When every individual in the room turns heads—as was the case at yesterday’s Gypsy Sport show, where the lineup included Instafamous twins, a pink-haired trans activist, and permutations of dreads and shaved heads along the gender spectrum—there’s little chance of standing out. Unless, of course, you happen to cruise below altitude at four-foot-three. Desmond Napoles, all of 10 years old and 26,000 followers, played video games on his iPhone while waiting for his black-and-white polkadot manicure. For the self-styled drag kid known as @desmondisamazing, the backstage scene was a sight, with so many “androgynous models” in “androgynous fashion,” as he put it. But it was the catwalk at New York Fashion Week that qualified as YouTube-fueled fantasy made real. “I was dying, I was so happy,” he explained today, home from school to soak in (and sleep off) the excitement.
Rio Uribe’s Gypsy Sport, known for overlaying subculture, fashion history, and big-picture subjects like inequality, was a fitting showcase for the runway newcomer (and instant New York Fashion Week sensation): Two and a half years ago, the Brooklyn native first caught attention at a similarly all-are-welcome affair, the 2015 Pride Parade, where Desmond danced in a rainbow tutu. (“I became a viral sensation,” he said, with charm but without irony.) Since then, he’s sashayed for RuPaul at DragCon and shared his coming-out story (“Ever since day one”) with Out magazine. When asked about the legendary voguing house that he’s associated with, Desmond answered the way other kids begin a book report: “The House of Ultra Omni was founded by Kevin Omni and Tommy Dimples in 1978. No—1979.” The bummer about being 10 is that the voguing barbecues are fair game; voguing balls (at least the ones with alcohol) are not.
Fortunately, the internet offers a portal to his latest fascination: “the makeup artist Kabuki, because he often does extreme fashion looks,” said Desmond, describing throwback photos with perfect, seemingly airbrushed swirls on his face (a dexterity that Kabuki showed last week for the Jeremy Scott show). “He was one of the first club kids I found out about,” added the precocious time-traveller. “My favorite era is the ’90s because it was really cool and artistic and crazy—in a good way. I like crazy in a good way.”
For Desmond, that translates into polished screen-star glamour with a well-placed beauty mark; a twinset of cutout lashes like a Roy Lichtenstein POW!; and bedazzled eyes that cross Grace Jones with ancient Egypt (and a dash of Liza Minnelli). His favorite category of makeup is face paint, he explained, “because it doesn’t come off until, like ten hours [later], and I like how you can turn your face into art.” Newer to his repertoire, courtesy of the MAC team at Gypsy Sport, is lip conditioner. “I had never heard about that before,” he reported. “It felt really wet and soggy.”
With the hubbub of the runway behind him, he can now return to his schoolwork (education comes first) and YouTube’s Fashion Channel (style comes second), while keeping an eye on the upcoming shows by his rattled-off favorites: Alexander McQueen, Comme des Garçons, Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano. “And Marc Jacobs! Marc Jacobs,” added Desmond, who has already modeled a scaled-down take on the designer’s black turban for spring. He’ll use the coming looks as inspiration as he sketches in his fashion-template pads from Ricky’s, combs the racks at Out of the Closet (a favorite thrift store that benefits HIV/AIDS programs), and roots through his mother Wendy’s makeup stash. (With permission.)
RuPaul called him “the future of America,” Desmond proudly recalled on the phone—and it’s easy to agree with the drag icon. Let’s hope for a We the People that champions creativity and dishes pre-teen wisdom like “Be yourself always, no matter what anyone says.” Still, for all the outpouring of support, the world has its dark undercurrents; Wendy makes a point to screen out mean-spirited comments. But Desmond rides high above the haters. “I know this is kind of bad language,” he says in a polite schoolboy pitch, “but they’re dumb.”