea Couleé’s world and we’re all just living in it,” wrote Jack Remmington on Twitter this weekend. “Replace all the racist statues with [Shea Couleé],” wrote fellow drag queen Donna Trump, referencing the dismantling of several statues that occurred this past week, including those of Christopher Columbus and the slave trader Edward Colston. As the rest of the Drag Race All Stars season continues to unfold this summer, one must clearly keep their eye on Couleé: she’s already successfully embodied a goddess, now she’s coming for the All Stars queen title.
Shea Couleé’s photo concept and artwork by Mario Elías Jaroud. Original photography by Dan Polyak. Hair by Nathan Juergensen, nails by bbygirlnails.