PHOTOGRAPHY MILENA BRAUNE @milenabraune
INTERVIEW KASHA LASSIEN @kashalassien
Walk us through your introduction into the world of beauty. How did you get your start in drag?
It started out as a fun idea for a party back in the day, and then developed into a hobby and finally a career. The more time and effort I put into it, the more potential I saw it as an actual creative outlet for me, rather than a costume to get wild in. I had always been a very eccentric dresser and felt it wasted on my neighbours and partygoers. Shifting the more extreme parts of that over to a drag character seemed like a great way of self expression. For my drag to become something I took seriously, my time in London was absolutely necessary. I was there for seven months, doing internships at Aitor Throup and Vivienne Westwood as part of my Fashion Design Course. During that time, I was welcomed to an environment where drag was taken seriously as part of the entertainment industry, with plenty of opportunities for young creatives to showcase their work and art. I joined the drag family of Sink the Pink there and started working at various venues and events, performing in big productions with an all-drag cast. Seeing the definition of what I thought drag had to be being broken open by all these artists gave me the confidence to really go all in with my conceptual work. When I went back to Berlin, I took the material I had created in this time of research and reshaped it into a more rounded aesthetic. I followed this up with a makeup certificate at the MUD Studio Berlin to learn to work on models and deepen my understanding of the products. Over time, my drag has morphed into an unconventional full time career.
How has being from Germany and the culture there impacted your self expression and your art form?
What impacted me most was probably how uninspired I felt as a kid. Growing up in Bavaria, I didn’t like my surroundings, I didn’t care for the culture. The only creativity I saw on a weekly basis was the camp performance of Catholicism with its embroideries, gowns, flags, and dramatic gesturing. The Priest raising his arms a certain way would get people to stand up, but no one else was allowed to perform this gesture. Instigating the sign of the cross would have everyone else do it. The submissive position you put yourself in, when receiving the Body of Christ. It was all a performance and everyone was part of it. This and the few things I learned about the heroes and demons in the epic tales of my Thai roots were the only things to really inspire me in reality, so I took every chance I could get to drift into fantasy. I would read fantasy novels and play fantasy video games. My mind would run wild and I’d imagine every character and creature down to the tiniest detail, even fleshing out the minutiae not mentioned in the story. This escapism, coupled with detail oriented world-building, helped foster my idea of performance and self-expression.
How would you describe your style, and what would you say inspired that?
I have titled it as distorted drag, which basically means a mutated version of something already extremely exaggerated and stylised. I did want to make sure to challenge myself to bring something new to the table, as a way of building something new rather than just replicating the past. From subtle anatomical distortions, to very alien designs, I’m trying to create inhabitants of alternate realities – some close to our own, some far, far away and some just straight out a dreamscape.
Can you walk us through the creative process of designing the makeup look for Utopia?
Utopia was a beautiful project and journey I got to share with a brilliant team. Starting with a very naive attempt of putting some of my designs and ideas onto Björks face on that first shoot we did when I hadn’t even put another person in Hungry drag before, to developing a character for the album which really felt like a rounded creature design in symbiosis with James Merry’s pieces and Björk’s designs for hair to fit into all her ideas for the world the album would take place in. Getting to also work on the band’s make-up whilst touring really gave me the sense of helping to create a whole creative ecosystem on stage, along with stunning styling, great lighting and set design, incredible visuals and of course the soundscape of Utopia.
What is an obstacle you had to overcome along your journey?
I had a hard time keeping up, especially with me managing everything myself. When working on one project, I like to fully dive into it, body and mind, so planning several productions whilst touring often proved difficult. I have missed out on opportunities just because I was overwhelmed by my own schedule. With my work being so specific, whilst being so interdisciplinary, it’s just hard finding someone to help or even represent me.
Another obstacle, of course, was just maturing. Going into this right out of school I was trying to present as the sophisticated professional I thought I was. Meanwhile I was still asking for advice left and right. It was a struggle that’s made me grow a lot, so I am thankful for even getting all the amazing opportunities along the way.
