Despite what the children claim on the social medias, Violet Chachki isn’t a one-trick queen. Although the 28-year-old performer triumphed on the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014, conquering over fierce competition from Ginger Minj, Pearl and Kennedy Davenport, Violet is still – to this day – trying to prove her worth as an entertainter. During her stint on the Emmy-winning series, the star gagged viewers with her innovative, gender-bending runways and 19-inch waist, and is frequently hailed as one of the most sickening fashion powerhouses in HERstory. However, the season was chock-full of maxi-challenges that required the queens to channel their inner Meryl Streep and Violet failed to do “poorly enough” to lip-sync for her life, meaning she was never afforded the opportunity to flex her full skillset. “I don’t think anyone enjoys a scripted acting challenge,” Violet tells GAY TIMES. “I blame the show. I never really got to do what I do on television, and I think that’s really to a disadvantage of the producers.” Thanks to her performance on the season, and her numerous fashion campaigns in the years since, Violet has been pigeonholed as a ‘fashion queen’ by fans and her ability to perform is often called into question.
Unbeknownst to casual Drag Race viewers, the ones who refuse to hand over their coins for live performances, Violet is just as commanding on the stage as she is on the runway. Her shows regularly include flips, kicks and splits, combining drag, burlesque, cirque-de-soleil and various other theatrical tricks (she even leaves Pink shaking with an aerial chair dance). For the first time ever, Violet will showcase this side of her artistry for an online extravaganza, Digital Follies, which she says is a “time capsule” of where she’s at in her career and a chance to show the children that she can throw down with the rest of ’em. “It’s nice that I get to document it in such a professional, clean and polished way,” she explains. “I hope people do watch it and think of me in a way they didn’t think of me before. I feel there’s this notion that if you’re a look queen you can’t perform, and to perform you have to look bad. Do you know what I mean? I want someone to really dominate both worlds, and I’d really love that to be me.”
Here, we chat with Violet about the origins of Digital Follies – as well as the difficulties with producing a show of this scale in lockdown – the lack of progress for LGBTQ+ people in the fashion industry and why she’s eager to return to the Drag Race franchise for that much-rumoured winners season. We also talk about her cat, Eugene.
Hi Violet! Is Eugene beside you?
Hi Sam! He is in between my legs, asleep…. We’re cuddling.
I’m obsessed with him.
I’m obsessed. I never thought I would be a cat lady, but here we are.
Right after Drag Race I was like, ‘I’ll show you guys,’ and I feel like I’ve been trying to prove my worth as a performer since I won.
Eugene is exactly the kind of cat I’d imagine Violet Chachki to own.
The thing is, my old room mate had a sphinx and then my other friend had a sphinx and I just fell in love with the breed. Completely fell in love with them. They’re so affectionate and cuddly and have big personalities and they have to wear clothes, so it’s kind of perfect.
Have you been designing some lewks for him?
I just haven’t had time. Actually… that’s a lie. Everything has been closed. There’s a really great garment district here with lots of fabrics and everything, but that was closed for a long time. When it opened back up, I was basically working on my digital show, and so all of my time has been going into that and any creative stuff. Eugene’s been a bit neglected these past two months because I’ve been busy, but soon there will be looks and photos and editorials coming very soon.
I saw Eugene in his Spongebob eleganza and was wondering if you designed it…
One of the things I’ve been doing in quarantine is online shopping and I’ve been scouring the internet looking for cat clothes. I’m a huge Spongebob fan, so I found this Spongebob jumper I just love. It’s not a jumper, it’s a sweater – that’s so British of me! So I found this jum-pa and I got it. All the clothes that he’s worn have been off of Amazon or whatever.
I can’t wait to see what he serves in the future…
Yes! Oh my god I love it, I could literally talk about him all day.
Me too! That’s it, that’s the interview.
That’s it. I’m trying to have him become like a cat-influencer, so any press for him is great press.
Okay, I’ve got your back. I’ll include his Instagram in this article.
I could talk about Eugene for hours, but let’s talk about Digital Follies. I’m so excited for this – it’s your first full-length digital show right?
