how violet chachki made the leap from drag to high fashion
Basically, she really is that bitch.
There are just days left until drag performer Violet Chachki will walk out of her dressing room, an inevitable head-to-toe vision of glamour, and face several thousand enamoured fans in London. She's due to perform at this weekend's Dragworld UK, an extravaganza of flamboyant fashion, music and endless meet and greets. But not yet. When the star picks up the phone to i-D, she’s not reached British soil. “I’m still at home in Los Angeles doing a bunch of show prep and taking a rest before my schedule gets super crazy again,” Violet says, enthusing about how wild her 2019 has been so far. “It’s been really amazing though,” she adds. “Probably the busiest I’ve ever been!”
In the drag world, “busiest I’ve ever been” means more than just a packed diary. It’s two shows a day in two different countries; photoshoots at one o’clock in the morning; and phonecalls with fashion magazines on what’s supposed to be your day off. The level of graft involved to be successful in that circle is so intense that you might wonder how Violet -- who not only manages to smash her drag career but has endorsement deals and associations with just about every major fashion brand going right now -- does it. “It’s all flying at me at once,” she admits. Not that the crown and sceptre she won in season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race show any signs of slipping.
She’s one of the few queens to graduate from that show and earn the rightful title of a Drag Race icon. As an underdog on the drag scene, having been rejected by the popular show a season earlier, she ascended the ranks and came out on top, winning Season 7 by doing something few before her had executed with such finesse: embracing the title of “fashion queen” – once a backhanded compliment that usually suggested beauty at the expense of personality. Violet thwarted that stereotype with her dry sense of humour and a facade of self importance. Every week, she would step out onto the runway in a flawless collection of looks: sometimes two in one, and others that literally made pop goddess Ariana Grande say “Oh my gaaad!” with her mouth agape.
The fashion world noticed that power, and when you ask Violet to list off her favourite moments in the industry to date (“Getting to work with Pat McGrath. Getting to work with Steven Klein. Getting to work with Steven Meisel. Working with Prada. Working with Moschino. Going to the Met Gala...”), it would sound like a humble brag if she hadn’t earned it. The idea of being a shrinking violet clearly doesn’t suit Violet. Being cheap doesn’t suit her either. Her ambitions have always extended beyond the world of tongue-in-cheek ensemble drag shows with her sisters, who she loves regardless. Rather, her art is incongruous to it all.
Enter “A Lot More Me”, Violet’s first ever solo production, which she’s been prepping for over the past few months and, on a deeper level, for much of her life as a drag star. Instead of a typical drag revue, Violet’s show incorporates that artform alongside winking burlesque performances and circus work. She rarely keeps her feet firmly on the ground. “The reason I started drag in the first place is because I felt like I never really fit in, and I still don’t feel like I fit in to any of those places: the drag world, the circus world or the burlesque world,” she says. “I’m kinda this combination of everything, so it made sense to me that I’d set out to do my own solo show.”
With herself at the helm of things for the first time creatively, Violet show is set to tour old romantic theatres in Europe, in keeping with her old-world beauty aesthetic. “That’s what this is about,” Violet explains, “doing something that’s way more my aesthetic, my vision and my kind of production value.”
For inspiration, the star looked not to the peers she follows on Instagram (the only social media platform she can bear; the character limits and trolls have made her “anti-Twitter”), but to the artists of the past, like Barbette, who travelled Europe with their unconventional drag shows in the 1920s and 30s. “They were one of the first drag superstars and I love the idea of being a flat-chested aerialist that follows in their footsteps,” she says.
Drag, after all, is about fantasy and possibilities. It is “all about showmanship, smoke and mirrors and illusion”. But the byproduct of being an overtly queer public figure is that it transforms your worldly purpose in a way you may not have full control over. Been on Drag Race? Like it or not, you’re an idol now. “At things like DragWorld and Drag Con, you see young people come out in droves and be moved to tears, or hear their stories about how they found strength in what we do,” Violet says of her craft’s impact on the queer community. “That’s the most rewarding part of all of it: the positive change that I’ve had a small hand in.”
It’s pushed her to dissect her own identity a little further too. Since the show, Violet has described herself as gender non-conforming and feminine, preferring she or they pronouns. It’s provided her with a lick of personal freedom that others in society haven’t experienced. She’s in a privileged position in that respect: having the backing of a 1.5 million-strong fanbase to help guide her through. Others, she knows are still battling their own way through the bullshit to find it. “What’s holding us back from being free is fear,” she says. “Whether it be fear of those on the outside who don’t understand queer people or any other minority, or the actual minorities themselves being scared. The lack of freedom we experience is all tied to fear.”
Whether she realises her impact or not, shows like Violet’s -- and drag as an artform in general -- play a pivotal part in shaping how young queer people find their place in the world. RuPaul’s Drag Race has already exploded in terms of cultural impact, shifting from the queer corners of niche cable channel Logo TV in the States onto the mainstream and the gargantuan reality TV platforms of VH1 and Netflix.
Later this year, that seminal celebration of tacky glamour, dry humour and gaudy dresses will finally find its own place across the pond in the form of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Violet echoes Ariana Grande’s jaw-drop expression of sheer disbelief at the hotly anticipated new show, too. “Oh my godddd!” she laughs, when we mention it. “Whenever I’ve worked with other [British] queens I’ve always been really overwhelmed. They are super crass and a lot of them have really thick accents and talk fast so it’s always hard to keep up.” Her excitable sardonic humour feels more like a compliment than a read. “I’ve never looked at a British drag queen and said, ‘Oh my god, she’s beautiful’, but I’ve always been so impressed by their comedic timing and their loud, crass, campy over-the-topness.” Does she have any gossip on the show itself? “From what I hear, that’s what we can expect from [it]. I think it’s gonna be totally different to the American drag, [which] I’m getting burnt out on. It’ll be a much needed breath of fresh air.” But with ‘A Lot More Me’ at the forefront of her mind, Violet doesn’t have to think of that world all too much now. All of the decisions are hers to make.
There’s a mantra Ms Chachki returns to every time she’s gearing up to go on stage, or when another opportunity comes her way. Everybody would benefit from following it too. “One of the things I say to myself a lot is actually a quote from Kylie Minogue’s ‘I Was Gonna Cancel’,” she says, paying homage to the godmother of campy pop music. “The lyric goes: ‘You’ll never know unless you go’. So whenever I’m scared or nervous about something, I tell myself that.” Some sage advice from a superstar who’s done it all in a wig, heels and bone-crushing corset: “You always have to try something to know what’s gonna happen next.”