“You know what? Yes, I’m going to tell you this,” Shea Couleé says over the phone. “I was sitting kitty-corner from Anna Wintour, and when she looked over and saw me, her jaw dropped.” The drag queen lets out a laugh. “She tried to catch herself as if she was not gagged, but I saw her.”
Couleé is recounting her first time at Paris Fashion Week, when, this past Sunday, she attended the Valentino spring 2023 show (and, apparently, made the Vogue editor-in-chief gag. Not that I’m doubting her—Couleé did, in fact look gag-worthy). The RuPaul’s Drag Race three-timer attended the event in an eye-catching, purple shearling vest from Pierpaolo Piccioli’s resort 2023 collection. The piece was a showstopper on its own, but paired with an emerald green One Stud bag and citron green heels, Couleé managed to stand out in the pool of Valentino Pink PP that made up the majority of other showgoers.
Couleé had the pleasure of visiting the Valentino atelier ahead of Piccioli’s show in order to pick out a look, and while she tried on pieces from past collections, she kept her eye trained on the faux-fur vest in the room. “When the stylist suggested it, I was like, ‘I've been looking at that since the moment I walked in the door.’” Luckily, none of the other VIPs had laid claim to it, and even luckier, it worked perfectly with the sculptural updo she’d commissioned from her friend, Jean Baptiste Santens, and brought along from the States to wear to the show. From there, her purple, furry fantasy was born—and completed with a pair of sunglasses (“For a little bit of attitude”) plus a makeup look that pulled it all together. “I wanted to give ’90s supermodel, Kevyn Aucoin vibes,” she tells W. “I just went for something that felt really impactful and graphic, but also subtle, as far as colors, so it complemented the outfit.”
The ’90s-era makeup was also inspired by the ’90s supermodel, Naomi Campbell, whom Couleé had a feeling she would run into at the show. She had the pleasure of meeting Campbell while filming All Stars 7; in the premiere episode, Campbell visited the queens to critique their runway walks, though it quickly became clear Couleé did not need any help. In a beautiful moment, both Campbell and Couleé fought back tears as the drag queen explained her appreciation for the model, saying she channels Campbell on the runway. “It shows, you do,” Campbell said on the episode. “You know what you’re doing. You have it controlled. You know how to slow it down, to bring it up. It was perfection for me.” Unfortunately, when Campbell finally arrived to the show on Sunday, everyone was seated and the presentation was about to begin. Later in the evening, however, at the after party, the stars (literally) aligned.
“It was like something out of my dreams,” Couleé recalls. “I was dancing with Erykah Badu, we were singing Whitney Houston’s ‘I'm Every Woman’ at the top of our lungs, and then up the stairs comes Miss Naomi Campbell herself.” The two chatted for a bit, with Campbell eventually asking for Couleé’s number, referring to the drag queen as “her friend” in the process. “I can die very happy, because Naomi Campbell called me her friend,” Couleé says. “I might even change my Twitter handle to: Shea Couleé, Friend of Naomi.”
Of course, Couleé is no stranger to fashion’s elite. She has maintained a good relationship with Piccioli after he first reached out to congratulate the queen for winning All Stars 5 in 2020. She has also known Christopher John Rogers since he was in high school. “He was inspired by drag queens,” she said. “I don’t know how I came into his stratosphere, but we became friends on Facebook.” The two kept in touch, following each other’s careers before they finally met in New York in 2017. “I’m such a fan of his clothing, because it really sparks joy,” she says. “When I’m wearing it, I feel joy, and when I’m out in the world, the way people react to his clothes, the way that I see their faces light up, that’s impactful.” Couleé has had the opportunity to wear Rogers’s designs multiple times over the years, including a custom dress for the All Stars 7 finale earlier this year, but that was hardly the only high fashion look the drag queen brought to the competition. Couleé made headlines when, in the first episode of the all-winners season, she stepped out in a floral printed gown and robe from the Valentino fall 2019 couture collection, a moment now cemented in Drag Race herstory.
All of this is likely a bit of a fever dream, something Couleé could have only hoped for when she was working at Target back in 2007, flipping through copies of W magazine on her lunch break. Fifteen years later, and Couleé is more likely to be in the pages she used to fawn over than working retail, and she’s not stopping at fashion. The drag queen was recently cast in the upcoming Disney+ series, Iron Heart, meaning she has officially joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a role that could very well propel her even further into the world of acting. “I’ve got really wonderful, positive feedback from everyone on this project, which has been really validating, so it makes me want to get out there and do some more acting and tell more stories,” she says. Of course, if she needs more advice, she now has the phone number of someone who was able to parlay a fashion-focused career into acting: “Miss Naomi Campbell, herself.”