Queen of the Jungle: Beyoncé Went Full ‘Nala’ for The Lion King-Themed Wearable Art Gala

Atmosphere at the WACO Theater Center’s 3rd Annual Wearable Art Gala on June 1, 2019, in Santa Monica, Calif.
Photo: Gregg DeGuire (Getty Images)

Leave it to ‘Yoncé to outdo even The Lion King.

The Hive already considers her a work of art, but for the third annual Wearable Art Gala on Saturday, Beyoncé got literal with the theme, “A Journey to the Pride Lands,” wearing a custom lion-themed catsuit (get it?) and cape by Georges Hobeika, finishing off the look with handmade beaded gold sandals by Eli Peacock for Afffair’s “power of fire” collection.

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The star posted her look—which included a beaded lion’s face, complete with feathered “mane” to her Instagram, where Blue Ivy also made an adorable appearance, doing a mean lip-sync of “Circle of Life.”

This year’s theme was, of course, inspired by the upcoming reboot of The Lion King, due out July 19, which features Beyoncé as the voice of Nala—fitting, since Disney was a co-sponsor of this year’s Wearable Art Gala.

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“So, Disney has come on as a sponsor and we’re very excited about that because we get to use a lot of their assets in terms of content,” Tina Knowles Lawson, who co-hosts the gala along with husband Richard Lawson, told the Hollywood Reporter. The annual event—emceed this year by Tiffany Haddish and headlined by Maxwell, with honorary co-chairs Beyoncé, Solange, Bianca Lawson, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams—benefits the nonprofit performance complex, gallery and mentorship programs at the family-founded WACO Theater Center in North Hollywood, Calif.

It’s no surprise that Beyoncé was the queen of the night in her look, since—aside from being Beyoncé—Lawson noted that Bey and husband Jay-Z initially suggested the idea of a theme for last year’s gala, just in time to pay homage to another Africa-themed blockbuster film, Black Panther, with the theme “From WACO to Wakanda.”

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WACO is an acronym for “Where Art Can Occur,” and much of the evening’s funds were raised via a silent art auction of works on display in the gala’s gallery; last year’s auction raised $1.2 million.

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“We’re grateful for what we do. As long as we can fund our program, that’s what we’re asking for,” said Knowles Lawson, an avid art collector.

And of course, the artistic expression extends to the guests, who are encouraged to come in—you guessed it—“wearable art.” Knowles Lawson told THR the concept was inspired by the students she and husband Lawson mentor in their respective groups, “Tina’s Angels” and “Richard’s Warriors.”

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“We teach the students that they need to have a place where art can occur...[so when] we had the idea to have a gala, I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to include wearable art?’ Everything would be very artistic, from the food to the drinks to the way people dressed. That’s how it was born,” said Knowles Lawson. This year, she and husband Richard Lawson were elaborately costumed by designer Tim White—and while their guest list included household names and family friends alike, almost everyone took the theme very seriously.

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But aside from the obvious nod to African cultures, there is also a very strong New Orleans influence that has been consistent in every Wearable Art Gala, including a second line and a brass band performance and Knowles Lawson’s famed gumbo recipe.

“Both Richard and I come from Creole backgrounds, and there’s always gumbo [served] because it represents all of the culture,” said Knowles Lawson.

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“It’s all the things that give you that carnival-like feeling,” she later added. “My favorite part of the gala probably would be the second line. A lot of people in L.A. don’t even know what that is, but they get in that line and wave their handkerchiefs and dance and prance around the room. It just puts everyone in the best spirit.”

It was likely also a bittersweet tribute this year, as the Wearable Art Gala coincided with the death of the “Queen of Creole cuisine,” chef and activist Leah Chase.

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This year, the gala’s Trailblazer Award was given to Tyler Perry, while the Everyday People Award, which was awarded to Jay-Z’s mother Gloria Carter last year, went to LGBTQIA and women’s rights advocate Felicia Horowitz. But the true honorees of the night were the 12- to 14-year-olds from WACO’s mentorship programs, which were created to empower inner-city students through good works, tutoring, and exposure to the arts. Knowles Lawson told THR that early guidance was instrumental in helping her envision a world beyond what she knew as a child—and likely gifted us with two major stars.

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“I grew up very poor and my parents really didn’t have the means for me to travel or to see things … my world was pretty limited,” she said. “At 14, this girl came into my life, she was my brother’s girlfriend and she took me to see Alvin Ailey ... Had she not come into my life, it would be very different. We probably wouldn’t have a Beyoncé and a Solange. Life changes when somebody believes in you.”

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.