After taking the menswear and couture shows by storm, Chachki shares her thoughts about gender fluidity on the runway slowly becoming fashion’s new norm
Drag queen Violet Chachki was, to use her own charming turn of phrase, “flabbergasted” when asked by her friend Jeremy Scott to walk in his Moschino A/W18 show last month. Really, she needn’t have been; for it’s unsurprising that fashion has embraced Chachki as a muse at a point in history when it is – at long last – celebrating the LGBTQ community in campaigns and designs alike. In addition, Chachki is the embodiment of performative glamour; a microcosm of drag’s ability to parody some of the most excessive facets of the fashion world, all wrapped in an 18-inch corset and garnished with a face beat for the gods.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia as Jason Dardo in 1992, Chachki, who describes herself as gender fluid, began performing in clubs at the age of 19 using a fake ID. Her drag name is inspired by Jennifer Tilly’s character in the Wachowski’s sapphic masterpiece Bound, and the yiddish word for ‘little object’. She is, of course, best known for winning Season 7 of cult TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2015, where her title of America’s Next Drag Superstar was well deserved. Snatching the crown at just 22 years old, she floored the judges and audience with her breathtaking and slick performances that outshone veteran queens. At times, they were breathtaking in a very literal sense of the word – during one particular challenge, she accessorised an unfathomably constricted waistline with an oxygen tank. The message was loud and clear: who needs functioning vital organs when you look this good? For her first runway on Drag Race, Violet proved her deft ability to sew from the get-go, with a sequin two-in-one batwing dress-cum-jumpsuit that once unbelted, peeled open to reveal a tartan lining. It was fashion, through and through.
“I like to think of modelling as performance” – Violet Chachki
Subsequently, translating her craft to the runways of Milan and London (Violet also appeared in Dilara Findikoglu’s S/S18 presentation, too) was instinctive. “I like to think of modelling as performance,” she explains. “Recently I was rehearsing a show with Anna Cleveland. I’m such a huge fan of her, because she’s always so performative when she models. She always creates a character. There’s just so much finesse, right down to the way she moves her hands. For me, as a drag queen and a performer, I get to kind of do what I like to see on a runway in my own work.”
Fashion and drag hold a symbiotic relationship. RuPaul Charles, who helped put Chachki in the spotlight, is widely regarded as the first drag supermodel of the world, breaking through into the mainstream in 1993 after signing a contract with MAC Cosmetics. Yet, the roots of today’s drag culture can be traced back to the underground ballrooms of 1980s New York – a story that is superbly documented in Jennie Livingstone’s 1990 film Paris is Burning. Here, the then-ostracised members of the queer community would gather in clubs to participate in haute couture-esque runway competitions. More often than not, these individuals were homeless and living in abject poverty; cast out by families who refused to accept their gender or sexuality and left to fend for themselves both financially and emotionally. The ballrooms offered safe spaces for new families to form – drag families – bound together by a communal aspiration towards the luxury and decadence of the fashion world which could provide the ultimate form of escapism.
“Oh my God. It was amazing. [Jean Paul Gaultier] did this homage to Pierre Cardin and it was so sublime” – Violet Chacki
One such figure featured in the documentary was Willi Ninja, who went on to achieve notoriety walking for Jean-Paul Gaultier and schooling the likes of Iman and Naomi Campbell on their catwalk gait. Mirroring this history, last month, Violet Chachki was sat on the front row of Gaultier’s haute couture show, wearing his designs. “Oh my God. It was amazing,” she gushes. “He did this homage to Pierre Cardin and it was so sublime. The hair was amazing, the clothes were amazing, and I was sitting front row so I really got to see all these amazing details. I was so lucky to be there.”
The acts of those vogueing in the drag houses of three decades ago are coming to fruition. Many were tragically lost to the AIDS crisis, or murdered whilst selling their bodies to survive. So the acceptance of their metaphorical offspring into fashion’s circles pays homage to a vital legacy. There is still a way to go, however, as Chachki admits. “Sometimes, there’s been so much talk about [whether] I’m going to do this major campaign, or this major ad campaign, or this major show, and it’s really gone through all the processes. Then all of a sudden, at the last minute, there’s some CEO, some guy sitting in some office somewhere who does not understand. Some guy who does not get it, does not get drag, does get gender fluidity, does not understand transgenderism, and, he’s the one who has the ultimate say-so in whatever project it was – and he says no.”
“It just has to be that one person who gets it and it can change the landscape forever” – Violet Chacki
Despite those who would wish to hinder such progressive shifts, Chachki argues that slowly, gender fluidity on the catwalk is becoming the new norm. This is thanks in part to those in positions of power, who have endeavoured to support her and her community along the way. “You now have so many different media outlets featuring trans and gender fluid actresses, models, and personalities, and people of colour,” she says. “You have to give respect and appreciation for the designers, producers, writers, and casting directors. I mean that’s what it really comes down to. It just has to be that one person who gets it and it can change the landscape forever.”