Raja Looks Back on 10 Years of 'Fashion Photo Ruview'

Raja Looks Back on 10 Years of 'Fashion Photo Ruview'

BYIvan GuzmanMar 19, 2024

It’s like clockwork. Every week, Raja and Raven meet at the World of Wonder headquarters in full drag, sit in front of a green screen and "toot and boot" the looks from the main stage of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As one of the first WOW Presents internet franchises, Fashion Photo Ruview has become an influential cultural entity unto itself, with Raja and Raven as its stalwart style critics.

“I don’t think we were entirely familiar with YouTube and the internet, and it was [World of Wonder’s] idea for Raven and I to kind of do our version of what Fashion Police used to be with Joan Rivers as the host,” she tells PAPER. “We didn’t really think of it as anything.”

Now the series, which originated the famous "toot and boot" and "trend alert" phrases, is in its tenth year. With so many Drag Race franchises around the world, and hundreds of queens fueling RuPaul’s fashion universe, it can feel overwhelming to keep up with the show itself. Thankfully, Raja and Raven are here to grace our YouTube screens and on WOW Presents Plus every Tuesday and break down the part of the show that everyone looks forward to most: the runway.

PAPER sat down with Raja to discuss the origins of Fashion Photo Ruview, creative rebellion and spirit animals.

So, 10 years of Fashion Photo Ruview. Here you are.

Yeah, shocking. Time flies. When Raven and I discovered on our last recording of Fashion Photo Ruview — we were just bantering as we're getting ready, and she mentioned, because she's really good with dates and numbers, “Girl, it's been 10 years. We've been doing this for 10 years” — I was just kind of blown away by that, because it seemed like we just started doing it. You know, seems like yesterday. So ten years, that's kind of a huge milestone.

How did they first approach you to do Fashion Photo Ruview? And what were those first episodes like?

I don't think we were entirely familiar with YouTube and the internet, and World of Wonder was experimenting with it, finding their way and navigating through the new technologies that were out there and ways of reaching people. So they decided they wanted to create a cluster of web series just to start it off. It was their idea for me and Raven to kind of do our version of what Fashion Police used to be, with Joan Rivers as the host. And so, we didn't really think of it as anything. I was like, "Fun. I get to hang out with Raven, my bestie I've known for a long time. It was just kind of silly, and it still is. But we didn't realize that it would last 10 years."

What's really interesting for me is when I get to travel around the world, people at meet and greets will just randomly say, “What do you think of my outfit? Do you toot or boot it?” I've seen people on other TV shows use references of "toot and boot" and "trend alert" — all these things that not necessarily Raven and I created, but definitely part of our conversations have been repeated. I'm proud of it. I think it's a show that's just meant to be silly and light and fun. We're not doing anything different than what any other viewers are doing. It's just we get to make a little show out of it.

I mean, I don't really watch Drag Race on TV anymore. I kind of watch through all the YouTube recaps and those extensions of the show like Fashion Photo Ruview, The Pitstop and all the podcasts. I don't watch the actual show.

Yeah, it's quite a commitment. And there's so many Drag Races now. It's really hard to keep up. At the very least, I watch the American ones because I might know some of the contestants that are on it. But I do try to watch some of the international ones. I like France, and I've watched Spain and the UK. But again, there are so many to watch now.

Sometimes I’ll put on Fashion Photo Ruview to fall asleep.

To fall asleep?

Yeah. The familiarity of it can feel relaxing or something.

That’s great. I do the same with horror movies.

Do you have any other rituals that you do? What's your daily routine?

I don't ever have a daily routine. My days kind of vary. I suffer [from] and enjoy my ADHD so there's usually various projects that I'll start on. I'm constantly creating and crafting something in my apartment so that's my ritual. I live a little bit of a life of leisure so it just depends. I never really have heavy schedules when I'm at home. Except Fashion Photo Ruview.

What do you think it is about you and Raven? Like for me, with each of my friends, I feel like we have certain things that we bring out in each other. What do you and Raven bring out in each other?

Well, Raven and I have known each other for so many years. We have a chemistry and a familiarity with one another that can only happen with friends who have known each other and have grown up together in drag. That makes the moment easier. We've had several different hosts that have covered for Raven, because Raven, as we know, has a very busy schedule working with RuPaul so she's not always available. We've had great guest hosts, but I feel most comfortable and feel like I can vibe with Raven the easiest because ultimately Fashion Photo Ruview is our show. We started it together. We created “toot and boot" just randomly. All of those things were created together, so I love working with her. She's my girl, and if some days she's in a bad mood, or if I'm having a bad day, we just know how to bounce off each other and balance each other out.

How do you keep things fresh for yourself? There are so many looks and silhouettes that you have to describe and talk about. Does it still excite you?

Yes. My interest in drag is based around the fact that I am a look queen. I love clothing. The process of creating things to wear really is something that I'm passionate about. So the way I keep things fresh is I wake up in the morning, and I just begin creating. As I mentioned, I have constant projects here. I've got a pile of at least ten different things that I've started. I'm always creating. I feel like when I use my hands, when I'm making things, that is the most ritualistic part of my life. It is me creating art. It is a gift from the higher being to have that desire. And I have to exercise that constantly. It's the only thing that makes me feel like I'm like I'm alive. It feels like a prayer or a meditation when I'm creating things, so that's really how I keep it fresh. And I'm inspired constantly by what's happening in fashion and what people are doing in art, and everything that surrounds me.