Yes. It’s kind of an adaptation of my one-woman touring show. It’s got two of the numbers from that and then we added maybe three or four new acts. It feels like a bit of a continuation from what you would have seen live, which I only did maybe eight times before coronavirus basically killed my dream! We were going to tour all of North America with my solo show and we were going to be going to Australia and Asia this year as well. We postponed everything and it just keeps getting pushed back and pushed back, so at this point I’m like, ‘Am I in early retirement? What is going on? Is drag over? Have I just been put out to pasture?’ I really don’t know. Nobody knows what the future is going to look like as far as touring is concerned. This could very well be my last go at performing. But yeah, this is my first digital moment. It’s been tricky because a lot of queens have been doing digital shows and the stuff that I’ve seen, I haven’t been impressed with. I’m really not into the living room fantasy! I appreciate everyone being resourceful and creative, but drag is about creating an illusion and a fantasy, and that’s one of the reasons why I do it. It was really important for me to have a really high production value and really take you out of the pandemic, or whatever may be going on in the real world, and take you to a fantasy place.
I wish people would watch my actual work in reality. This is definitely an opportunity for them to experience what I do in real life.
In my opinion, you’ve done that successfully. The budget is there! What was the process like for putting all this together, especially because of lockdown restrictions?
It was super difficult. We had been talking about it for a couple months because we were originally planning to do it for my birthday show. Filming fell right in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests and riots, so my focus definitely shifted. It was not the right timing. It felt so inappropriate and wrong to be putting on a big, fabulous show in the middle of these riots. We were thinking about cancelling the whole idea, but at this point I had already invested so much into the planning and costs. I was like, ‘I don’t know when I’m performing again, let’s get it back on track.’ We then regrouped and the coronavirus ‘calmed down’ as it’s not being taken seriously. We were in a giant theatre, so it was actually really easy to social distance because there was no one there. It was actually very weird to perform for a huge, old 1920s theatre, which was completely empty. There were about five people, and I’m trying to make it look like a touring artists’ DVD video, and I’m performing to literally no one! When we were filming, we got so nit-picky. Because it’s not live, you can have more control over it. What I do is so detail-oriented, as far as making sure the lip-sync is correct and synced up to the music, making sure the costuming is correct and the makeup looks correct. Then we’ve got the aerial component, and I’m by no means the most amazing aerialist in the world! I really use aerial as a prop, as an element that adds to the fantasy and the drag element. Aerialists are extremely skilled and well-trained, and some of them watch what I do, so I have to make sure that what I’m presenting is at least professional looking! It takes a lot of upper-body strength and then, of course, I’m doing it tucked, in a wig, with heels and a corset. So, I have to go over everything with a really fine-tooth comb and make sure that those slip-ups aren’t added into the edit. I have to be on top of my shit, because some people don’t notice the things that I notice. I’m really thinking of this as a time capsule of my drag. I feel like I’m at a height in my career and it’s nice that I get to document it in such a professional, clean and polished way. I want the footage to live on forever!
Was this show important for you to do? It feels like when a casual Drag Race fan hears the name Violet Chachki, their minds will immediately think ‘fashion,’ but there’s so much performance there too.
This is something that I have been dealing with for almost five years now. The thing about Drag Race is that it’s following in RuPaul’s footsteps. It’s his show at the end of the day, and every season gets different treatment. If you look at season three, it was so creative and design-happy in the challenges and I think everybody can agree that my season… I have so many conspiracy theories. I truly believe that my season was not for me to win. I believe that Ginger Minj was supposed to win my season, and I’m convinced that the producers of the show wanted her to win, but she was just so unlikeable. I have so many conspiracy theories about the whole thing! But my season was – and this is a common thought that everyone has, it’s like a fact – heavy on scripted acting challenges and I hated that. I hated it. I hate scripted challenges because it does not give the queens any opportunity to shine at what they do. Drag Race is a weird show because lip-syncing only happens when you’ve performed poorly. I never got the chance to lip-sync because I never performed poorly enough, or there was always someone that performed more poorly than I did. It’s a weird format for a performer like me, who doesn’t do scripted acting in real life and who is a lip-sync artist. I didn’t really shine in the scripted acting challenges, but someone always did worse than me. I would have loved to lip-sync. I wanted to have a three-way lip-sync against Pearl and Miss Fame and send them both home. I was ready! I wanted that. Every runway I had reveals and outfits planned to lip-sync and I knew all the words and lyrics. I think people look at me and all they see is somebody who is polished, but aesthetic is such an important part of what I do and it involves fashion and performing. People think queens who are so heavy on aesthetic are only concerned about wearing nice clothes, and people think that wearing nice clothes doesn’t take a lot of effort. It does, especially if you’re transforming gender, and every single thing that I wear is designed and custom made. I don’t think people realise the amount of work that and people and time that goes into that. I could talk about this stuff forever because it’s almost like a personal vendetta that I have! Right after Drag Race I was like, ‘I’ll show you guys,’ and I feel like I’ve been trying to prove my worth as a performer since I won. It is a very frustrating thing for me, and I feel like even on the last episode of my season, the whole reason why they started to do performances at the finale is because I never got the chance to perform. My season was the first season that they started to do the top three having to do some type of performance. I really love the way that Drag Race Thailand does it. They basically give the girls a song that’s licensed and they allow them to create and direct a huge production number, so you truly get to see how the girls apply their style of drag to performing. You truly get to experience what that queen does in real life. I feel like American version doesn’t really do that. In All Stars they do, because they do the talent show portion and I’m like, ‘Why is there no talent show in a regular season?’ That would benefit the show so well to understand a queen on a more personal level, instead of these scripted, acting challenges which are, quite frankly, awful. I don’t think anyone enjoys a scripted acting challenge. The show has problems. I blame the show. I never really got to do what I do on television, and I think that’s really to a disadvantage of the producers. It’s been difficult for me, for sure.
