Brooklyn based artist Nick Laughlin is using fashion, laughter and the art of drag to spread joy during the coronavirus pandemic.
It all started on St Patrick’s Day 2020. There would be no parade. New York City was quickly becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and Governor Andrew Cuomo was taking swift measures, closing schools and canceling mass gatherings.
Laughlin’s social circle consists of Broadway actors, ballerinas, dancers, drag queens and comedians. He remembers the morning that all Broadway theaters officially closed, “it was just terrifying for everyone because this has literally never happened in history.”
It would seem that art was indefinitely put on hold in New York City, but the artists were all at home itching to get creative.
That’s when Laughlin came up with “Quarantine Couture,” a socially-distanced Instagram fashion series that would feature looks created from household items.
“I think it really started from the joy of me wanting to be able to celebrate,” Laughlin explains. “I love to celebrate any holiday and especially now that I’m a grown queer man in New York, I like to take back holidays and celebrate them with drag or costumes and just being silly and fun.”
Laughlin is a lover of fashion, having also styled stars from RuPaul’s Drag Race, and like many of his friends, he was stuck at home with a closet full of clothes.
He made a request to friends and followers: Put together a St Patrick’s Day-themed look made only from what you can find in your home, and send a video of yourself walking the “runway” to be featured on Laughlin’s Instagram.
“I had hundreds of submissions. I think it was something like 200 that I had to pick from, and because of that instant response, it just gave me something to work towards, each week.”
He teamed up with creative friends to create weekly themes for video submissions that included “Dystopian Disco: Studio 54 Couture,” “Got The Blues: Blues on the Runway” and “The Easter Ball: A Celebratory Runway,” to name a few.
At the end of each theme, Laughlin goes live on Instagram with RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars winner Alaska 5000 to humorously review the themed looks submitted that day.
Since he began the series, Laughlin has received a flood of emails and messages from people sharing how “Quarantine Couture” has helped lift them up in this time of fear and uncertainty.
“All these people poured their hearts out to me saying, ‘This has been a really difficult time for me, I’ve lost a family member or I’ve lost a friend and watching these videos has truly brought me joy,’” he shares. “To see something that I thought was just funny and silly and weird really affect people and make their day better, it’s just so simple and amazing to me.”
As the weeks went on, Laughlin was blown away by submission numbers growing and how participation was becoming global.
“It’s so beautiful to see people’s creativity grow week to week. People use plants, they use their pets, they tie up tee shirts and make hats, just anything they have in their house.” Laughlin shares, “The core of it for me was being stuck inside and making fashion. We are quarantined and it is our own version of couture.”
“Quarantine Couture” has also offered an opportunity for folks to step out of the box of what they would normally wear and find freedom in expressing themselves in new ways from the comfort of their own homes.
“Some of my friends are pretty masculine and never really explored their feminine sides and now I see them freely posting videos for this,” he says.
Laughlin shares how the experience has allowed him to become a leader and also rewarded him for his own self-expression.
“Sometimes I feel like people online would think, ‘Oh, he just puts on those weird clothes for attention’, and the truth is, I don’t really care about attention. I genuinely love fashion.” Laughlin explains, “I’m a full-figured bearded 30-year-old man and I really do love dressing like this. I love this side of me. And to see other people sort of identify with it in a way that they’re inspired by it and it’s touching them is really sweet and really cool. And I’m like, wow, I should keep doing this. Even after the quarantine is over.”
“Quarantine Couture” will be honoring Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22 with the theme “Ecosystems: From Nature to Runway.” All are welcome to participate and view the series via Laughlin’s Instagram page.