We all know the story: most people thought Valentina had the stuff to go all the way. And she has. After being a front runner and a fan favourite on her two runs at the crown on Drag Race,
Valentina has toured the globe, played Angel on the live TV version of RENT, went on to be featured twice in Vogue México -first drag queen to do so- and debuted a single. Her most recent trip to Mexico was her triumphant return to the city after a show back when she was still fresh out of season 9 and she’s a bigger star now to her latino crowd than ever before.
After a weekend of shows with her fellow sisters and former competitors, we caught up with Valentina on a tuesday thanks to Esteban Calderón, our photographer and Valentina’s friend, for this shoot -and interview-, at 11 am. It took Valentina a little more than five hours to get meticulously ready -we were not in a rush- and when she put the final touch to the look -the glorious dark blonde hair on these pictures- I gasped and texted the guy I was dating back then saying I’ve never seen such a beautiful person in my life. I really meant it, I’m a fan of Drag Race but I was never #TeamValentina -I even bet on her eliminations with my friends, but seeing her in person, all put together from head to her Guisseppe Zanotti clad toes, I kind of got something I was not seeing on TV: her absolute dedication and devotion to her craft -and when we got to sit for the interview after the pictures were taken and the pizzas eaten, my respect grew deeper at her exquisite references and sense of duty towards her fan base.
Photography: Esteban Calderón. Words: Alejandro Peregrina. Makeup: Daniel Alvarado + Chichi Fuera. Hair: Alejandro Iñiguez.
In drag: clothes and accesories from Valentina.
First we started talking about her Mexican heritage and the power it fuels to her work.
“It’s a challenge to feel completely connected to my Mexican roots being that I was born in America and I’m constantly torn between feeling completely american in these times, because the state of my Country is rather sad, but it’s also a beautiful place to come and be free, but wit being Mexican I feel most proud of kinda like the warmth and the ‘mi casa es tu casa’ energy… I also think it’s the immense level of sensitivity of my Mexican part”.
I tell Valentina that I remember that before season 9 premiered I saw a video of her performing to Así Fue by Isabel Pantoja (Juan Gabriel’s masterpiece) and that I find that kind of portray of Mexican golden age of ranchera feelings rather old fashioned and at the same time it’s so imbued in our Mexican way of experiencing love and loss and regret that it’s still powerful and compelling -besides I’ve never seen a drag queen in Mexico doing that so beautifully and I rather be represented like that on a global scale than as a bad hombre.
“I’ve never seen it like a responsibility to portray my Mexican heritage, it’s my way of living, it just pours and runs through my veins. I have that sensitivity, I am that dramatic, I see the beauty on that and its depth. I know in the eyes of many people those things may seem a bit corny or really indulgent or overly dramatic and comical, but at the same time I saw the vulnerability on that. It’s jarring, actually, and even life touching. When I do perform those numbers I don’t want them to be read as a joke, I want them to be beautiful the way that when I saw them it really moved me. There’s a magic to telenovelas with a woman having a tear running down her face and violins playing in the background. It’s beautiful! I love it. I fucking love it.”
Left: overall by The Pack, boots by Saint Laurent Paris. Left, below: jacket by Paloma Lira Studio, boots by Balenciaga, pants by Givenchy from Valentina.
What’s most interesting about this is that if Valentina was a born and raised Mexican millennial, she would probably be against those stereotypes -we all love Juan Gabriel, that’s a given, he’s God to us-, but Valentina goes deeper into the pop culture Mexico has presented to the world throughout the last 70 years or so.
“Well, it goes back to Dolores del Río, it goes back to Frida Kahlo, María Félix and the stories I’ve heard from my grandparents of them growing up in Mexico and their ideas of love and romance and daily living and work and so on, but that’s different to what I know today so I pull all that apart and when I reference things and when I talk about things it’s a very embracing feeling of what I know and love and I also have an old heart…”
But what about the American counterpart?, I ask.
“Well, that’s me living a very modern and forward thinking, unapologetic life and growing up in Los Angeles, which is the city of entertainment and, you know, living my American dream thanks to my parents.”
