When Legendary began streaming on HBO Max on May 27, it stood as the first competition series by a major to be based on the ballroom series. While other shows have incorporated some talents from the scene — shout out to Mariah Balenciaga on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Vogue Evolution on America’s Best Dance Crew among others — HBO Max has finally gone all in. And while that means that viewers can anticipate seeing a lot of voguing as well as fashion presentation, it also means that they will be introduced to the way the community organizes itself. Welcome to houses.
Depending on whose version of history you read, ballroom traces its origins back to the 1920s, or even further back. And while no one can pinpoint the exact date, the most modern iteration, organized around houses began with one Crystal LaBeija. In a story told often, LaBeija was one of the top drag performers in Manhattan of her time. But after being become the victim of racism one to many times on the white-run drag circuit, she started hosting balls of her own under the banner of House of LaBeija. And that, as they say, is how history was made.
The house of LaBeija still lives on, four generations after, but they aren’t one of the houses featured on Legendary. But, the eight that are competing includes one of ballroom’s initial houses (Ebony) as well as one of its newest (Gorgeous Gucci). Here, we give you a little bit of background on each as told by their own leadership.
Watch Legendary, a new series airing on HBO Max. New episodes are released on Thursdays.
The House of Labeija was started in the early 1970s and in 1978 Larry Preylow and Richard Fears formed the House of Ebony. Originating in Brooklyn, New York, the house debuted in 1979 and found almost immediate success in the realness category. Yes, the LaBeijas and the DuPrees of the time might have wanted to look like they stepped off of a Dynasty set, but the Ebony’s came to look like the trade on the street corner — and helped set the bar for what that looked like.
The House is truly international now with well over 300 members across multiple continents. While they still are looked to for their strength in the realness category, they are also well known for their performance team. Though the Icon Sinia has started her own house with the house of Alaia, she made her legacy as an Ebony. Kassandra, who died in 2018, also made his legacy as an Ebony, while Divo continues that legacy today, innovating with vogue fem dramatics. The overall parents are Bam Ebony and Latoya Ebony.
On Legendary, the house is represented by Isla, Machante, Shy, Shorty, and X-Paris Ebony.
Also one of the original houses, the House of Saint Laurent is well known because of one of its founders, Octavia. While attending a performance school with Robert Marcomeni and Christopher Hall in 1982 with Christopher as the first mother. Terrence Tate was brought on later to be the first father. That early start aspired to be known for class, style, and beauty, encapsulated most simply in Octavia's presentation. But after her death in 2009, the house slowed down.
Around 2013 the house got invigorated with an injection of new blood by way of the House of Allure. When that house closed, many of its members wanted to stay together and so, with the blessing of Robert and Chris, they did under the banner of Saint Laurent. They continue with all of the guiding principles of those who came before them and maintain the organization as a boutique house with about 60 members.
Noted performer Michell'e is the mother of Saint Laurent, while Corey is the Father. On the show, Michell'e is joined by MaCoke, Champ, Christian, and Pretty as representatives.
Next to LaBeija and Xtravaganza, the House of Ninja is likely the most well-known name in the mainstream. Its founding mother, Willi Ninja, wanted to take voguing around the world — and did so— and started the house in 1984 alongside Sandi Ninja. Willi’s all-inclusive vision of voguing meant that the house had the first white voguers and also had cisgender, heterosexual members.
From the start, Ninja was known for performance, as Willi is often called the godfather of voguing. The over 200 international family members keep up that legacy all over the world, specializing in different performance categories. The current overall parents include grandfather Archie Ninja and Danny Ninja.
The representing team on Legendary truly represents the international nature of the house: Dolores, Jaime, Sharon, Chise, and Michelle Sattva come from Italy, the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, and the U.K. respectively. They are also the only all-female team on the show.
Though they pronounce their name differently than the fashion house of Balmain, their attention to aesthetics is just as precise. In 2015, Rodney Balmain founded the house after leaving the House of Prodigy, where he had been the overall father. Hoping to create something that was his own, he teamed up with Alexis Balmain and Kai Milan to found the group — Kai is now in the House of Milan.
