Nicola Formichetti & Aquaria Talk Drag Race, Lace and Leather
You’re probably holding this magazine, in large part, thanks to Nicola Formichetti.
It was during Formichetti’s tenure at Vogue Hommes Japan that I was most enamored of fashion. I would camp out in Casa Magazines to flip through pages and pages of editorials. Formichetti’s brooding vision felt cinematic in scope, crafting stories of bondage and surf culture with the likes of Steven Klein and Hedi Slimane. He was Carine Roitfeld in sneakers. 20-year-old me was in love.
Since then he’s launched a diverse array of projects and collaborations, styling, shooting and live-streaming from his living room all along the way. We asked reigning Drag Race winner (and frequent collaborator) AQUARIA to chat him up about fame, fashion and why leather is forever. And so, for that matter, is the fandom. –Sean Santiago
Hi! Where are you?
A: Me? I'm in Minneapolis right now.
NF: Are you performing tonight?
A: Yeah, we've got a show. It's Madonna vs. Gaga themed.
NF: [Screaming] What!? What songs are you gonna do?
A: I’m doing—I got a whole new Confessions look, so I’m gonna do Hung Up, and then I’m doing Diamond Hearts and Dancin’ in Circles in my denim look from Drag Race.
NF: How has your journey been since you became famous?
A: You know, I’ve always prided myself on how hard I work and the quality of the product that I put out; now I just get to do that on a really massive scale and with a lot more support. I mean, yeah, there are plenty of times that test me and try me, but there’s nothing like a good challenge.
NF: I love that you’re very serious about what you do. You research a lot and you study a lot and you want to be perfect. I think it’s great. The fame is just an interesting thing—expectations just get higher and higher.
A: Thank you. I think a lot of that comes from me being young, me not being taken seriously about some things throughout my life and then even more so when, ok I want to be a professional drag queen—who really finds success with that? Not that many people. So, for me I felt the need to put in extra work and to really try to impress people with the quality of the work that I put out.
NF: Well, you’re doing an amazing job, so.
A: Thank you. Speaking of—you’re a designer, photographer, stylist, artist, a master at the piano—so many different things. How do you stay inspired? What is that thing that always gives you confidence?
NF: I’m a sucker for new things and try to be around interesting people. I read books, I go online, I study a lot. I never went to school so this is like me going to school every day, studying life.
A: A lot of your work is all about beauty and coolness and sex appeal—how would you define sexy and is that different for you and the artists you style? Or is there a harmonious relationship between the two?
NF: I think sexy can come in different forms. For me, it’s all about the personal attitude. For myself I’m pretty boring, I just try to be healthy and fit and wear whatever I can find. But with the people that I work with I want them to feel confident so that their sexiness can come naturally. I never force anything.
A: I think that’s really awesome. I felt very comfortable working with you the first couple of times we worked together; you kind of knew how to highlight my best features and not to make a weird decision that would make me look funny or make our work look funny. I really think that’s fantastic. Do you have any dream subjects that you haven’t had the chance to shoot with?
NF: I’m pretty open so I’m always looking for new things and challenges. But, who am I going to work with after you and Gaga? I mean, there’s not much left.
A: Oh, God. [Laughs] Would you ever be interested in being on the Drag Race judging panel? What would your criteria be for an awesome runway or an awesome performance?
NF: Well, you know me, I don’t really like to judge people, so...I don’t know if I could be a good judge. But I really do love collaborating—I’d be with you guys behind the scenes rather than being a judge, giving points. I love seeing the authenticity and people’s knowledge of culture and fashion and artistry. And I like people who are humble, because they take the advice they get and their critiques and they try to be better.
A: No that’s awesome, I love that. I’m sure they would be head over heels to have you.
NF: You should be a judge!
A: You know what, I might. We’ll just have to wait and see. What young talents in fashion are you really interested in right now? Is there anyone in particular you have your eye on?
NF: When I did the shoot I wanted to work with young talent in New York, designers pushing fluidity in their designs like NIHL and Jeremy Wood. They're so good. You can’t tell if it’s menswear or womenswear. I love that.
A: I definitely think that, at least for me, that approach to design is so much more up my alley than, you know, the binary concept of this outfit is for this one type of person or this is for another.
NF: I feel like If we looked at where we are today in ten years from now, I think this era is all about fluidity in design. I used to do it in my styling work, but it’s happening right now in more mainstream collections and I think it’s really exciting.
A: I even saw hints of that in the past couple Nicopanda collections you’ve done, it’s all been very much something that can be worn by any type of person and any type of build. I love that. And since we’re on the topic of types of people, my last question has to be: lace or leather?
NF: Oh my god, leather. I love the smell of leather.
NF: And the sound of leather. I mean, I love lace, too, but leather for me is just forever, you know?—