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Arts / From RuPaul to Mareel: costume designer Harry returns home for ‘glittering’ exhibition

IT IS quite the journey – growing up in Shetland before moving to London and ending up designing costumes for drag queens – and having work feature on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Harry Whitham. Photo: Christian Trippe

Harry Whitham, however, will return to his roots with an “glittering” exhibition of work due to held at Mareel in Lerwick throughout July.

The event, which is a celebration of both design talent and LGBTQ+ identity and culture, will coincide with Shetland’s first Pride event.

The exhibition, called The World of Fancy Boy, will showcase Whitham’s outfits, illustrations and inspirations.

Fancy Boy is the alter ego of Whitham, who was born and raised in Shetland and is now costumier to the stars.

After studying design for stage at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Whitham worked his way through London’s theatres, first as a dresser, wardrobe assistant then sewist and maker.

He now designs and makes bespoke costumes for some of the UK’s best loved drag queens and his work features regularly on the British version of hit TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race.

All of Whitham’s pieces are custom made and involve months of research, design and dedication – not to mention the huge quantities of fabric, sequins, glitter and feathers.

Shetland Arts said it is delighted to be working with Whitham to bring this collection of iconic outfits to Mareel.

Exhibition curator Jane Matthews said: “Harry has spent months teasing these outfits back from their glamorous owners and to have them all exhibited together is a world first, they have never been seen as a collection like this before now.

“My mind’s been blown by the artistry of Harry’s work, each outfit is a masterpiece and we’re so delighted to be showing them here at Mareel alongside his illustrations and design work.”

The world of Fancy Boy: photos by Maciek Groman and Jack Baxter.

Growing up in Shetland Harry was creative from an early age, spending hours drawing predominately feminine characters in fantastical costumes on the back of scrap paper that his mum brought home from work.

As a teenager he was an enthusiastic member of both Shetland Youth Theatre and Maddrim Media, regularly starring on stage and screen.

After school he left for London, “dreaming of glamour and romance”, to study.

Speaking about drag as an art form, Whitham said: “It is the height of femininity and extreme camp extravagance, and at the heart of it is a need for self-expression beyond the traditions of gender.

“Drag plays with the gender status quo and offers a platform for freedom, protest and politics.”

To celebrate this major show of work Whitham will be in Shetland for the opening on 30 June between 6pm-8pm, with everyone welcome.

There will also be a Fancy Patch creative workshop on Saturday 2 July from 3pm-4.40pm in the Green Room at Mareel. Booking is required.

The workshop is aimed at, but not exclusively for, “queer and queer-adjacent teens or anyone with an eye for drag glamour (recommended 12+)”.