Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — By the age of 21, Aquaria made history as the youngest person to win the title of America’s Best Drag Superstar on the 11th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This year, she made history yet again as the first ever drag queen to be chosen as the face of The SM Store. Aquaria is joining the ranks of previous SM Store endorsers such as “Sex and the City’s” Sarah Jessica Parker and renowned Australian fashion blogger Margaret Zhang.
Aquaria is the drag persona of 23-year-old Giovanni Palandrani, who was a fixture in New York clubs even before joining “Drag Race.” As “Drag Race” season 4 winner Sharon Needles’ “drag daughter,” Palandrani refined his talents by observing and helping Sharon at her shows. He spent two semesters studying womenswear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and took a hosting job at New York’s Cafeteria, where he met and befriended club scene legends like Amanda Lepore. Since then, he’s been doing drag full time as Aquaria.
Aquaria has come to be known as a looks queen — her catchphrase is, after all, “turning looks, stunting pretty.” Since winning “Drag Race” she has appeared in several global campaigns for brands like Moschino, made the covers of fashion magazines like Vogue Italia, and walked the red carpet at the 2019 MET Gala with fellow Drag Race alum Violet Chachki.
For The SM Store, Aquaria didn’t just appear in photo and video materials for the campaign, she also handpicked certain merchandise for the shoot. To launch her campaign, Aquaria came to the Philippines to give two shows — one at the SM Megamall Fashion Hall on Sept. 2, and one the following day at SM North EDSA. In a press conference prior to the first show, Aquaria mentioned some of her favorite looks from the shoot, including a nude ankle boot that she described as something that was “definitely funky and very my style.”
She also discussed why doing the campaign was so important to her. “The visibility for someone like me, or any drag performer in the world, is so awesome and important to have,” she said. “For everybody across Manila and the rest of the Philippines to do their everyday shopping at the SM Store and to see the face of a very visible drag queen, whether they want to see it or not, it's inspiring. It lets people know that drag is okay, that members of the LGBTQ+ community are okay.”
Drag queens have been at the forefront of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States, and are known to be some of the loudest voices for queer rights all over the world. When asked how drag queens and other influential LGBTQ+ people can use their visibility in a significant way, Aquaria shared that while she believes that one person can influence change, “sometimes it takes a little bit more than that.”
“Just being involved in your community and speaking to them about important things [is so important],” she added. “In the States, we're really big on trying to get the youth and the queer community out to vote and to vote on important issues. So I think just really trying to relay a positive message to your audience and trying to be on the right side of history is so important.”
Aquaria’s Megamall show was packed with screaming fans and local queens alike — some of whom were able to grace the stage and showcase their own stylish sensibilities in a fashion show to open the drag queen’s show. With the warm reception of Aquaria’s SM campaign, it’s clear that drag has become mainstream.
For Aquaria, being in drag makes her feel more powerful. “When you look the way that you feel best describes you at that day or that time, I feel that's when you feel most comfortable. And when you feel comfortable and confident, that's where the power comes from.”
When asked how people can apply the principles of drag in their daily lives, Aquaria said, “For me, drag is all about love. Love for yourself, love for the people around you, and also just for individuality and almost like a carelessness about life.”
“Sometimes you just gotta do you, do it unapologetically, and go through life just feeling powerful even if you're not feeling great,” she added. “You might be having a down day but, you know, stand in front of the mirror, name a couple of things that you're feeling fabulous about yourself, and let that inspire you.”