drag queen jonny woo's guide to being beautiful

Jonny Woo is a drag artisté, activist and out and out make-up enthusiast whose shows and appearances have become iconic.

by Princess Julia
21 May 2014, 4:30pm

Jonnny Woo wears Lee Benjamin Victoriana Pantomime couture for Selfridges. Dr Martens. Stilts. MAC cosmetics. Photography Nick Knight.

With idols including Liza Minnelli and Cindy Crawford, Mr/s Woo is a legend in his own right, bringing a resurgence of voguing across East London in the early noughties and becoming the queen of the capital's drag scene, with his latest endeavour being Gay Bingo - the best alt-drag-performance-art-game-show-party the city's ever seen. When in full regalia Johnny causes quite a stir and a good few raised eyebrows with his striking and inventive use of make-up. An arresting vision, Woo says he started out using make-up to "provoke, it was two fingers up to the late 90s New York gay Chelsea scene and turn of the century gay body fascism." Today he sees a liberal smattering of maquillage as a way of subverting beauty. Princess Julia shares 10 reasons why Johnny Woo's approach to beauty totally rocks!

1. Johnny Woo likes to throw the rule book out of the window!
"Do I? I used to... I tend to be a bit clown, a bit feminine, big eyes always, lip pencil, lipstick blusher. Stick your finger in a pot, rub lipstick on, black around the eyes, my style has always been a bit syncopatory."

2. He believes that more is more, a little is never enough...
"I think that's generally the rule, although I did a look recently where I wanted it to look like natural make-up, it involved a lot of foundation, I had so much on, I looked completely neutralised like a new born baby. I don't wear enough make-up, I should wear more. There's a million to things to do with make-up."

3. He buys his make-up from the joke shop.
"I'm always losing my make-up, that's when you need to pop down Ridley Road market! You want to know about face colour? I use facepaint, it can be a bit dry so mix in a bit of moisturizer, I get it from Snazaroo, you can get it in joke shops. I occasionally wear M.A.C. I'm always running out of that!"

Waistcoat and trousers Terrorist. Vest Manish Arora. Stockings Flirt. Scarf Judy Blame. Necklaces Pebble. Shoes Archie Eyebrows. Photography Prince Nelly.

4. For Jonny, make-up is a...
"Means to transformation. I generally allow it to fall off me, I like that, just a remnant of make-up remaining. I don't always apply it very well. At Gay Bingo I'd do a '69' and I won't have any make-up on for the rest of the show. It's kind of a subliminal thing that I do, I quite like the falling apart."

5. Jonny's make-up is a social and political statement.
"I think it used to be, I think I've changed, I think I need to get back into that... it used be more art. At the moment it ends to be more about beauty, creating a beautiful look."

Photography Prince Nelly

6. If there's one make-up item he can't live without it's...
"Liquid eyeliner, as long as you've got a good eyeliner, you can do anything with that, oh and lipstick. It's a bit difficult doing your eyebrows with liquid eyeliner but it is do-able."

7. Jonny's role models are not always human.
"The Simpsons? I do yellow face a lot, opposed to black face or white face. My make-up is a bit cartoon. I completely nicked Bjork's make-up once, you know Volta - that album with face painting, when I did Women of Mystery. We all like a smokey eye, like Louise Brooks. The Cockettes, that came later though, I did that without realizing what I was referencing. Drag with a beard, you can't do it now can you?"

8. Jonny sees his face as a...
"Point of expression, especially when you're doing cabaret and stuff like that your face is everything. I might luxuriate in the mirror, if you go out there with a really expressive face it doesn't matter what's on it. It's what's underneath the make-up.I don't think this obsession with plastic surgery is a healthy addition to our lives."

Jacket and hat Child of the Jago. Top Ashish. Kilt House of Harlot. Trousers James Long. Tights Pamela Mann. Gloves Basso and Brooke. Shoes Jonny's own. Photography Prince Nelly.

9. Jonny's advice on creating a new look.   
"I would say just go wild, have fun, explore, do what you want. It's always exciting when you see a new drag queen in their early days. They don't know the tricks, they're interpreting what they see in magazines, going out thinking they look fabulous... and they do!"

10. Jonny's favourite gigs are the ones where he can express a multitude of characters.
"In the early days of Gay Bingo and Radio Egypt when I used to go really mad, make-up could be anything from a mask, bandages, smearing on some paint, glitter or fake blood. Or The Jonny Woo Show, at the root of everything is theatre; doing shows and performance."



Text Princess Julia

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