I have so many conspiracy theories. I truly believe that my season [of Drag Race] was not for me to win.
We only get to see lip-syncs when the queen has performed ‘poorly’ in the eyes of the judges, and if you’re in the bottom two or three times and kill it each time, fans will still consider you a weak performer overall.
Exactly! It’s so hard to navigate. I think the reason they do so many acting challenges is because it is dramatic. Picking teams and having to learn scripts and work together in a team is something that queens don’t normally do; it creates stress and drama, but I almost feel like it would be better television to just let the queens truly shine at what they normally do – at least one episode! Throw us a bone! Especially my season, they were trying so hard to create drama between certain groups of people, so I truly believe that Ginger was conditioned to win. She was kind of the frontrunner the entire season, then she went back on All Stars and still didn’t win! It’s an interesting position for me and I wish people would watch my actual work in reality. This is definitely an opportunity for them to experience what I do in real life. There’s really no excuse, you can watch it on your phone and it’s not super expensive! I hope people do watch it and think of me in a way they didn’t think of me before.
You’re kicking, you’re flipping, you’re splitting, you’re twirling and serving high-fashion while distorting the gender binary – upside down in the air, I should add. You’re incredibly skilled at commanding both the runway and the stage. Is there any separation between the two for you?
They are very different for me. The runway’s hard, because I don’t know how to play it. I’m cast as a specialty artist in the runway show, so do I camp it up as a drag queen? Do I play it seriously, like a model? Am I trying to model like all the other models are modelling? Very strong, fierce and serious? Or am I supposed to be a bit more performative and campy because I’m the drag queen in the show full of regular models? I never really know how I’m supposed to play it. It’s super nerve-racking because I don’t know everything. In the drag world I’m definitely a top dog, but in the fashion world I’m still relatively unknown to a lot of the people that are in that room. For instance backstage, I’ve worked with huge models before and they didn’t know anything about Drag Race or about drag or who I am. They’re just doing this one show as a part of a tonne of other shows, so they know how things work and they’ve done it so many times that it’s not a big deal for them. They’re very comfortable. Whereas, I come in and I’m still trying to figure out who everyone is, and what the right protocols are and how everything works to get my footing. I’m like a baby model, and I’m a professional, top dog drag queen. They’re definitely different environments, different spaces. Being such a physically queer person, in a space like a runway show, is still so new to me. It’s uncharted territory. It’s always going to be weird to take up space as a queer person in those more elite kinds of spaces. Going to the Met Gala or walking a runway show, where they don’t normally have drag queens, it’s nerve-racking. I do feel a bit out of place. I’m basically just winging it and putting on a good face and just figuring it out as I go. That’s the big difference. With drag, I know exactly how things work. I’ve done it, I’ve seen it, I’ve worked with everyone. Do you know what I mean? A different feeling for sure, to feel like a veteran as opposed to a true beginner.
That’s interesting. I can only speak for myself, but from the outside point of view, it looks like you’re a top dog in the fashion world as well, especially when we see photos of you with Kim K and Thierry Mugler. It looks like you own that space.
