Just when we thought we were out of world-historic misery, something pulls us back in. As we emerge blinking from our coronavirus caves, another Antarctic ice shelf collapses and Putin invades neighboring Ukraine. Marquee actors attack on an award show and in Hawaiian karaoke bars. The film Soylent Green was set in 2022. That Charlton Heston foretold the collapse somehow makes it even worse.
As we get used to our catastrophic new normal, some of us are refusing to give in. “The thing about us queens is we’re resilient and work with what we have,” says CT Hedden, who is by night the general manager of New York City’s immortal hot spot Indochine, raging since 1984, and by later-night a hardworking drag queen with a fashion sense so strong he (Hedden is masc-identified) was welcomed to the VogueWorld 100 in 2021.
The 34-year-old made the list of style setters (as well as profiles in WWD, Cosmopolitan, and Out) off the strength of co-hosted brunches at SoHo’s sprawling Gitano restaurant with his “mother” and close friend Amanda Lepore, and a high output during lockdown, when Indochine was temporarily shuttered.
“The thing about us queens is we’re resilient and work with what we have.”
There was The Makeup Hour, an Instagram Live interview show where Hedden wrangled subjects such as model Winnie Harlow, ballerina Misty Copeland, and actor Tommy Dorfman to do their makeup together on a split screen.
And also the “QuarantQueen” Ball a socially distanced photo performance piece featuring six diverse drag and trans performers posing in lockdown-honed looks outside the Metropolitan Museum on the year the Met Ball didn’t happen. “We covered their asses this year,” Hedden told Paper magazine in 2020.
No matter how bad things get, everybody needs some sparkle at least some of the time, and no one understands this better than drag queens. Hedden’s primary talent is not so much lip-synching or singing as simply his very stylish look and attitude, equal parts louche (lots of tongue-out, spread-legged poses on step-and-repeats) and delicate (he loves a pussy bow).
He has an innate sense of fashion—Instagram’s @cthedden reveals a master class in silhouette, color, and texture savvy—which has, as drag has continued to mainstream, been getting noticed on the big stage. This past fashion month, Hedden racked up show and party invitations right and left: the Blonds, Christian Siriano, Giorgio Armani.
In Paris, Rick Owens so loved how CT worked Owens’s beetle-style down shell at his show at the Palais de Tokyo that the next day, when the designer was seated next to Hedden front row at Vivienne Westwood, he promptly invited him to lunch. Hedden wears the attention with the exuberance of a young Marlo Thomas. “I’m just grateful that people appreciate what I do.”
Outside of Rick Owens, as street-style photographers go nuts, assembled fashion devotees shout “Fierce!” and “Thank you!” to him over and over. “It’s part of his charm that he’s not jaded,” says Jean-Marc Houmard, the owner of Indochine, who promoted Hedden to the top job when the restaurant reopened, in 2021.
Hedden is New Jersey–born but first tasted fashion in Chicago as a teenager while working as an assistant to Ikram Goldman, the retailer who ultimately styled Michelle Obama. “I schlepped a lot of J. Crew,” he tells me in his rented Paris studio while blow-drying a wig so wide it will require the booking of a minivan for the night. (Anything for the cause.)
He considered a career as a stylist for about three seconds before dropping it. “There was no instant gratification,” he says as I help him zip into a pale-cream jumpsuit. “The minute I put the look on myself, I was like, I’d rather be talent.”
“You don’t expect someone of his flamboyance to be that focused and so organized,” Houmard says, “but he’s very serious about everything he does. CT is kind of a natural fit for Indochine, which has always had a very creative staff that did things on the side. It makes things more interesting.”
Hedden, who worked his way up from bartender, had just finished the payroll slips when I arrived to help him get ready for the Rick Owens show, and was fielding requests to find a table for Evan Mock while touching up.
“I could never see myself not working there,” he says. It sounds mutual. “Indochine has maintained its status for the longest time,” says runway coach and fashion-reality-TV star Miss J. “You can go in there and be comfortable with who you are.”
It’s not easy to maintain allure for nearly four decades as the restaurant has done, but in addition to the active contact list of flamboyant nightlife personalities to keep the carnival in fine fettle, Hedden has old-school manners, which are appreciated by clients such as Donatella Versace and Sarah Jessica Parker. Friends of the house get handwritten thank-you notes and flowers.
Hedden keeps a secret stash of green-apple schnapps behind the bar for the stylist Patti Wilson, a regular who got to know Hedden during a month-long gig working on a series of campaigns for François Nars on his private Tahitian island. (Wilson was styling, and Hedden was assisting Nars’s head of makeup as well as posing in drag for Nars’s Instagram feed.) “[Hedden] makes everybody happy,” Wilson says. Well, it’s been a long year. We’ll have what he’s having.
Alexandra Marshall is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL. She is a contributor to W, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and Travel + Leisure. Marshall recently relocated from Paris to Le Perche