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Gabby Baculi styles Kansas City-area drag performers through GB Couture brand

Gabby GB Couture Mulan
Posted at 5:51 PM, Jul 03, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Growing up in the Philippines, Gabby Baculi knew he was different. But he didn’t find his calling until being dragged to a show 20 years ago at Tootsie’s.

“I had no idea what drag was or what it’s really about,” Baculi said.

He left the Philippines as a 20-year-old and settled in Kansas City after a brief stay with his sister — one of his nine siblings — in Fairfield, California.

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Gabby Baculi

One of the friends he made after moving to town invited him to another friend’s drag performance, where his bravado would soon land him on stage as well.

“I looked at myself and I was like, ‘I can do better than that,’” Baculi recalled. “Then, my friend looked at me and he was like, ‘Oh, really,’ so he left me at the table. Five or 10 minutes later, he came back and said, ‘OK, you're on next week.’”

That first performance — to “Karma” by Alicia Keys — was a humble start.

“Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing,” Baculi confessed. “I do remember buying a blouse at Burlington Coat Factory, some random wig that I found, and some heels. That was it.”

But he received a standing ovation after the performance and landed a paying gig at Missie B’s after that drag debut.

Baculi adopted “Mulan” as her stage persona in honor of Lea Salonga, who voiced Jasmine in “Aladdin” and Mulan in Disney’s animated movie of the same name, as a nod to his Filipino roots.

“She's a Filipino national treasure in the country and I grew up around her music and her movies, so I just wanted to put my nationality and my Filipino pride into my drag,” Baculi said.

Another reality quickly hit him — being a drag performer is expensive.

“I was poor,” Baculi said. “I couldn't afford anything. ... I’d see these extravagant garments. I couldn't afford those, but I really wanted them.”

From a young age, Baculi — who owns GB Couture, which designs and produces garments for drag entertainers — loved crafting, sketching and drawing. He also used to tinker around with his mother’s sewing machine, so he decided to try making his own costumes for Mulan’s shows.

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Gabby Baculi

“It was a lot of trial and error and trial and error,” Baculi said. “As the years went by, my skills developed, my taste level heightened, so I just kept making them and making them. Other entertainers noticed the design, the intricacy and how quickly I can whip a costume.”

Baculi started making costumes for other drag performers, including Lana Luxx, and Q, a performer from Emporia who was a finalist on RuPaul’s Drag Race, among others.

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Gabby Baculi and Lana Luxx

Luxx — who considers Baculi her “drag mother,” a type of mentor — has a “Midwest Taylor Swift” show, which mimics the costumes from The Eras Tour. Baculi makes all the costumes for the Swift-themed show.

“It means a lot to me every time she makes something for me,” Luxx said. “She means, to me, like drag excellence.”

The endeavor became more meaningful last year when Swift started dating Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, ascending to her own queen status in Kansas City as she was woven into the region’s fabric in a unique way.

“It's quite odd and, in some way, the shooting stars are connecting, so it's kind of pretty cool,” Baculi said. “I would jokingly sometimes say to Lana, ‘You know Taylor is in town right now, right? What if she, if Taylor herself, comes to one of your Taylor shows? Wouldn't that be amazing? I swear to God, Lana would probably freak out.”

Within minutes of the release of Swift's “Tortured Poets Department,” Luxx and Baculi were texting about the new look that would be needed.

Baculi has no formal training, but he worked at the Kansas City Costume Company for four years. He mostly works from memory, including the four or five images he found in those early moments to create the black Victorian “Tortured Poets” ensemble.

“That probably took me at least three days to construct,” Baculi said. “It was a rush, but it was exciting. The moment I opened the door for Lana and she walked in where I had the dress propped, she gasped. It was very exciting.”

Baculi’s parents wanted him to go into nursing or become a doctor, which he tried for a few years, before creating the GB Couture brand and pouring himself into fashion design.

“I think that is my calling — to make people feel beautiful,” he said. “I know it’s just clothing or a costume. But to some individuals, it does provide confidence, it does provide a shield so they can face the world and be beautiful and shining the way they want to be.”