When Sasha Velour began her final lip sync for the RuPaul 's Drag Race Season 9 finale (which she ultimately won) she was wearing a lace and pearl encrusted head covering. In an ode to one of her fallen competitors, Velour ripped away the bottom part of the mask a few beats into the song to reveal her flawlessly painted, bright red lips. Not much later, she cracked the mask in half, revealing her drag signature: a bald head with a bold eye.
"We did the mask to create an egg effect because she's been called the Fabergé egg queen, so it was supposed to look like a futuristic egg," says Diego Montoya, the designer behind Velour's entire finale look. "It was also a bit of a nod to Valentina, but not in a shady way," he says with a laugh.
Born in Peru but raised in Miami, Montoya is a Brooklyn-based artist who maintains a multidisciplinary practice covering fashion and experiential installations. Recycling found objects, Montoya creates ornate works for galleries and brands, as well as various queer performers.
"I use whatever I can find, really" Montoya explains, revealing that he has even used animal teeth in the past. His looks have appeared on a variety of personalities, including Rify Royalty, and his installations have graced events like the Superfine Art Fair during Art Basel Miami.
While in college at Florida State University, Montoya got early experience designing for performers. Work with his college's circus and an acrobat boyfriend helped hone an aesthetic based on "savage beauty."
"I'm obsessed with things that are beautiful but in an aggressive way," he says, pointing out that many of his pieces are heavily ornamented. "It's just what I'm naturally drawn to. I identify as a queer artist, and I think a lot of that visibility is campy and has a lot of things that I love but is also aggressive, and I think I'm sort of the opposite of that dial and more on the aggressive side."
While his work in costuming found its legs in performance, a five year stint working with the underground experimental queer film festival Mix NYC gave Montoya the experience of fabricating installations. "It's sort of like a pop up world. We go into a raw space, create an immersive piece, and it's open for 24 hours," the artist says. Designing for the event provided him with a wealth of exposure and a following in the nightlife scene. Since then, his installations have been on view at Nordstrom, the Soho Grand Hotel, and elsewhere.
Montoya's continued work with Velour is a meeting of aesthetically-similar minds. Velour is known for presenting a cerebral version of drag — taking the history of the genre and pulling it apart to reconstruct and move it forward. In that way, she's the perfect muse for Montoya.
"A lot of what I've been doing lately is costume work and in the fantasy arena," the designer says. For a few seasons, he had his own fashion line, presenting pieces at the Leslie-Lohman Prince Street Project Space. "That's why it's great to work with Sasha, because she's so theatrical and she's so fashion-forward thinking." For Velour's finale dress, the aim was to create something impactful and structural that could translate to whichever song Velour was asked to perform, all done on a tight turnaround.
"I wanted to create something that was modern, sculptural, and beautiful. But at the time, I was watching The Neverending Story in the background," Montoya says. "So in hindsight, [the look] sort of looks like the dragon from that [film]."
In addition to Velour's look for the Drag Race finale, Montoya also created her look for the Season 9 premiere, her dress for the 2017 NYC Pride Parade, as well as other outfits for the reigning queen.
To see more work by Diego Montoya, visit his website.