You Better Work!
By Jonathan Vatner
Zaldy designs pure glamour for RuPaul, the world’s most famous drag queen
Zaldy has designed almost every outfit the drag superstar has worn in public since the 1993 video for “Supermodel,” Ru’s breakout song. That includes all his music videos, The RuPaul Show on VH1, live appearances, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality competition that wrapped up its 11th season in May. In all, hundreds and hundreds of looks. “I wouldn’t go anywhere without Zaldy,” RuPaul told Vogue in 2018. “Since ['Supermodel,'] our communication has gone from shorthand to telepathic. Bottom line, Zaldy gets it.” The two met in the late ’80s at La Palace de Beaute, a Union Square nightclub that’s now a Petco, and Zaldy and his then-boyfriend Mathu Andersen created Ru’s interstellar glamazon look. Andersen did the hair and makeup; Zaldy focused on the fashion. “It was not a typical drag queen look,” Zaldy says. “We did a lot more sci-fi future fashions, genderless looks.” Now that “Mama Ru” stars in four TV shows—RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars on VH1, a U.K. version of Drag Race on BBC Three, and AJ and the Queen on Netflix—Zaldy whips up an “extravaganza eleganza” (in the show’s argot) in his Financial District studio at a breakneck pace. He imbibes a sense of RuPaul’s fashion direction through informal conversations, creates a diverse collection with his team of three assistants, and lets the drag queen decide what to wear when. RuPaul does not ask for edits. “I don’t even sketch for Ru,” Zaldy says. “We’re just so comfortable with each other. It’s intuitive, and it’s open.” Some of Zaldy’s favorite designs for RuPaul were the “ugly dress,” with a black-light painting of Ru riding a panther digitally printed on velvet; and a leopard print hand-painted onto flowing pink organza. (Because of the star’s towering height—6-foot-4 without heels—off-the-rack prints aren’t at the right scale.) After nearly three decades of designing, Zaldy is finally getting the major recognition he deserves: two Emmys, in 2017 and 2018, and a Costume Designers Guild Award in 2019. “I never really thought awards were going to be part of my world,” he says. “It’s your peers saying you’ve done a great job—and that’s amazing.”