In my research I found that you have a background in fashion design, how do you feel like that helps you to stand out from the crowd?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design from the HTW University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and I only just enrolled in a Master’s program in Costume Design at the UDK Berlin University of the Arts. My focus here has always been on creating characters rather than trends. When putting in the time and effort in designing and making one of my costumes, I want to embrace all of the freedom it allows me. My goal isn’t to just recreate a reference. I want to build something new that combines design value and historical fashion references to create something that strives to be equal parts relevant and timeless. My work with Alexandru Plesco really made this mindset a focal point of my work. I believe it’s always very important to consider the whole bodily creation, when thinking about presentation and performance. With social media being all about selfies and portraits, it’s become easy to create some beautiful Make Up and have it be praised. Without the makeup having any context to something physical, I don’t necessarily see its full potential. But in that regard it has to be said that I see makeup as an accessory to the costume. I always think about the face last.
Your career has been blossoming and growing each year. However, last year kind of shifted things for most people. As a touring artist, how has the lockdown affected your creativity, if at all?
This pandemic has shaken me to the core, mentally and creatively. The world shutting down meant losing some incredible productions scheduled, that would have taken my career to higher paths. Not being able to showcase my work, let alone see friends abroad, had my emotional state the worst it’s been in years.
I kept working, sewing and crafting, as I told myself to just stay productive at all costs so when finally crawling out of the main lockdown, I had some new and very exciting looks and characters finished that are now waiting for their debut. The follow up issue now being how to document it, with German regulations still being tight. I hold my work to such a high standard, meaning I think about the creative network necessary to document new work the way I would want it represented. A lot of that network is, unfortunately, abroad. So there’s a tension here: to regain more of a frequent social media traffic; or I wait for travel to document it the way I envisioned.
I’ve read that in your shows, you like your performances to have a storyline. Has there ever been a story that was hard for you to tell through performance but you pushed through anyhow?
I would say no, because I tend to avoid going too literal with my performances: It’s mostly about representing on stage emotions and fears that others might share. I love performative storytelling, because it’s not always about myself. At times, it’s more about humanising these fully fantasy creatures by giving them mannerisms and behaviours I would expect them to have. The performances about myself and my own experiences are neatly packed in between the others, so I’m not always putting my whole self out there. Whatever I’m performing, I try to reach people on some level. Building a number that interacts with an audience on an emotional level creates such a magical moment.
Is there one beauty product you use in every look you create?
I usually change up my liners and paint products from face to face, but I feel like the Stila Perlina Liquid Eyeshadow has been vital in making some of my eyes and faces really come to life.
You’ve transitioned a bit into using twitch while creating looks. How has this new space given you an outlet or way for you connect or play with new characters?
I really miss performing. Getting to meet people who support and love your art is very important to me, as it is to any performer. During the pandemic, I discovered a vibrant community on twitch, where drag artists were finding ways to build their own stage, so to speak. While twitch is a completely different kind of space, it does allow me to create and design my own space to invite an audience into and share some hours of makeup, conversation, and some light entertainment. It also gives me the opportunity to share my love of the visual storytelling (and silliness) of video games with a community of people from all over the world. The energy of a twitch stream might not be the one of a show, but the interaction is more immediate and personal and indeed very special. It’s not a platform I would showcase my portfolio or new creations on, but it is a place to frequently find me, see some of my artistry and a lot of my sophisticated goofiness.
I’ve read that you don’t feel like you looked up to anyone in particular when you were growing up. The world is changing now, and drag is becoming more mainstream. What are your thoughts on the state of drag right now?
With drag being what it is now, I hope to be a reminder that there are still ways to invent new aesthetics. I just hope I can show queer kids that it’s not impossible to create and live in your very own creative vision on your own terms. Creating your own world can be appreciated, celebrated, and often appropriated by the commercial mainstream. Right now, drag is everywhere, becoming a seemingly easy and trending thing to do. But people can still make it their own. One has to, even.
What do you want your legacy to be?
At this rate, even having a legacy seems like luxury, but I would like to be remembered for my influence in the world of drag and the world of make up. I set out to push the way people thought about drag, makeup and visual performance and I feel like I’ve shaken things up a bit in that regard. I’m still seeing my influences in works where people probably didn’t even attempt a nod to my work, as my aesthetic has kind of settled into the general understanding of editorial makeup at this point. That being said, I still want to go further myself. I would love to get to exhibit my costume archive at a museum for people to really see the fully realized creations and executions of my garments connected to my makeup designs.