I'm also a little bit rebellious. If I see a trend that's happening, and it's becoming redundant, I'll use that as my source of rebellion. Oh, everybody's doing chaps? Well, fuck chaps. I don't want to do chaps. Everyone's doing a rhinestoned asymmetrical wig that goes this way? Fuck that. I'm just gonna go completely the other way. So part of my inspiration is rebellion. If somebody's overdoing something, then I'm probably going to be the person who's going to go opposite. But I constantly create. They say if a shark stops swimming and maneuvering, they eventually drown. I can understand that. I feel like creating and being inspired is what keeps me alive and motivated.

Do you keep up to date with all the different fashion weeks?

I definitely do. There's one Instagram that I absolutely love, @ideservecouture. It's pretty good. This fella is really smart and knows his stuff. It's how I keep up. It really is the new way for people to keep up with fashion, through social media and Instagram. So yes, I do follow a lot of people, and I love watching it. But again, I get tired of when people see fashion shows, and then they end up copying each other. Like after watching Margiela, all of a sudden all of fashion week, everyone is walking with a zombie limb. It's like, "Really? Come on." Let Margiela be Margiela. Can you guys come up with something else? But I am also fascinated by this brand called Avavav. This season, they had the audience throw trash on the models while they were walking down the runway. Silly in concept, but I love it. I love it because it provides something different, so I'm definitely paying attention.

Has RuPaul said anything to you about Fashion Photo Ruview, or commended you on the show?

Not really, because I rarely see RuPaul. I feel like Ru is like the Lochness Monster. I've said this before, but when you get a glimpse of her and get to be in her presence, it's a very rare moment. She's a lot closer to Raven, because Raven works on her constantly, so I'm sure they've had their own personal conversations about it. I'm just glad that being part of the World of Wonder family has just been really fun for me, and I've been working with World of Wonder even before Drag Race when I was still doing makeup. World of Wonder has been such a big part of my life. So I may not have heard directly from RuPaul and her reactions about Fashion Photo Ruview itself, but I do know that World of Wonder definitely still wants it, you know? So that makes me happy.

In terms of trends, what are you into right now? Is there anything in particular you're fixated on right now?

My absolute fixation in fashion right now is seeing people who upcycle, and sustainability — all of those things are very, very important to me. I think it's something that I've always done in my life, and it's part of the art that I do as Raja. Although I love luxury fashion, my passion right now is to encourage and to support and to spend my money as a consumer on those brands that are taking charge of that. That's my huge focus right now.

If you were to reincarnate as an animal, what would it be?

Oh gosh, I watch so many animal videos on Instagram, and I'm really glad that my algorithm has gone that way. While I was in Tokyo last year, they had an otter cafe where you can actually hang out with otters, so right now, I'd like to be an otter. I want one. And toucans. Toucans are cool. I like birds, too. I mean, I'm all over the place. But otters. Definitely. I want to be an otter. Looks like they're having fun.

What do you think of AI? Are you scared?

I'm both scared and fascinated by it. I'm old enough to remember when Photoshop first came into the picture. As an illustrator and a painter and somebody who does a lot of things by hand, I was like, "Isn't that cheating?" That's so weird. This is like the early '90s. Now it's just kind of elevated and evolved into what is now AI. So I don't know. I'm definitely fascinated by it because some of the imagery that comes from it. I'm like, "Whoa." So I'm teetering. Mostly I'm in support of artists who do everything by hand with their own imaginations.

We’re all just slowly becoming robots.

Yeah. Have you seen the Andy Warhol Diaries on Netflix?

Yeah, I have.

They have a fully AI generated narration in Andy Warhol’s voice, but it's not Andy Warhol. It kind of elevated the documentary in the series itself. But, you know, that was strange. Really weird.

Maybe Fashion Photo Ruview can incorporate some AI in the future.

Well, it would certainly help my budget because we'll change outfits all the time and not spend the money on it. You know? Who knows?

If you could have one song be the soundtrack of Fashion Photo Ruview, what would that song be?

It's hard. Right now, I would say this song “Vogue” by Noizu. She’s like, “It’s giving Madonna, Vogue. It’s giving something.” People use it a lot for their Reels and TikToks. That should be the theme song.

I love when you perform. I always remember you performing “Stanley” by Jazmine Sullivan. I love that song.

I'm bringing that back. I'm actually bringing a lot of things out of my archives, because I'm lazy. And I've been doing this for 30 years. So it's pretty easy to find music to do. I'm not trying to learn new lyrics. Way too lazy.

What do you want the legacy of Fashion Photo Ruview, and Raja, to be?

Well, they're very much two separate entities, but maybe the same, I guess. But Fashion Photo Ruview, it goes with Drag Race, you know, so I hope that it's something that continues. I would love to see the opinions of other queens. I would love to see a Fashion Photo Ruview episode for every single one of the episodes of every franchise. I would love to see two queens from Mexico do Fashion Photo Ruview, the way Raven and I do for America. I would love to see it elaborated on and involve other queens out of the hundreds. It doesn't end with just Raven and I.

But as far as myself, I would love to leave my legacy as the queen who was authentic and celebrates and explores creativity, and believes that drag is an art. It should be something that is very individual and rebellious. I still love the idea of Drag Race being subversive, so I really champion and celebrate those queens. I just want people to always remember me as an artist, as a creator and as somebody that inspires and encourages people to be creative as well — to explore creativity to its fullest, really take it there. Break boundaries.

Photos courtesy of WOW Presents Plus