On Wednesday night, the usually bristling but proper stretch of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue outside Saks was abuzz with the kind of energy one might usually find across town in Hell’s Kitchen. The south end of the building was wrapped in barricades, a red carpet lining the ground. The windows, which usually boasted luxury fashion, were black. “What’s going on here?” one older man asked a couple patiently waiting outside the store. “It’s an event for RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the woman responded in a thick Scottish accent. “Who?” asked the man, unsure if he just misheard, or simple didn’t know the celebrity or event that was drawing such a crowd. The two went back and forth a few times, before the man gave up, content with his unfamiliarity of this “RuPaul,” happy to leave the Scots to their waiting. “We were told the red carpet started at six,” the woman said, but at seven, when the windows remained black, the fans remained understanding. “You know, drag queens take so long to get ready,” she said.
Suddenly, a remix of RuPaul’s “I’m A Winner, Baby” started playing over speakers, and one by one, the black shades on the eight windows lifted, revealing the eight queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. In celebration of the upcoming season, which features eight former winners of the show, RPDR joined forces with Saks Fifth Avenue to put the contestants on display on one of the most famous streets in the world.
“I felt like I was in the red-light district,” joked Yvie Oddly, winner of season eleven. Of course, in the red-light district, the women aren’t standing next to Brandon Maxwell dresses, though that didn’t stop Oddly from playing into her Amsterdamian fantasy. “I even started unzipping a little. You know, when in Rome,” she shrugged, letting out her signature howling laugh.
As part of the collaboration, which easily could have been another challenge on RPDR itself, each queen got to help design their window, choosing the color of the space, the quote on the front, and the designer piece they stood next to. Both Jaida Essence Hall and Trinity The Tuck chose LaQuan Smith designs (“I’m letting everyone know ‘the body is here’ and this lovely sheer gown shows a whole lot of body,” said Trinity of the red fall 2022 dress next to her), while British-born The Vivienne, who took home the crown in season one of the overseas spin-off RPDR UK, fittingly chose an Alexander McQueen design. The Vivienne’s participation in All Stars makes her the first winner of a foreign franchise to take part in the American competition. “Being able to come and compete with these queens that I've watched grow and become superstars of their own was incredible,” The Vivienne said. “It took me a few weeks to navigate the personalities and to find out where I fit in, but then I just realized, they're just horrible, rotted queens, just like UK queens.”
Despite the insults getting hurled back in forth, it’s clearly all in good fun, the shade any fan of RPDR or drag in general is used to. Throughout the filming process, it’s clear the queens got close. “We all know exactly what it’s like to stand it the other bitches’ shoes,” Oddly said. “We all put in the work, we all made it to the end of a season, and we all had to face the world with a crown and a scepter, shoulders back, head high, ass out. There was just so much respect from the jump and I think this is going to be the gayest, most sisterly love fest of a season.”
Of course there were some former winners the queens were happy they didn’t see when they walked into the work room on that first day of filming. Many were surprised, but pleased, to not find season seven winner Violet Chachki cinched and ready to take on another round. “Violet would've brought the fashions,” Hall said. “She would've stepped on all the girls. She would've slayed all of the runways.” Even Raja, the most seasoned of the queens, was happy to not face Chachki this time around. Trinity, though, was confident she could take on any RPDR alum thrown her way. “I'm okay with any of the winners coming, honey,” she said without skipping a beat. “I am ready.”
It’s hard for these queens to not be confident considering they’ve already proved themselves and taken home a crown. And because of that, the dynamic between the contestants and the judges this season is bound to be a little more complicated than normal. While regular seasons of Drag Race often depict queens growing throughout the competition, taking in critiques from the judges to better their drag, that aspect is lost when the runway is filled with winners.
“We were more willing to fight for our art [on the mainstage]” Hall said. “There's so much pressure now to always rise to the occasion, to know who you are and know your brand and represent it well. So, this time we were willing to fight for that a little bit more.”
It’s clear, though, that in the end, this season is just a big celebration of drag. “Win or lose, this was just a great way to show the best drag we've got,” The Vivienne said. “It’s top tier drag every week—the runways, the challenges, it's insane. They say Drag Race is the Super Bowl of drag, well this is like the Super Bowl times 20.”