RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Detox recalls the dress that made everyone sit up and take notice.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Detox recalls the dress that made everyone sit up and take notice.

I wore this dress as my promo look for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Five—the first time I appeared and competed on the award-winning reality show. It was designed by two Los Angeles-based designers Eddie Debarr and Johnny Sakalis, and together they were known as Debakalis. It was part of their 2012 spring/summer presentation, which was inspired by a mythical, alien-mermaid goddesss that, funnily, was also inspired by me! The designers often lovingly referred to me as their “fish wife”. This particular dress was meant to capture the crashing waves that envelop this mysterious siren creature. There were a ton of other dresses I could’ve chosen but to me, this was it. Here’s a fun fact: The dress was made from one continuous length of 20 yards of stretch satin, and one seam.

I remember my days on Drag Race as being an out-of-body experience. It was pretty surreal. After trying so long to get on the show, it was my moment to shine. We shot the promos the day after we wrapped the first episode where I had a pretty good showing, so I was definitely walking around with my head held high. All of the stylists on-set loved my gown, so I was feeling super-bitchy. The shoot was a lot of fun. It was great being there, but super-emotional, too. It felt like all my hard work had finally paid off, and the world was finally going to know me and what I stand for.

I’m beyond proud and humbled by my experiences on Drag Race. I also learnt that being in such demanding, pressure cooker-like situations can bring people closer. I’ve fostered some amazing relationships through the show and we bonded because we went through all the challenges together. Maybe that’s why Drag Race has struck a chord with so many people. There’s no denying the resonance among queer people. Like, finally! There is a reality TV programme showcasing, in my honest opinion, one of the most celebrated-yet-degraded forms of self-expression.

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People love drag queens, but we’re sometimes pariahs in our own communities. It was amazing that there was this outlet showcasing these multifaceted talents. Drag Race humanised drag queens. What’s not to love? 

My time on the series can be summed up with the word, “validating”. It was validating because I could show the naysayers that I had what it takes to be a drag superstar. There was validation from my family, my peers, my idols and the community. Most importantly, there was self-validation, too. I learnt that no matter how tough an exterior you put on, there will be little insecurities and heartbreaks that will always find their way to the light until you focus your energies on healing. 

I haven’t worn the dress since the recording of the show, and putting it back on again more than five years later reminds me of how beautiful I felt in it. I’ve forgotten that. The bold use of colour, the fluidity, the high-wattage glamour, the sense of strength and delicateness combined… I guess the dress has all the qualities that represent Detox. 

I’m not sure if I have a style philosophy, but strong silhouettes have always been a part of the Detox aesthetic. The character has always been a sassy, spunky bitch. I think she was born in my youth. I was obsessed with fashion shows, heels and glamour. And film noir! I have a ton of fashion memories but I’ll always remember the 1995 VH1 Fashion and Music Awards: Prince performing “Pussy Control”. Madonna presenting Tom Ford with an award for Gucci. Madonna receiving the fashion icon award from Sean Penn with Karl Lagerfeld. I need to find [a clip] on YouTube and rewatch it immediately. I also love strong, powerful women. I’ve always been drawn to them. That’s why I’m so in love with vintage Thierry Mugler. His women resembled out-of-this-world super heroines and villainesses. I remember a 10-year-old me wanting to be like them when I grow up. And damn it, I did it!

Photographed by Ivanho Harlim and Shysilia Novita.

Styled by Windy Aulia