Who Says That Filthy Can’t Be Fashionable? Not If Drag Legend Divine Has Anything To Do With It

Celebrating the delightfully filthy life and times of the first drag superstar, Divine, Loewe pays tribute to her provocation and passion with a limited edition collection that is all sorts of in-your-face, just as she had intended.

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Even way before Mugatu and his platinum blonde poodle-like coif had the nerve to make vulgar and vagrancy a trend in the fictional collection fashioned as “Derelicte” for the cult satire hit, Zoolander, someone had already lived out this desire for the destitute. And no, we aren’t talking about the glittering hybrid of John Galliano’s controversial F/W 2000 collection for Dior that took a sordid Parisian flair and upped the maniacal ante. Although this could very well be closer to the possibility realized by the first drag superstar, Divine, in all her polarizing proclivity and pushing of the boundaries in the 1970s. In the very specific space that she had carved out way ahead of her time, it was very clear that the tragic can be made magic.

“I first saw Divine and I just thought, raw beauty,” says director and frequent collaborator, John Waters in an interview with David Letterman. “To me beauty is looks that you could never forget, and I’ve walked down the street with Divine and seen accidents happen.” And who could forget about her? With the signature aggression of her eyebrows, wildly teased hair, and a nonchalance in fashion choices that were both curious and crass, Divine would permeate the bubble of pop culture in filth-laced films such as Multiple Maniacs, Hairspray, and Pink Flamingo, which had the drag icon quite literally feeding on dog feces in the end. “His legacy was that he made all drag queens cool,” Waters would mention to Baltimore Magazine. “He broke every rule. And now every drag queen, every one that’s successful today is cutting edge.” In fact, the Ursula that we have come to loathe and love in The Little Mermaid was inspired by the obscenely ostentatious Divine.

Predating the current penchant for glorifying the typically waylaid and unassuming, mixing the high and low, and the unparalleled erasure of gender barriers and biases, Divine was who everyone wanted to be deep down, but never actually had the bravery to live up to, even as her larger-than-life persona continued to challenge the free spirits and Miss Americana ideals of the time. Inspired by an enduring self-determination and impact of subversion, the counterculture legacy of Divine sees a return to fine form in the vision of Jonathan Anderson for Loewe.

In what was supposed to be an ode to camp and the zeitgeist of the era, Loewe was supposed to capture the often overwhelming energy of the drag precedent in a limited edition collection that celebrated an artistry that gave rise to the liberties many performers exist in today. However, due to the punishing demands of the pandemic, the scale of their efforts had to be recalibrated for safety. It would have been perfect, especially in the time-honored month of pride, where the movement was and still is rooted in protest, something that is very much synonymous to the drag of Divine.

Already a middle finger to age-old archetypes and backwards binaries, Divine barreled through and turned drag on its head, bursting through the mainstream with a spellbinding flamboyance of color, trash, fantasy, outrage, glamour, and freedom. “That’s what we tried to capture in the collection that never was, which is so different from what we usually do at Loewe: a merging of our sense of ease and Divine’s proclivity for camp. There are patent platform pumps and a bevy of feathers splashed onto a miniskirt, or edging the sleeves or hem of a maxi t-shirt. We printed Divine’s provocative face on tops, dresses and even on an apron, and we used the posters of his performances as allover prints on t-shirts and dresses,” details Jonathan Anderson. “I was so excited to honor Divine in the expansive way that he deserved—and maybe there will be a better time for this in the future.” Not all hope is lost though, because while the prospect of the collection hangs on the horizon of a post-pandemic possibility, Loewe is making a limited edition capsule available for purchase online, which consists of three printed shirts and a tote bag in canvas and calfskin.

In the spirit of pride, Loewe is making sure it serves a prudent purpose by offering 15% of the proceeds sold as a donation to Visual AIDS, an organization that utilizes art to fight HIV/AIDS through provoking dialogue, supporting artists living with HIV, and preserving a legacy and history. “Additionally, we are pleased to make a donation to Baltimore Pride, which is important to us for two reasons. Firstly, it is the hometown of Divine and the setting for the film Hairspray,” explains Anderson. “But additionally and more importantly, Baltimore Pride is a Black-led LGBTQ+ organization and celebration. We are honored to support their work.” These efforts in conjunction to the collection, as well as of an online exhibition that will stage the Divine memorabilia and images shot by the legendary portraitist, Greg Gorman, which was originally planned for PhotoEspaña Madrid at their Gran Vía store in Madrid. “This project has been an exciting creative challenge. I think it is a timely initiative, in that it is a celebration of creative freedom and challenging the world order,” says the creative director of Loewe. “That’s what Divine was all about: creating his own incredible world, no matter what. Now more than ever, that’s what we all should do.”

As is the case of life imitating art, we might not get the intended visceral experience of this tribute by Loewe yet, just as untimely as the death of the man behind the provocative performer and personality was. Perhaps it is a parallelism of divine order by the one they once labeled the filthiest person alive or it could be a simple coincidence. Either way, it stands to be something most memorable and mind-boggling, just as Divine intended.

 The limited edition collection is available from 25 June online and in the Loewe Greene street store in New York. The virtual exhibition will run from 25 June until the end of September at loewe.com.
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