According to the house, they coined the term “small and deadly,” given that they were a house of fewer than 30 members nationwide but won House of the Year in every region they were represented in their first year. While they have grown up to 90 members, they have remained true to their origins as a runway and realness house. Rodney is still the overall father with Felicity as the overall mother.
On Legendary, Jamari, Torie, Calypso, Gravity, and Cali represent the house.
The original name of this house might sound familiar to you: the House of Evangelista. Back in 1994, the founding father Tony started things off by borrowing the name from the supermodel Linda Evangelista. Though Pose’s Blanca has gone on to borrow that name for the FX series, a year later, in 1995, Tony changed the name to the House of Escada after a visit to Chicago. The house debuted its new name in 1996 at the first House of Escada ball titled the “Winter Solstices” in 1996, with Escada being pulled from Escada Plaza on Michigan Avenue.
The House of Escada began as two houses with Tony, Damion, and Antonio founding a version in 1997 at Morehouse College after watching Paris is Burning, and Shawn Odom creating his own in Detroit under the same name. They combined in 2005 and became one of the first houses to legally incorporate. Fashion has always been a focus, and Escada hosted the first balls in both Atlanta and Detroit.
The 85 members are led by Lila Escada and Teo Escada, the overall mother and father respectively. On Legendary they are represented by London, Shyanne, Twilight, Jazzul, and YoYo.
As one in a lineage of ballroom houses that borrow their names from fashion brands, the House of Xclusive Lanvin started in 2013. It was actually the closer of two other houses, Christian LaCroix and Evisu, that prompted its start. Mechie, Kenny, Hershey, Season, Raymond, Christian, and Jlin all worked together to form the first house with two mothers and two fathers. And while many houses that merge together close within three years or so, Lanvin has already celebrated its seventh anniversary.
With about 150 members, the House of Lanvin has always been a fashion house. Some have dubbed it fashion house of the decade, and it has consistently won fashion house of the year. But the talents lie elsewhere as well: Dee Dee and Erykah Necole won the largest cash prize in ballroom history for the face category after splitting the $10,000 title in 2019. Dashaun Wesley, who is also the MC of Legendary, is a valued member of the house as well.
While the house is led by the overall fathers Meechie and Kenny as well as mother Dee Dee, on the show the house is represented by Packrat, Zay, Eyrika, Carlos, and Makaylah.
When this house debuted in 2018, though many of its members weren’t necessarily new to ballroom, they did seem to present something fresh. The vast majority of the members came from the House of Khan, but left because some felt that ballroom had become to “feel like a job.” They wanted to get back to the fun of things and also build a real sense of community. And they’ve honestly been snatching trophies since.
With the founders King James West, Queen Afrika West, Anthony West, and Porkchop West, the house had some of the youngest leaders in the community. That said, they’ve consistently had some of the most talented performers on the floor: Baby Hurricane, Pusscee, Destiny, Asia, Buffy, King James … the list goes on. The group stands at almost 200 strong today and is led by James as well as overall mother Asia West.
On the show, West will be represented by James, Buffy, Maurice, Destiny, and Wilma.
Though the House of Gorgeous Gucci is, on paper, the baby of the bunch, its legacy goes deep. Debuting in 2019, the house is almost entirely filled with former members of the House of Mizrahi. After conflict and controversy with that house’s founder, Jack, Kelly, Marlon, and Trace (you may also know her as actress Trace Lysette) founded Gucci with 200 members worldwide. And they are nothing to scoff at: the first ball the Guccis walked at a house was the Miyake-Mugler ball in 2019, where Delicious Gucci took home $5,000 for a performance category, and Lola made a stand-out showing for face. The house also distinguished itself at its founding with multiple overall parents, which is less common. Currently Jarrell and Ira are overall fathers while Vicky is the overall mother.
On Legendary, the legacy is carried on by Jarrell, Delicious, Jeter, Deshon, and Miracle.