Photography by Aingeru Zorita
Styling by Julian Antetomaso
When asked what her 12-year-old self would say after seeing where she is now, drag queen Aquaria’s answer is this: “They would say that it was correct, that it feels right. I've always been very ambitious and very creative.”
It was a little over seven months ago that RuPaul proclaimed a then-22-year-old Giovanni Palandrani—drag name Aquaria—the winner of her eponymous reality TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was a tight race, one that came down to a penultimate lip-sync battle, an event comparable to the gladiatorial bouts of ancient Rome.
Set to the tune of Ariana Grande, Jessie J, and Nicki Minaj’s infectious hit “Bang Bang,” each contender made a worthy opponent in the battle for the crown. There was Eureka O’Hara, the plus-sized comedy-pageant queen hybrid and Kameron Michaels, a muscle queen who does an uncanny Cher impersonation. But it would be Aquaria who embodied all the ingredients that make up America’s Next Drag Superstar: charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. From the get-go of her season, Aquaria asserted herself as a superstar.
But, with winning the crown comes great power, and with that, comes great responsibility, especially to the LGBTQIA+ community. However, Aquaria maintains that despite the elevated platform she stands on, expecting perfection is inadvisable. Be it addressing racism within the Drag Race fandom or helping a fan come out to their parents, she’s tried to do the best she can.
“Sometimes you don't know what to say about some things or you have too much to say about other things,” she says. “I'm out here, 22 years old, almost 23, allegedly representing the queer youth and queer people and young people in general. I'm young, so everything is not going to be perfect, but some tall drag queen gave me a crown so everyone thinks that I have to be the president of the world.”
But that’s not—and shouldn’t—be the case. “I'm doing my best. I'm trying to inspire and show people that hard work will pay off and if you want something, go out and make it happen.” An honest answer that’s rare to find in an age where call-out culture is so quick to scrutinize even the best of intentions.
Despite what many people think, Aquaria was not an overnight success. At 18, she made the move from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the bustling metropolis of New York City. “I've always been very city-oriented, so it was something that I strongly saw for myself,” she says. “ New York was very [much] the destination. It was where I knew that I'd always be interested in living.” Upon her arrival, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology to pursue a degree in womenswear and simultaneously became a regular fixture of the nightlife scene, counting party promoter legends Susanne Bartsch and Ladyfag as both early friends and mentors. Then came Drag Race, and the rest is history. “I may not have a diploma, but I can certainly turn out a great dance number, do makeup, hair, costuming and styling, you name it,” she once said.
Looking back, it’s safe to say that the dawn of Aquaria has already arrived, but what exactly has contributed to her quick success? “I can kind of hit a lot of different people's interests,” she begins to explain. “[Aquaria]'s just very versatile and likes to exercise her strengths.”
“Despite ruffling some feathers, Aquaria's a people pleaser whether you like it or not. You're bound to be pleased by something.”
There was the time she strutted down the runway of Nicola Formichetti’s Nicopanda Fall 2018 London Fashion Week show. Then, came the release of her first solo music single “Burn Rubber” across streaming platforms. Since then she’s been signed by IMG, appeared in a global ad campaign for Moschino’s collaboration with Swedish retail giant H&M, and has been named as Dazed Beauty’s entertainment editor. Another highlight of last year came towards the end of 2018, when Vogue proclaimed her “Breakout Red Carpet Star” at the 2018 British Fashion Council Awards. Wearing a stunning custom Matty Bovan gown, she was the belle of the ball, but then again, when is she not?
It was also in 2018 that she embarked on Voss Events’ Werq the World tour, a variety show extravaganza where she sparkles alongside fellow Drag Race alums. Aquaria’s number may have lasted only 4 minutes and 30 seconds, but don’t confuse quantity with quality. From start to finish, Aquaria gives 110 percent, effortlessly demonstrating that this—entertaining and performing—is what she was born to do. Gasps and cheers from the audience resound with every flip, high kick, acrobatic turn, and expertly choreographed dance break. Overflowing with pizzazz and personality, the energy in the room stays at an all-time high before a quick Miley Cyrus interlude (“They tried to fucking kill me”) signals the grand finale: a final death drop to end all death drops.
Surely, all this movement gets pretty exhausting, so how does she cope? “I just remind myself that I am making a lot of people happy and that this could be the best day of someone else's life,” she responds. “I do more good than I sometimes give myself credit for.” Word.
So what now? Well, with the first month of the year underway, Aquaria is showing no signs of stopping. “If I want something I'll figure out how I can go out and get it. The struggle is always real but you’ve got to like make it work and make it work for you.” Longevity, it seems, is the name of Aquaria’s game, and as she did on Drag Race, she’s sure to win at that too.
DRESS, HAT, GLOVES, TIGHTS MOSCHINO / SHOES STYLIST'S OWN
Producer: Spencer Salley
Photography Assistants: Scott Fitzpatrick, Chris White
Stylist Assistants: Mina Erkli, Emily Drake
Location: Dune Studios