Following a two-year pandemic hiatus, RuPaul’s DragCon was the latest event to make its big return in Los Angeles over the weekend.
With 50,000 attendees, the three-day event was extra as ever, with glamorous outfits, fabulous performances and an active beauty presence. Among the multiple beauty brands getting in on the action this year were several founded by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” stars, who are charting their way through the influencer-to-brand founder pipeline.
“We’ve seen a number of queens launching beauty brands,” said Randy Barbato, co-founder of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” production company World of Wonder. “These are becoming legitimate beauty brands. It’s the industry seeing the drag world as a more legitimate business proposition, rather than thinking of drag makeup and drag queens endorsing makeup as marginal.”
Drag queen-founded brands present at the festival included KimChi Chic Beauty, MoBeauty and Trixie Cosmetics, which all took advantage of the event’s IRL return to offer special promotions to fans and create DragCon social content.
According to Barbato, brands are becoming more aware of the marketing power of drag queens, marking a shift from the early days of “Drag Race,” which debuted in 2009.
“A lot of mainstream people and businesses endlessly marginalized drag,” he said. “There are more brands [participating in DragCon] across the board” this year.
Sponsoring the return event was long-time “RuPaul’s Drag Race” partner Anastasia Beverly Hills, which hosted a panel featuring the brand’s president Claudia Soare chatting beauty with “Drag Race” stars. Beauty brands hosting booths at the event were Sally Beauty, The Creme Shop and Sugarpill.
Soare agreed with organizers that DragCon has become a “mainstream event.”
“It’s no longer something that is more alternative or only for a select group of people,” she said. “It’s for everybody, so it’s super important to show up. More makeup brands and more people should be here because it’s a mainstream thing. So many people watch [the show].”
For the queens-turned-beauty founders, meet-and-greets with fans were a way to gain visibility for their brands.
“I feel like we have to be here. It’s a celebration of all things drag and all things fabulous,” said Kim Chi, a season eight contestant and the founder of KimChi Chic Beauty, ahead of a meet-and-greet session at her makeup brand’s booth. Wearing a full pink-and-purple tulle gown that she said was inspired by a “live loofah,” she received cheers when she arrived on the scene. Fans began lining up an hour ahead of time to meet her, while the separate makeup sales line was full of customers throughout the day.
Owned by Bespoke Beauty Brands, the incubator started by NYX Cosmetics founder Toni Ko, KimChi Chic Beauty made its debut in CVS stores last month. According to Kim Chi, the launch is the latest sign of drag culture’s influence on the beauty industry as a whole. “The beauty industry takes so much inspiration from the drag community and drag techniques,” she said.
World of Wonder co-founder Fenton Bailey agreed. “The entire beauty business, the entire identity business, the entire fashion business is drag,” he said.
Soare said she has been inspired by drag queens for beauty trends such as face gems, while the brand’s Norvina palettes are “so drag-centric,” she said. “You’d be surprised how many beauty influencers are inspired by the looks created by drag queens. It starts there,” said Soare.
“It’s just really great just to see how queer artists pushed makeup forward,” said Mo Heart, at her booth for skin-care brand MoBeauty. Launched in 2021, the brand includes sheet masks and serums, with plans to eventually expand into makeup. “Makeup is good, but let’s make sure we take care of your skin,” she said, of launching skin care first. “You can put on makeup, but if you have crunchy skin, then you look bad.”
With 14 seasons under its belt, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has created a legion of drag queen influencers with devoted online followings. Trixie Mattel, for example, has 2.8 million Instagram followers and 1.57 million Instagram subscribers who watch her beauty tutorials.
Mattel’s Trixie Cosmetics, which launched at DragCon in 2019, sponsored a promotional booth that included a collab box with hair-dye brand Good Dye Young. Fans who showed up to the booth in Trixie-style drag received a free lipstick.
“Drag and makeup are very intertwined. A lot of people at DragCon are here to buy makeup and shop,” said Jess Stevens, graphic designer at Trixie Cosmetics.
As drag beauty makes its way into the mainstream, brands are working to appeal to “Drag Race’s” wide fan base.
“We kind of have to balance drag makeup versus what’s going to be accessible and easy for the consumer to understand. That’s been something we’re constantly working on with every launch and every formula we introduce,” said Vania Nasution, product development manager at Trixie Cosmetics.
Barbato emphasized that the drag world is ahead of the trends. “From a fashion and a makeup trend perspective, it’s become clear in the past couple of years, as much as you should be looking at the runways of Paris and Milan and New York, you need to be tuned into the runways of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ if you really want to be tuned into what’s coming up next.”