That’s the point of the drag. You show up and you look correct. I mean, no one really treats me any different, it just is different. When you’re around other queer people, they get it. For instance at the Met Gala, someone was like, ‘Oh my god I love his dress.’ I was so taken aback at someone using male pronouns while I was in drag. This person didn’t even mean any malice or any harm. I wasn’t necessarily offended, I was just shocked. It was jarring to hear and it sort of brought me back down to, ‘Oh, I’m in that kind of space,’ where people see me as a man in a dress and they don’t understand the performative aspect of gender in its entirety. It was just such a… shock. People don’t understand the pronoun thing in regards to drag. They’re like, ‘So you’re not trans and you’re not a woman, so why would I call you she?’ Because my art is so hyper-feminine, I try to explain it but they still don’t understand why drag queens use female pronouns. It is confusing and it is a nuisance, but it’s just an example of someone who wasn’t even trying to not be accepting. It’s just a different space and different group of people that come from different worlds. The person who misgendered me was also a huge celebrity, and they live in their own bubble where everyone is worshipping them. Because they’re super busy, they’re probably detached from reality as well. So, it’s not hard for me to understand how a celebrity might be a little bit ignorant to queer culture, even though they’re around gay people doing their hair, styling them, whatever. It’s not hard to see, especially since the celebrity was huge. They were most popular in the early 2000s or late 90s, and so it kinda makes sense. This language, queer language and culture, has evolved so much since this person was younger, so I can see how a celebrity is a bit sheltered and might not know all the nuances of what is 100% appropriate in regards to queer people. I wasn’t offended at all it was more like, ‘Oh okay, I’m in a different space. That would never happen in a drag space.’
Like you just said, the fashion industry is full of queer people. Do you think it’s their responsibility to educate their heteronormative counterparts on these issues?
I think it’s a case by case situation. I think in the fashion industry, people that truly work in the industry, are mostly trying to just keep their jobs. Especially when you look at some like a makeup artist, they’re not going to correct their celebrity client unless they’re on a certain level, unless they have that relationship. Working in the industry is scary. People get fired and let go and it’s happened to me. I think the casting agent didn’t like my energy or vibe or whatever and I got cut from something. It was awful. I think the industry is very cutthroat like that and you have to be very careful of what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to. It really depends on your relationship with whoever you’re interacting with. I don’t think everyone’s going to be able to speak eloquently and accurately about every single issue and it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be able to advocate and be an activist at all times. I think everyone does their best with a certain parameter. For me, it’s about me just being there and taking a space, and being visible is my little form of activism and my form of advocacy. I think the same goes for a lot of people. Just being a part of the table and having a seat at the table is big. That leads to conversation. That leads to discussions. I feel like that’s the more important thing than calling out or lecturing people. Of course, there’s instances where that is definitely necessary.
I feel there’s this notion that if you’re a look queen you can’t perform, and to perform you have to look bad. Do you know what I mean? I want someone to really dominate both worlds, and I’d really love that to be me.
Following on from your comments earlier about Drag Race, will you have a seat at the table once more for a potential winners season? You discussed the possibility with Bob the Drag Queen on the Pit Stop, but my question for you is: do you actually want it?
For me, drag is not going to be forever. I don’t plan on doing drag for that much longer. I never saw myself as being 45, performing and dancing around, so it’s really not that serious for me. I don’t think going back on the show and losing is a big, horrible, stupid idea. I just want to go back and showcase where I’m at now, where I always wanted to be. Drag is something that should be fun and not taken so seriously, so I don’t think it’s that serious of an issue about me going back and losing, doing poorly or being edited badly. I have said that I wasn’t going to do a winners season, but I think it would be fun and it would be nice to do it and have it documented. That’s kind of my thought process on it. I’d love to have as much documentation of me at my height as possible, and I think it would be great entertainment. I’d love to come back and do a talent show challenge, so that would be good motivation! If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, I don’t fucking care anyway. It would be a nice ending to the Drag Race legacy and I don’t know how much longer they can go on. I don’t know how much longer Ru has. I think she’s going to ride it until the wheels fall off. It’s not like I’m dying for it to happen, but I’m sick of watching people on All Stars that are not all stars. I would much rather them produce something with winners than scrape the bottom of the barrel for another All Stars season. It’s not the top performers and it’s not as entertaining as the regular seasons. Even the regular seasons, they are kind of over-producing them. I just started watching Canada’s Drag Race and the way it’s produced, with the way the queens are all being showcased and there’s no real frontrunner, I think it’s much better than the American production company.
We need to see the Violet Chachki from Digital Follies on the show… Fans would not be ready!
I want to show them that somebody can do both. I feel there’s this notion that if you’re a look queen you can’t perform, and to perform you have to look bad. Do you know what I mean? I want someone to really dominate both worlds, and I’d really love that to be me.
Violet Chachki’s Digital Follies premieres 30 July at 12pm PDT / 3pm EST / 8pm GMT. Tickets are $12,00 and available here.