charisma, uniqueness, nerve, talent; amanda lepore is legendary (and on tinder)
Amanda Lepore is an icon. An icon for fashion, photography, nightclubs, and glamour. She is the impossibly perfect plastic princess and peerless poster girl for trans identity.
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
A musician, an actress, and longstanding creature of the nightclub, Amanda Lepore has previously launched her own range of cosmetics, appeared in videos for Elton John and Grace Jones, worked with Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field, is friends with every celebrity of note (including Miley Cyrus, Pamela Anderson, and Lady Gaga) and has, of course, been made into a doll.
To meet Amanda Lepore in person is quite an emotional experience. Sat within stroking distance, she is just as flawless and even more beautiful than in her iconic portraits. Hers is such an exotic, otherworldly beauty, she seems to have been beamed down from from a galaxy far, far way, she is that magical and hypnotic. Surgeried to the max and stunning with it, she speaks with a charming American accent in seductive hushed tones. She is coquettish, coy, and completely captivating all at the same time. It's a heady cocktail to witness firsthand, especially when presented in such a pint sized, itty bitty, teeny weeny doll like form.
Lepore is a hybrid femme fatale, spliced together from the sass of Jessica Rabbit, the sexuality of Jayne Mansfield, and the wiggle and womanliness of Marilyn Monroe, when she moves — even walking down a corridor — she would make Salome drop her veils and Caligula blush with envy. She stands splendid in spike-heeled Louboutins wearing an Agent Provocateur triptych of basque, knickers, and corset like she's ready to perform a strip tease at any moment, her waist constricted to a hairs breadth from that of a barbie doll. Her lithe long limbs are vajazzled with a splattering of diamante and lace, while her coiffure and visage are expertly powder puffed, primped, and lacquered into place. There is no room for error here and nothing — not even the tiniest of hairs — is allowed to waft out of place.
Amanda transitioned in her teens, and found infamy dancing with Michael Alig's New York Club Kids through the late 80s and early 90s before being lionized by the fashion world thanks to photographers including Terry Richardson, Steven Klein, and David LaChapelle. It is her ongoing collaboration with LaChapelle that has sealed her plastic/fantastic image into legend forevermore. Be it snorting diamonds with a perfectly manicured nail, spanking Courtney Love in a Betty Page style S&M scene, having her vagina tattooed, kneeling as a human table for Marky Mark's pizza boy, or recreating Andy Warhol's iconic portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, their work together is seminal. This is a master producing his best work with his ultimate muse. He even made her into a highly collectible Swatch watch.
As we sit to conduct our interview Amanda perches on the end of the photographers bed with CUNT emblazoned in fake flowers on the wall above her head. Her autobiography Doll Parts gives a knowing wink to the classic Hole song and blows a pouted kiss to her million pound surgery bill, standing as an essential read for everyone with an interest in counter-culture. Go buy a copy. Now. The library is open. Reading is fundamental.
Amanda, you look sensational.
Oh, thank you.
You are even more stunning in real life than in pictures, how do you maintain your figure and look?
I work on it a lot. I do corset training, I do yoga and the gym; it's a lot of hard work.
You've flown into London for Pride?
We arrived last night, I'm kind of tired, but I'm ok. We came in for the show tonight, I'm doing a 20 minute set, five or six songs. I'm really excited!
Have you noticed how Pride has changed over the years?
It has gotten more fun, it used to be more conservative but these days more people go. The parties are always wild at Pride, but the parade itself is different in each city. New York is huge, L.A. is quite short, it's gigantic in Australia and in Canada it's really huge. Tonight goes on until really late. I go on around 2:30. I haven't been to the club, but I think it's a really big party.
You were part of the Club Kids scene with Michael Alig, what are your memories of the time and did you stay in touch with Michael?
I have really good memories from those days, lots of people I meet always remind me and reference the fun times. I didn't stay in contact with Michael, but he has been to a few of my parties that I've thrown in New York, but we don't hang out.
You are being shot today with Harry Charlesworth and That Girl Sussi, how does it feel to have been an original Club Kid to seeing the major looks of today?
I love it! That's why I do it — I love getting dressed up, I love being around people, and self expression, and creativity and I appreciate it all so much. I find it really creative and exciting for me personally. I just love self expression. I travel a lot and I see this creativity all over the place lately with young people experimenting and not just club kids but with drag queens too. I guess because of RuPaul's Drag Race of course.
How have you noticed the impact of that show in particular?
Well drag itself was really popular in the early 90s, then you wouldn't see many young drag queens for years, it was always the older queen, now it seems like tons of young kids are using their self expression and doing drag too. I guess when Lady Gaga came out and she was really dressed up all the time, I think that inspired people too.
Do you have a relationship with Lady Gaga?
Yes, I performed at her record release party. She's great, I love her. She invited me out a few times. She's really sweet and so creative, and I'm always wowed by her voice and I love her music. She's a great performer. I really love her a lot.
