IN CONVERSATION WITH VIOLET CHACHKI
Violet Chachki is a Drag Queen, performer, recording artist and model. She gained international recognition after winning Season 7 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, touring around the world, as well as working with Dita Von Teese and brands such as Prada, Moschino and Jean Paul Gautier. Famous for her distinctive style of burlesque and aerial performances, she established her unique vintage/pin-up look by wearing the smallest corset available on the show.
Violet identifies as gender-fluid and her appearance consistently challenges the gender binary. More to come this year, Violet will be expanding her popular podcast and web series ‘No Gorge’ with fellow Drag artist Gottmik.
You said that you came out when you were born. Can you tell us about how and when drag came into your world?
I was always sort of different as a child. I was always picked on and kind of singled out. I went to a Catholic school, so I had to wear a uniform, but I was still somehow singled out and different, even though we were all dressed the same. So from a very young age, I sort of knew that I was different from my peers and I really started to resent the uniform that I was forced to wear. And I just started exploring with clothing and sort of cross-dressing in my bedroom at night. And that’s how I got started in drag. And then I went out for the first time as Mary-Kate Olsen for Halloween. After that, it was pretty much it. I was pretty much addicted to it after that and the attention and the freedom that I felt. From there, I started going to clubs under age and entering contests. And I just loved it. I loved the freedom, I loved the creativity, I loved the punk aspect, the rebellious aspect. I sort of got everything I needed in one.
How did it feel to win such a prestigious award like ‘Drag Race’ and how has your life changed since?
My life has changed pretty much. I have traveled the world and I’ve seen so many different cultures, so many different drags all around the world with different queer scenes. I’ve been able to really elevate my work and my art. I think it’s very hard as a local queen to really get the money to execute your vision. It takes a lot of work and money and time to elevate the art form. So I think that’s one of the major things that I can appreciate.
My first booking after ‘Drag Race’ was for like $900 and it was life changing for me at the time. Before that my bookings were for $35, so this was just amazing. The things that I was gonna get because of this new booking, a new wig and a new pair of shoes, was really important for me. Now I get booked for way more than that, thankfully. It’s changed so much, I get to do my art and go all over the world. And it’s really amazing and life changing. I’m so thankful and lucky and grateful.
Your drag style is TO DIE FOR. Where do you get fashion inspiration for your creations? And how would you say your interest in fashion began?
I’ve always sort of been interested in extremes and the idea of transformation. I could always tell the difference between when someone was dressed down and when someone was dressed up. I think I’m a very visual person in that way. I remember even complimenting my teachers when they would take more time to dress up. Or if there was like an event, you sort of noticed people putting in more effort into their appearance, I think I’ve always sort of been intrigued in transformation in that way and the power of clothing, the power of makeup or hair or whatever it may be. So that’s what piqued my interest.
But my inspiration comes from, I guess, the past. I’m really inspired by extreme glamour of the past, like any era of fashion that sort of had an extreme glamour, because I feel like today you can get very caught up and just looking sort of basic, which is fine. I do that out of drag, sweatpants and T-shirts and that sort of thing. I think that’s very common nowadays for a lot of people. So the idea of dressing up to go out or dressing up for an event or a party is very fun. And I think historically people would dress up for a lot more things and it was a lot more common.
So I’m always looking to the past and I think I sort of get pegged as this vintage queen. And that’s definitely true. But I’m always trying to figure out ways to take vintage aesthetics and modernize them.
Since you won the 7th season of ‘Drag Race’ you became a symbol of burlesque/circus-inspired drag. Where and when did this identity and style come to you? And since it’s such a mark of yours, do you see yourself doing something different, or do you think it’s just authentic Chachki?
I feel like even when I try to do like something more modern, it always ends up looking that way. There’s just something about my silhouette and my corset and my makeup style that is going to always lend itself to a vintage aesthetic. I think it’s just in my DNA almost. I don’t even really know what modern is like. I think it’s really just who I am, and it’s always going to be part of my aesthetic.
Our last issue is all about ‘Metamorphosis’. Do you see any transformation in your drag art throughout the years, or since you won ‘Drag Race’?
