When Violet Chachki closed Moschino’s Fall 2019 menswear and women’s Pre-Fall show last year, she had no idea that the dress that came right before her on the runway would later come back into her life. “If you watch the video, I’m actually right behind the dress as it walks out the runway,” Chachki says of the cheeky, glove-shaped Moschino gown that she just wore to her very first Met Gala. “It’s really funny to me. The dress that I was going to be wearing to the Met Gala was right in front of me this whole time.”
Designer Jeremy Scott customized the dress for Chachki—remaking it so that it fits like a glove, she jokes—and it’s a perfect match given Chachki’s sensibilities. For Scott, the opera glove is the epitome of camp and elegance. “I was haunted by a vision of Violet slithering up the stairs of the Met with her giant glove hand limply waving back as she vanished into the museum doors,” Scott says. “The origins of the word camp itself comes from drag queens so far back it’s unimaginable. I knew I had to honor the moment with one of my favorite muses.”
For Chachki, the glove motif isn’t just camp—it’s a fitting symbol given her area of expertise. “I mean, I’m a burlesque performer, so I love the idea of stripping off gloves, and then being inside of a giant glove is very burlesque imagery—the idea of taking something and blowing it out of proportion, making it this crazy ridiculous scale, is such a pinup iconography moment.” Looking at the sleek black dress from the front, it does look deceptively classic; it’s only once you see the hand-shaped trail behind that it does lend itself to Susan Sontag’s definition of the term. “It’s camp, but not ridiculous. It’s perfect for me.”
This playful dress notwithstanding, Chachki isn’t quite the campiest queen out there, but it’s still a concept that has permeated her entire career. In classic Sontag, bullet-point fashion, Chachki shares more about what camp means to her, how fashion is learning to take itself less seriously, and how it feels to attend her very first Met Gala.
On the Meaning of Camp in the Drag World
I come from is the drag world in Atlanta, and in the drag world we like to label a lot. One of them is camp: you could be a look queen, you could be a pageant queen, you could be a dance queen, and you can be a camp queen. Of course, all drag inherently is camp, but then there are “camp queens.” That was my first introduction to the terminology of camp, is older drag queens in my community in Atlanta being like, “Oh she’s camp. She’s nothing.” Where I come from, camp was kind of looked down upon because the drag queens that I grew up with took themselves so seriously The camp queens are the kind of queens that might call out bingo numbers, or they might be standup comedians, but that’s kind of where I got the terminology, where I first heard the word ‘camp’ as it pertains to aesthetics and performance.
To the fashion world, a man in a dress will always be camp. But in the drag world, you have specific genres. So for me, for instance, I’m most categorized as a “look queen.” Even in Sontag’s essay it talks about how things are always in quotes, and that’s how people will address us drag queens, it will be “Okay ‘laaadies’ time for the show!” They say it in a way that is inherently camp, that alludes to the artifice of everything, and drag itself is about artifice and exaggeration and silhouettes and lines. It’s about exaggerating femininity.
On Her Own Relationship to Camp
For me and my drag, I think camp is about exaggeration and artifice and the celebration of superficiality. A lot of my fans look up to me as a figure of femininity but that’s all artifice. That’s all fake and that’s campy within itself, and so that’s what resonates to me: the seriousness and the funniness and the artifice and the exaggeration. Look at something like the corset, which is what I’m known for: the exaggerated silhouette can be considered camp. My name itself is extremely campy. Violet Chachki literally translates to purple doodad.
I’m also a performer, and in my most recent performance I come down on this phallic, rotating, giant rocketship, and it's so campy, but of course I take it so seriously. This is my career, this is my life, this is my passion. And it’s so serious to me and I take drag and performing and my career super seriously, but what I’m actually doing is so inherently campy, and what I’m physically doing onstage is so campy. It really resonates with me, Susan Sontag’s essay, and I can see a lot of myself in a lot of these bullet points.
On Taking Yourself Seriously
Something else that resonated with me about Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” was this idea of being frivolous about the serious and serious about the frivolous. This is something so true in the drag community: we are the first to take something like the HIV/AIDS crisis and make light of it, to turn something so tragic and painful into humor, like Lady Bunny, but we are also the first to get wildly upset over something as meaningless and trivial as a rhinestone tiara title, like in The Queen (1968).
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