Drag Superstar Shea Couleé ’11 Returns to Columbia

Columbia College Chicago welcomed back Alum Shea Couleé ’11 for a panel discussion and reception unveiling Couleé-curated fashion exhibit window.

On January 29, Fashion Studies students packed into the Ferguson Auditorium on the Columbia College Chicago campus to see a panel discussion featuring nonbinary drag superstar, model, actor, and Columbia alum Shea Couleé ’11. Couleé burst onto the national stage in 2017 as a contestant in “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” wowing audiences and later winning the coveted crown.

Following the event, Fashion Studies Chair Colbey Reid invited everyone to a reception at 618 S. Michigan for the unveiling of Couleé’s window exhibit — fashions from their personal collection accompanied by Couleé performance videos.

“I haven't been back to Columbia in such a long time, so this is just really cool to be back,” Couleé told the enthusiastic audience. “And it's so amazing to see so many awesome young faces that I know are going to go out into the forest and be the next creators and create change like we promised we would.”

Since “Drag Race,” Couleé’s work has been featured in publications such as “Vogue” and “Harper's Bazaar” and as well in their own wildly popular videos. And last year, Marvel Studios tapped Couleé to appear in the upcoming “Ironheart” series — a gig Couleé landed thanks to a connection and friendship made with director Sam Bailey ’11 while both attended Columbia as Theatre students.

Panel Brings Alum Together With Current Students for Lively Discussion

At the event, Couleé was joined on stage by moderator Ames Hawkins, a professor in English and Creative Writing, and fellow panelists Adam Salame and Mikey Smith, Fashion Studies students at Columbia.

Salame, a multi-disciplinary artist currently pursuing a BFA in Fashion Design, works as a drag entertainer in Chicago’s nightlife scene and is currently developing their senior fashion collection. Smith, a Chicago-based designer, is a junior at Columbia and studies Fashion Design as well. He is currently expanding his client list with commission pieces while also working to launch a small street wear line with all hand-tailored garments, catering to men, women, and children.

During the lively panel discussion, Couleé, Salame, and Smith dove into topics such as the relationship between fashion and costuming, drag fashion, and gender expression. They even tackled Hawkin’s thought-provoking question: Is there queer fashion or is all fashion queer?

Window Exhibit: A Fashion Celebration

Following a Q&A, students headed to the reception to see Couleé’s window exhibit as well as take selfies and mingle with Couleé.

Describing the exhibit, Couleé’s said: “I just wanted it to be a celebration of very distinct aesthetics that I have embodied throughout my career, all set to mostly monochromatic color palettes in a rainbow.”

As for returning to Columbia, Couleé stressed the importance of alumni connecting with students.

“It's an amazing opportunity for the students to be able to get a glimpse into what their future could be,” they said. “These four years go by so fast, and it's crazy to look back at the past decade since my time here and think about all of the growth that I've experienced and how so much of that was from tools that I learned here at this very campus.”

But the biggest lesson Couleé wanted students to take home is faith in themselves and what Columbia has to offer.

“I hope that the students left here with a reassurance that the experience at Columbia can be one that is incredibly transformative and inspiring,” Couleé said. “The connections that they build here can truly be what helps them build their entire careers.”