Absolutely. I mean, drag in general has changed so much since my time on ‘Drag Race’. And I think it’s always about what’s next and changing and evolving, because there’s just so much drag now. When I started drag before ‘Drag Race’, it was not a career that you would want. It was not an aspirational thing at all, it was not cool when I was doing it in 2011. Now there’s just so many people that start drag with the intention of becoming famous and with that you have to constantly be ahead of the curve and constantly be evolving, because something that I was doing two or three years ago has now become an industry norm. Especially with social media, the trends and aesthetics come and go so quickly. You have to constantly be evolving and constantly pushing, developing and trying to figure out what’s next and what’s new and what’s fresh. And also what is true to you and how you can evolve. So absolutely, metamorphosis and evolution and transformation all sort of tied together. And drag is constantly changing, almost like month to month.
Going back to the show, you always owned your identity and power admirably and that was the game changer in your case. You hardly seem to let things affect you and you were always very secure about yourself. How did you manage to do it in such a competitive environment? Have you always been that confident or was there a time in your life when you started to feel more confident in your personality and consecutively drag?
I definitely think that definitely changed since the show. But when I was starting out in Atlanta, it was very intense. The drag scene is very intense and it’s really competitive in real life. There’s only a certain number of clubs or bars that you can work at. And there’s a good amount of drag queens trying to get these bookings. So where I come from, it’s very competitive, very cutthroat, and very intense already. And that’s what raised me and I think it sort of prepared me in a really great way for ‘Drag Race’, because obviously it’s like the Olympics of drag. You just have to be competitive and you have to be secure in your drag. That’s the way that I was raised.
I mean, ‘Drag Race’ was so so intense and you have to be confident. That’s like the number one rule of drag, in my opinion, competence and delivering who you are and what your art is. And really owning that and not letting anybody shake it, even the judges. You have to take it into account, but at the end of the day you have to know who you are and what you want to deliver. And trying to please everyone is not necessarily the right route to take. So that was who I was in Atlanta, for sure. And that was who I was on the ‘Drag Race’ for sure. But now, I don’t know if I have the energy for that competitiveness. I’m at this point where I’m like, just let me just do my art. And if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, I don’t really have time or energy to prove myself or prove anything. So that definitely has changed since the show.
How do you find balance between your personal life and career? Do you think your personality has merged both, or do you have a real performing moment and then out of drag a totally different one?
I don’t think it’s very balanced right now if I’m being honest. I pretty much just work all the time. I only have like two close friends. And dating’s difficult in my personal life. It just takes a backseat. I’m really into my artistry right now, into my work. And it doesn’t feel balanced at all. It’s something that you have to work on. Obviously, it’s never gonna be perfect. I think you just have to try to make an effort. And it’s something that you just have to try to work out and figure out.
I enjoy my job. I enjoy working and I think I get more out of my work. I don’t even know what I would do if I had more time off, like sit around, go take hikes. Having Mick in my life now, we traveled together a lot and we’re working together a lot. She is one of my close friends that I can talk to and vent to and we can relate to each other about the issues of work, and it’s helped a lot. We became friends like a year and a half ago, so it’s still pretty new. I think just having somebody who can understand the exact issues that’s going on has been nice, because it’s a very different industry. It’s hard for other people to understand the ins and outs of it.
You are familiar with interviewing and you are now doing a podcast with Gottmik. It sounds so natural and easy between you two. How is that for you, to be exploring a new field? And can you tell us a bit more about your connection and how is this project going?
I feel like I have somebody in the drag world that gets my perspective. I feel like for a long time people have been like “Oh, that’s not how it works”. So that’s crazy. It feels like I didn’t really have someone that could understand my perspective that much. We just connected in a really natural way. I think we have most of the same expectations of our work and a very similar humor. And we have a very similar aesthetic as well, so it just really flows naturally. We’ve been able to do a lot of projects that I’ve never done before, like a podcast and group tours, and we’re talking about potentially doing music together. It is just nice to have a creative partner that you can sense ideas of and they’ll tell you the truth. And you can have somebody on your side all the time to really help with everything and encourage you and vice versa. I know that I have definitely given tons of advice as far as everything I’ve learned over the six years that I’ve been doing this. So it’s definitely like a mutually beneficial relationship.
You have been the face of Jean Paul Gaultier Fragrance for 3 consecutive years. What is the most exciting part about working closely with such an esteemed brand?
