The difficulties of designing for drag in Italy

Little do we know about the journey that many aspiring fashion designers face outside of the UK.  Simone Barbangelo is a fashion design student who wishes to expand his work to drag couture, however, this seems like a dream too far.

Following the Italian government’s rejection of left-wing politician Alessandro Zan’s bill to protect marginalised communities, members of the country’s LGBTQIA+ community are pointing to a social and political landscape that lacks open mindedness. 

Simone Barbangelo is an Italian womenswear fashion design student at the Istituto Mara Scalon. His passion for fashion design arose during the first lockdown, out of boredom whilst self-isolating at home he started making his first drafts and questioning his plans for his forthcoming future. Barbangelo says: “I discovered my passion for fashion one day around the month of April 2020, I dedicated myself to drawing. I believed my pathway was going to be either drawing or fashion. Then looking at catwalks, and fashion designers it clicked.”

Once he made up his mind about his future plans Barbangelo says: “I looked for various academies and institutes in Turin and I came across the Mara Scalon Institute and I decided to apply to the fashion design course.”

After almost two years of studying at the Mara Scalon institute, Barbangelo’s dedication has been continuously growing. He religiously follows fashion catwalks, he keeps getting more interested in couture fashion and getting himself inspired by the biggest and most prestigious fashion houses.

His favourite piece realised up to this date is a red velvet dress. He says: “The dress was dedicated to a specific time of the year – Sanremo, the Italian music festival”. The overall creative process was part of a group project, in fact his role was to create late night, gala dresses.

Barbangelo describes the red velvet dress as a: “Very elegant and refined dress. I chose red because it is a very important colour and velvet is a soft and precious material.”


It is fair to say that Italy as a whole is a very welcoming country, however, as a nation, it has a narrow-minded view in regards to social matters and inclusivity.  The reasoning behind this behaviour may be linked to the overall veiled conservatism caused by the power of the Italian church. In addition, from the middle aged sphere of the population, there is a lack from a cultural standpoint of understanding and surpassing stereotypes, which have been perpetuated over the course of years.

Barbangelo says: “In Italy, we are not ready yet, we are on a journey to get there….In my opinion, the drag market is not fully developed yet as in the UK, Germany and Spain.”

However, some progress has been made in terms of representation of drag couture: “We have seen in Italy Elektra Bionic win our own version of Rupaul’s Drag Race. We are getting there, but we are still behind. It is going to take a few years.”

Barbangelo says it affects his business:” It’s hard to find the right buyer, the person who is going to invest…I could start with a capsule, a small collection.”

Furthermore, the current political climate is not very welcoming in regards to the rights and acceptance of the people who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community.  According to Barbangelo: “Italy lives ten years behind, in terms of open-mindedness and acceptance. Countries like Spain, Germany and the UK are more open minded because they are not limited by the church, because it has a lot of weight in the Italian mentality, politics. The Italian fashion world is affected as well because we are obliged to be less open minded and less daring. In countries such as Germany and Spain, designers have the chance to be more gender fluid.”

A striking example is the rejection of Zan’s bill, which had the main objective to make acts of violence and discrimination towards LGBTQIA+ people illegal. It would also protect other minorities and make misogyny a hate crime as well. The bill got into the Italian Parliament, then afterwards it got rejected by the Senate.

Barbangelo says: “The Zan bill was a flop, I was really disappointed especially as a member of the”

The cultural and overall political climate affects Barbangelo as an artist. Whilst Barbangelo would find it so much easier as a fashion designer in the UK, he is still determined to pursue his dreams and break through all the hostilities and challenges he may find in his way at home in Italy.



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