From punk to pageant, camp to conceptual, the art of drag can take any number of styles. But one unifying factor for every queen is makeup—and lots of it.
For decades, drag queens have been one of the makeup industry’s most valuable customers, whether brands acknowledged them or not. The advent of RuPaul’s Drag Race has ushered drag into the mainstream, creating new avenues for queens to have a deeper stake in their own industry—makeup being a prime example. Drag queens have gone from customers to campaign models to collaborating with existing brands to creating their own.
Joining the growing list of Drag Race alumni stepping into the makeup industry full force is Willam Belli with his new line Coverboy.
“I’m aware of the other drag artists with makeup lines, and I celebrate them,” Belli says. “The pie is big and there’s room for everybody.”
Belli became a fan favorite on season four of Drag Race thanks to his deadpan sarcasm and unshakeable confidence—not to mention being the only contestant in Drag Race ever to be disqualified (he was receiving “conjugal visits” in his hotel room during filming, a flagrant violation of the show’s rules). Belli has parlayed that notoriety into a well-received book; a YouTube presence of satirical music videos and a popular web series that’s pulled in more than 200 million views; and a co-starring role in A Star Is Born, among a host of other acting gigs.
And now makeup.
Birth of a product line
The idea for Coverboy came about after one of Belli’s music video directors, Michael Serrato, mentioned he had connections at Ready Go Ventures, a self-described “incubator for talent-driven businesses.” Ready Go Ventures CEO Greg Lawrance says the company has worked in the makeup space before, but never with a drag queen—or a drag queen like Belli.
“The cosmetics that we have developed are durable, and that’s a really important part of this. But at the same time, it also connects with Willam’s personality and his DNA as a talent,” Lawrance says. “That is all translated into the actual product, into the packaging, into everything that we’re doing.”
“I wanted to fill a spot in the market for all the people that are like, ‘Be my drag mom! Put me in drag! Your makeup is so good—how do you do it?'” Belli adds. “And I’ve never really been a makeup pro. So I focused on the three things that I know that I do whenever someone’s wanting to get up in the gig.”
Coverboy’s initial launch includes five liquid varnishes, four glitter pots, and six false eyelashes, all based on what Belli hasn’t been able to find in the marketplace and designed specifically for durability and ease of use.
For the lipsticks, Belli wanted a high-shine look with a dry finish.
“If you’ve ever had hair longer than your ear and you whip it around, you know it gets caught in your mouth,” Belli says. “You’ll pull the hair out, and it’ll leave a long line of color across your face. So we formulated a lip that was shiny but dried—it doesn’t transfer, which is the best thing that’s ever happened in my career.”
When it comes to glitter, a staple in Belli’s drag, he wanted to develop a product that would have maximum payoff with minimal mess.
“Every time you use glitter, you have to deal with fallout and [use] another product to get it to adhere—and that’s if you’re not lazy and in a rush and just try to use spit,” he says. “This glitter gel has its own base in it so you can just like smear it on. My goal with the makeup line was that you wouldn’t have to use brushes. Fingers are my favorite thing.”
For lashes, Belli was thinking beyond a drag queen’s go-to of regular 301s to something a bit more bold like a polka dot print or, his personal favorite, blue.
“I’ve like always had to construct [blue eyelashes] myself out of piecing other things together,” Belli says. “I’ve never been able to find blue fake eyelashes, which I love. It changes like the whole dynamic and, like, balance to your face.”
Putting his style out there
When it comes to other Drag Race queens with makeup brands, including Trixie Mattel and Miss Fame, Belli says he doesn’t see it as competition since more players in the space only means that drag’s visibility is increasing.
“More power to everybody,” he says. “I just want to help people look good. My goal in life is to be a tastemaker, and this makeup is the first big thing that I’m doing where I’m putting my taste and my style out there on the line and seeing if people want to jive with that.”
In addition to Coverboy, Belli is also getting into the real estate business with the same mission: Belli is currently designing a property in Palm Springs, California, to be something of a live-in drag museum that will be available to book on Airbnb November 1.
When a club promoter he used to work for went into real estate, Belli told him what he was looking for and bought the first property he saw, a five-bedroom, compound-like home that he’s infusing with drag her-story. There’ll be Trixie Mattel’s wig that she won Drag Race: All Stars 3 in; Latrice Royale’s size 15 house shoes that Belli swiped when Royale left them on a tour bus; memorabilia from season three winner Raja and makeup artist legend Mathu Andersen; a vending machine filled with Coverboy products; and a drag room with dozens of wigs and outfits guests can use to live the full drag experience.
“There’s also the painted desert [nearby] where Kesha did her ‘Praying’ video, so white girls can go reenact their Becky fantasy out there,” Belli says. “It’s everything I’ve ripped out of magazines and put into my ‘dream house’ binder for years.”
Belli is filming his experience transforming the property in the hopes of selling it as a TV show in the future, based on the positive feedback he received from fans and executives at HGTV when he was featured on an episode of House Hunters back in March.
“If you think I can put together an outfit and a face and some hair, wait until you see what I could do with something that stands still like a house,” Belli says. “So that’s my next venture after makeup. And if—sorry, when—it works in Palm Springs, I plan to do it in other areas where I think need a little injection of a drag with decor.”
From makeup to interior decorating, Belli’s goal is to “inspire people with easy, cheap ways to change your life and then make your outlook better,” he says. “I think that drag makes anything better.”