I think out of every brand in the world, I would say Jean Paul Gaultier is probably the one that resonates most with me. I mean, one of his most iconic items is the corset. And I feel like this is such a huge part of who I am. And his stuff is always playful and sexy and artistic and creative. I mean, he’s such a clear brand from the jump. A lot of brands are afraid to really be out there supporting homosexuality or supporting queer. So not only do our subjects line up, but I think our principles line up and they always have. It’s such an honor to have been at his shows before he retired and to be in the campaign. It’s like a pinch me kind of surreal moment for me. We got to shoot the campaign in Croatia and it was so beautiful, we were on yachts and boats. It was just such a fun experience and it gets to be documented and played on everyone’s Hulu.
You are launching a major tour throughout the Pride season in USA and Canada, as well as taking your acclaimed solo show ‘A Lot More Me’ to Asia and Australia, so you are literally taking over the world. Can you tell us a bit more about it? And maybe about any more exciting projects, like coming to the Netherlands soon?
I’m looking to the future, to do drag in a very specific way. And the way that I enjoy doing it is through theater tours. Solo theater tours are really the best environment to do the kind of drag I want to do. And I would love to do an European leg of a tour and come through Amsterdam. It’s one of my favorite cities. It’s such a cute place to be and ride bicycles around. And I think it’s such a really special place, so I would love to come to do a tour and spend some time there for sure.
Do you usually have a pre-ritual for a show?
I usually will have a cocktail before I go on. I mean, usually for my show I have to get a little liquid courage, for sure. And then I always mentally check in with myself, just sort of hype myself up, telling myself like “You’re the baddest bitch, go out there and show these bitches and deliver”. Just mentally preparing myself to give my best shot. And you have to almost become cocky before you go on stage, for me at least, because I get nervous thinking of all these people looking at me. You just have to go out there and live for yourself and be the star, be this diva. You have to pump yourself up and become cocky, at the drop of a hat.
What is the best part of doing drag for you? Walking down the runway, dancing and lip-syncing, being in the spotlight…?
Sometimes I can get a natural high from performing, sometimes I can just feel really accomplished and I think that is the goal. I think anybody who works in showbiz is probably chasing this natural high that you can get from putting on a really good show or just feeling accomplished that you really did something impactful or like a really great milestone in your career. That’s something that I’m constantly trying to get. It’s just the most creative thing you can do. It’s like giving birth to a new person you’re creating, the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they look, the way they sound, the way they dance, the way they sing. Like the outfits, the hair, the makeup you’re doing. You’re creating everything. You’re literally stepping outside of yourself and envisioning a whole new person. So I think the process alone is very personal. And it’s very therapeutic and very creative. It’s still being the most creative thing I’ve ever done. And I just think it’s such a beautiful art form, so the whole thing is so special to me.
For sure one of your most iconic looks is obviously the corset. Remember the breathing mask with the oxygen? I can’t remember the colors right now, but I will never forget the visual effect of it and the experience I had watching it. That was one of the best ‘Drag Race’ moments and I think you killed it. Which look that you did was the most impactful one for you personally?
I think one of the most impactful ones was probably when I stepped down on the season eight finale and I crowned Bob. I was wearing this gown that I had designed and the flesh crown that was coming out of my head was a prosthetic. That’s actually fashion as a language and using what you’re wearing to sort of tell a story and to provoke or to give a message. And I think this garment and this look really did that. And it was one of the most successful ways I could have given a message to ‘Drag Race’ and the fans without saying anything. I had a really rough first year and there’s a lot of the fans that are just nasty and hateful and saying things like you shouldn’t have won and you’re not talented, you’re not good at singing or dancing or acting or whatever. So you have a lot of naysayers.
I think this happens to everyone when they win, you sort of get told why you shouldn’t have won. And if you don’t win, you get told why you should have won. So it’s like because you won, a large amount of people are mad at you. And it’s hard to even celebrate because everyone’s telling you why you shouldn’t have won. So I did that look to sort of tell them I am royal, I am the queen. I may be stepping down with my crown, but it’s growing out of my head and that can’t be taken away. I think that’s probably the most successful example of fashion as a language without actually having to say anything. It was such an impactful moment. And I think it works, so that’s one of my favorite looks.
Interview by MARIANA MALHEIRO @nana.malheiro
VIOLET CHACHKI @violetchachki
model JAVAN SPOOLSTRA @javan_spoolstra
production CATTURA @catturaproduction
shot at Petit Ermitage in Los Angeles @petitermitagehotel
cover design ARTHUR ROELOFFZEN @arthurroeloffzen