Hear from the fashion queens that use design to inspire their drag artistry

On the latest episode of the Behind the Drag podcast, we talk to Violet Chachki, Iris Spectre, and Jupiter about how fashion and costume design inspire their art and fuel their creativity. 

Violet Chachki is a Los Angeles-based drag performer whose drag aesthetic draws on classic vintage and fetish looks, and who describes herself as “an international drag superstar and a self-proclaimed fashion icon.”

Growing up in Atlanta, Jason Dardo, aka Violet Chachki, always stood out. They attended Catholic school, where even in a uniform, dressed the same as all the other students, they always felt different. “I was constantly getting in trouble, constantly breaking the rules,” they told In The Know.

As they got older, Jason discovered their passion for fashion. When they first started performing in drag, they knew they wanted to create a persona that united their love of fashion with their rebellious nature. “I was known sort of as the rebel, the rule-breaker, the bad girl,” they told In The Know. “I started my drag character based off of [pin-up model] Bettie Page.”

“I always was inspired by really b**chy, dominant know-what-they-want, go-getter type of women,” Jason explained. “That’s sort of the woman I wanted to reference and that inspires me.”

Jason loves repurposing vintage clothing to create unique drag looks that are both timelessly classic and uniquely modern. 

“My drag aesthetic is really driven by glamour and vintage aesthetics as well as fetish aesthetics,” they told In the Know. “One of my favorite things to do is to find vintage pieces and either get them reproduced in my size or take elements from them and re-contextualize them in new ways.”

Jason sees fashion and drag as worlds of endless imagination and possibility. “It’s a fantasy, and I think it creates another realm that you can escape into,” they explained. “The fashion world and the drag world share that. They create their own rules, their own environment, their own atmosphere, their own hierarchy. It’s a really beautiful thing.”

For Jason, drag is more than a career. It’s also the ultimate creative outlet. They told In The Know, “It’s not even just a job, it’s much more than that. It’s exactly where I want to be, it’s what I want to be doing right now, it’s powerful, it’s impactful, I feel like I have a legacy that I’ve built. I feel like I made my little notch in history.”

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Iris Spectre is a Philadelphia-based drag performer and designer who creates and sews their own glamorous costumes. 

Dylan Kepp, aka Iris Spectre, began designing clothes at a young age and quickly realized it was their calling. “I kind of just picked up a sewing machine in my sophomore year of high school. I asked for one for Christmas and Santa delivered and I just started making things,” they told In The Know. “The more and more I did it, the more and more I found that I loved it, and I just applied to fashion school and I got in.”

Even before Dylan started performing in drag, they were creating costumes for Iris without even realizing it. “I would say it started off with Dylan creating for Iris who I didn’t even know existed yet,” they told In The Know. 

Now, Dylan sees Iris as a true alter-ego and not just a character they play on stage. “The difference between Iris and Dylan is that Dylan is kind of Iris’ caretaker,” they explained. “And I am also, as Iris, Dylan’s caretaker in many ways. I’m like this beautiful dress-up creature who comes out of Dylan and Dylan’s traumas. It’s a hand-in-hand kind of relationship.”

Dylan’s father passed away when they were young. Diving into fashion, and later creating Iris, helped Dylan process their father’s death. “While I was at school in my freshman year, my dad died of a drug overdose, and when I got to school and that happened, it kind of took the air out of me. I was like, ‘What do I do?’ I was trying to figure out what my life would be. Everything just stopped,” they told In The Know. “Putting on the makeup for me felt like such a juxtaposition between my day life and this night life. Iris was kind of born out of me trying to cope with the trauma of losing a parent.”

Being Iris makes Dylan feel confident and empowered, and gives them the courage to work through their traumas. They explained, “I had no idea how deep Iris was in my soul and how much I needed her.”

Dylan thinks everyone should try drag or performance at some point in their lives. Drag has had such a powerful impact on Dylan’s life, and they believe that everyone could benefit from the exhilaration and sense of empowerment of being on stage. 

“I would encourage everybody to try drag, try performing, be a performance artist, put yourself out there. Do something that you wouldn’t expect to do today,” Dylan tells In The Know. “Anything that I do, the biggest thing is to have no fear. If my dad were here, I think he’d be proud of what I’ve accomplished.”

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New York City-based drag performer Jupiter thinks outside the box when it comes to their drag aesthetic, drawing on movies, anime, and cartoon villains to create fierce and unique drag looks. 

Ben Seagren, aka Jupiter, describes his drag aesthetic as “somewhere between a cartoon villain and an alien deity.” He creates unique characters that push the boundaries of what drag can be, using everything from prosthetic pointed ears and horns to multi-colored face paints, to create looks that are truly otherworldly.  

“My favorite thing that I enjoy about drag is the transformation,” Ben tells In The Know. “I want to show different spectrums of characters and different people and different versions of what drag can be.”

Ben first became interested in anime and cartoon villains as a child growing up in Aurora, Colorado. He was drawn naturally to the villains in children’s programming and later used their aesthetics and mannerisms to create Jupiter. 

“Because I came out young, I didn’t really have any reference to what queer was or what doing drag was,” he told In The Know. “My version of it was watching cartoons and anime and all of these queer-coded villains that I looked up to, and so that was kind of my North Star for what I created and what inspired me to create Jupiter.”

Ben discovered drag in college and was drawn to it immediately. “I didn’t know about drag until I got into college and I went to my first drag show and realized there was this whole world of people that were doing the same thing I wanted to do,” he explained. “That first show I went to, I had this kind of, like, third eye-opening moment of understanding. This is not only something I can do, but this is a space I think I can do well in.”

Creating Jupiter allowed Ben to express himself and to join a community of like-minded artists. “My journey with Jupiter has been really cool,” he explained. “Jupiter has allowed me to meet people around the world.”

Ben feels hopeful about the future of drag as an art form. For him, drag is about unfettered self-expression. It gives him the ability to transform himself into anything he wants. “I think we’re moving away from this idea that drag is a gay man doing female impersonation and moving toward this idea of drag as transformation, rather than subscribing to a binary in an art form that is created by people that break that code,” he explained. 

“I love the possibilities of drag because they’re endless,” he told In The Know. “It’s always growing, it’s always changing, and I always want to be at the front of those changes.”

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If you enjoyed this story, check out In The Know’s other stories from Behind the Drag here.

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