Did you see her on RuPaul's Drag Race? She was fantastic.
Yes, right? You could tell how much she really inspired people to really be themselves, all the contestants were in tears because she probably inspired them to dress up!
You recently featured on "I Wish I Were Amanda Lepore" with Drag Race winner Sharon Needles, how did that come about?
Sharon Needles was a big fan of mine and when she won Drag Race she spent some of her winnings on making a whole album. She wrote this song, "I Wish I was Amanda Lepore" because when she was growing up she used to wish she was me. (Laughs).
Who are your favourite contestants from this season of Drag Race?
I liked Trinity the Tuck, she has that glamour look that I like, but I also like the winner Sasha Velour because she is more individual and more fashion.
What did you think of Valentina?
I liked her too. I think she was winning everything so she didn't rehearse for the lip sync, thinking she wouldn't be in the bottom two, right? (Laughs). She was doing so well and she's beautiful. I loved her naked Madonna look, that was really beautiful.
You are a fantastic ambassador for trans people, how do you feel you have helped the conversation?
I think it is much more visible for sure, and more accessible. I hope what I do and programs like RuPaul's Drag Race help educate people. I want parents to lighten up on their children who are going through this and help their kids to be themselves and to support them. It's so hard to begin with and to go through all the transitioning and it breaks my heart to see people who have to go through it alone. Even with support it's difficult, being a kid and being different is so difficult, and I hope people have it easier these days.
Where do you stand on Caitlyn Jenner, has her visibility helped with mainstream trans acceptance?
I don't know. She kind've messed it up with being a Trump supporter. He stopped the gender neutral bathroom bill that Obama helped with. I don't think she has helped anything really. People hate Trump. We take care of ourselves and support each other, it has made our community stronger.
What about Hari Nef?
She's great, especially for people who think of themselves as individuals and don't want to be labelled, she's different to most visible transexuals. With the L'Oreal campaign too, it's always positive when people are out in mainstream media as it reaches parents and helps people understand us, so all that is really good. Making the dialogue go further.
In the last few years, gender fluidity and non-gender binary has entered the vocabulary, again being brought to mainstream consciousness by celebrities including Miley Cyrus. How do you feel about labelling and where do you think it should go and can go next?
I grew up with so many gender fluid people in the 90s but there wasn't a name or label for them. They didn't identify as being gender fluid but it has always been there. I think it's good that people can have role models and a name for it. I did a college lecture around a year and a half ago, and learnt all about being labelled as them, not wanting to be male or female but identifying as sexless, so I knew people who were like that for a long time, but haven't had the terminology until recently. But Miley is great.
Do you still make all your own clothing and how long does it take to do a look?
I got faster at it, but it is time consuming. I really like it though, it relaxes me, and I like the results too. I love wearing glamorous stuff like this. This is Agent Provocateur, but I get things made and have things customised, like I had the gloves made and then I found the lace and put it on. I mix and match I work with two different designers in New York City and they make things for me from scratch.
How many costumes do you own?
Tons! I live in a hotel room, but it has really high ceilings so stuff is stacked in small boxes.
Do you ever wear the same thing twice?
Oh yeah, I hold onto everything that fits me well.
What's the favourite look you've ever worn?
Hmmm, well, a lot of it really. I feel really beautiful in stuff that's nude, I'm wearing a beautiful nude outfit for my outfit change for this shoot. I like it when something is nude and sparkles, probably because of the Marilyn Monroe dress she wore when she sang for the President. That look is always such an influence for me, I think Marilyn looked the most beautiful then, so I have a thing for that, that is my biggest fashion thing.
Who are your heroes?
Marilyn for sure, especially that night, with the fur, but I liked a lot of the 50s blonde bombshells, Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors and I love Dita Von Teese for now, someone who's not dead! (Laughs).
You've worked with some amazing photographers over the years and produced really iconic imagery, none more so than with David LaChapelle. How is the working process with David?
They are really fun, he is so involved with his vision, you know, it's really intense. He has a set designer, and everything has to be perfect, just like how he imagines it. The shoots are really hard to do, he would want me to be in pain and uncomfortable and then he would get the picture, it's always very difficult. It's like being on a film set with David and it involves a lot of people. People think his sets are photoshopped in, but everything has been made and it's all really there.
When was the last time you collaborated?
Not for a while, we re-did the Marilyn and Liz pictures. We did tons of them because supposedly Andy Warhol had so many contact sheets, so David wanted to shoot all these pictures until I was completely black with ink. The last project we did I played a showgirl in heaven, that comes out later this year.
Finally, I've been told you are on Tinder, how is that going for you?
It goes really well for me, I work in gay clubs all the time so I wouldn't meet these guys otherwise. I met a guy recently in Rome and he's coming to see me soon in New York. I love Tinder — it's great! (Laughs).
Text Ben Reardon
Photography Louie Banks