On her first go on Drag Race, Valentina said she was there to show the star she already was and at this stage of her career I ask her if that was some sort of prophetic or a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’.
“It’s not a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’… I definitely own up to it every single day but I never knew how hard it was going to be and I’m learning as I go. I’m young and it’s very difficult to stay grounded when you are spoken up to or highly appreciated, it get’s hard to stay grounded, but the thing is you gotta know you wanted this and learn from that. Part of being a star is never saying it, but always knowing it and knowing that your gift as a star is being able to share the light you have you have within you, that it would be selfish to not share and give away little pieces of you upon some people you find along the way.”
Well, it might be right to say you never know how hard it could be, and there’s nothing that replaces work and nothing that replaces what working gives back to you and all that, but at the end of the day, it still ain’t easy especially on a global-everyone’s watching-we were all rooting for you circumstance.
“The hardest part of this whole career has been to realize that to live your dream sometimes you sacrifice what you most love.” That’s a scary thought, I tell her. “Uhmm, my biggest fear in life, though, is that the people that really matter to me and the people that truly believe in me -like my closest friends, would stop believing in me. That’s the scariest thought to me.”
Right: jacket and pants by The Pack, printed shirt by Paloma Lira Studio, boots by Saint Laurent Paris. Below and right: jacket and jeans by Desigual, boots by Saint Laurent Paris.
-Have you experienced some of that?
“Yeah. I’ve been pulled away from close relationships like friends or family, because of my schedule and my career and because of the priority and knowing that I have to really go in, you know, and it’s been hard for some people to understand the process that I go through as somebody that it’s new to this kind of work and workload and success -which I’m grateful for and I’m still grateful to them and I hope they know that after my work and all this, I still can go to them and not worry about it.”
After diverging from a couple minutes, we start shaping the conversation to fashion and it’s utter importance to, well, us. Probably Valentina’s best look on Drag Race ever was her ‘curves and swerves’ runway, referencing the inner construction of a couture garment and adjacently referencing some work by the most important designer ever -John Galliano- at the same time. I ask her what the heck was that about -referencing an obscured and somewhat relegated side of fashion that at the same time has to do with the bases of constructing a ‘drag queen body’.
“Let me see, let me see, when it comes to that runway challenge it was called ‘Padded for the gods, curves and swerves’. I worked closely with a friend of mine that is a designer with whom I share a love, love, ABSOLUTE LOVE for John Galliano for Dior, and whenever I’m in doubt for some outfit, we can always rely on either Gilda -we go ‘what would Gilda do?’-, Amanda Lear or Galliano. All. The. Time. I think Galliano gets fashion in the same way people don’t really get him. So, anyhow, we were coming up with the idea for that look and, first of all, he has one custom built mannequin for me that’s padded and it’s a woman’s mannequin that is then built up in the shoulders and in the chest to be more masculine, and then it has a build up corset for my girl waist and then a built in hip pad and butt pad to it that’s open through the crotch, with many layers of fabrics and pins on it and the pads, so the thing just sits there when he drapes and works and it’s with him all the time, so that’s one aspect of it. Then I love that Dior collection. I think I’ve referenced it before and I knew that look connected with the mannequin and the dress form and looking like a work in progress, and then we thought about how to make a dress that embodies all that but without having to add the padding underneath and we didn’t want to directly reference the collection, so, here’s the secret we worked on -it really is a secret, ok? We built it for me to wear without the pads and the boob cups and the layers and the corsets and the Spanx… so I can get into the thing with just one zip.” Meta.
“I find Galliano’s work to be very emotional and that’s what at the end of the day I want to portray. And let me make it clear that the point was not to look good or pretty, it was about me showing that I’m still a work in progress.” Even more meta, then.
After talking about mexican designers and people who should be making clothes for her to wear on stage, Valentina and I decide to conclude the interview, exchange numbers and say goodbye to the crew. It’s past 10 pm now and we’ve been on this studio for 11 hours now, but before we part she asks me a couple questions:
– Did you like the interview?
– Loved it.
– And the photo shoot?
– Loved it, I’m really grateful for your idea of the boots and the hat for the cover.
– Yeah, I bet I’m gonna be signing a lot of these, so you better print lots.