26 jun 2024

Who is Violet Chachki, the drag queen who set fire to the Crazy Horse ?

Since winning RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2015, the young American artiste has been swinging their high-glam 1950s pin-up look at the circus and on the burlesque scene. Sought out by all the great fashion houses, from Jean Paul Gaultier to Miu Miu, Violet Chachki will perform solo at Paris’s mythical Crazy Horse this June.

Violet Chachki at the Crazy Horse © Lonely Rodeo Star.

Violet Chachki: an iconic drag queen on the stage of the Crazy Horse

Porcelain skin and ruby-red lips, a long black wig, and finely drawn eyebrows, 1930s-style… When Violet Chachki appears in the upholstered hush of the dressing rooms at Paris’s Crazy Horse, corseted in a tight black dress, swathed in long opera gloves, and perched upon vertiginously high heels, a fashion drawing seems to have come to life. Sensational and mesmerizing, the cabaret star recalls as much Dovima, the celebrated model, as the burlesque legend Dita Von Teese, one of their main inspirations, even if Chachki is much taller than their forebears (1.85 m without heels).

Nine years after being crowned the “future star of American drag” by the reality-TV series Rupaul’s Drag Race – the ultimate distinction for drag queens today – the 30-something is headlining at the most illustrious cabaret in Paris, from 24 to 28 June.

Since it opened in 1951, Crazy Horse has showcased dancers such as Lova Moor and Rosa Fumetto, but also, more recently, guest stars such as Pamela Anderson, Noémie Lenoir, and Arielle Dombasle. Chachki’s appearance is nonetheless a first – never before has a biological man shared the stage with Crazy Horse’s emblematic female dancers.

From Atlanta gay bars to the mythical parisian cabaret, the success-story of Violet Chachki

So how do you go from being a young guy hanging out in obscure Atlanta gay bars to one of the most famous drag queens in the world, solicited by a mythical Parisian cabaret and by the major European fashion houses for their runway shows? It has to be said that Jason Dardo’s trajectory – their real name – is rather unusual for their profession. Born in 1992 in the US, Dardo showed a very early interest in fashion and drag, creating their own persona at the end of the noughties: her first name, Violet, was a reference to the sombre, sexy character played by Jennifer Tilly in the thriller Bound, but also to imperial purple, while the “family” name Chachki came from the American-Yiddish “tchotchke,” a trinket or bauble.

Chachki soon developed a distinctive style that mixes the contemporary and the retro and calls on extremely precise references, from the Art Deco illustrator Erté and the fetishist icon Bettie Page to Divine – the outrageous drag star of John Waters’s movies – and the theatrical runway shows put on by Thierry Mugler and John Galliano for Dior. But it also incorporates a love for the burlesque and for BDSM that distinguished it from what other Atlanta drag queens were doing.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I’ve never wanted to look like a woman,” they confide, “but rather like the illustration of a woman. Moreover, as a teenager my aesthetic was already very clear in my mind when I would roll a scarf around my head and borrow my mother’s makeup before recording myself on my webcam!”

Violet Chachki in Lonely Rodeo Star.
Violet Chachki in Lonely Rodeo Star.

RuPaul’s Drag Race : consecration for a drag queen

With their unshakeable confidence, Chachki joined the line-up for the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race at the age of only 22, just after reaching their majority. Beyond their straight-talking determination, their TV appearance was marked by several notable moments, for example on the runway when they appeared in a corset so tight (a 45 cm waist) that they feigned suffocation and breathed from an oxygen mask.

You have to suffer to be beautiful,” they declared to the camera, “and I’m the most beautiful!” While that suffering is made visible by all the marks left on their body by the costumes they wear, Chachki defends their devotion to an extreme vision of beauty.“I like to make my silhouette into something so exaggerated that it seems almost unreal. Putting on such tight corsets and high heels alters both my posture and my attitude. And the fact that I’m one of the few who can actually wear them makes me feel powerful.

In answer to those who may have been tempted to reduce their talent to their sole appearance, Chachki has deployed, on stages across the world, the full range of their skills: a highly convincing mime performance to their chosen music – today a prerequisite for any serious drag queen –, the costumes they make from scratch, sometimes from absolutely nothing at all, as well as the acrobatic circus acts they have learned, like torch juggling and aerial silk and hoop dancing.

Striptease is also a major part of Chachki’s act, and is something they do with a very queer touch: when Violet takes off first their corset and then their bra, they reveal not a generous pair of breasts but rather a man’s flat chest adorned with sparkling nipple covers.

Violet Chachki in Lonely Rodeo Star.
Violet Chachki in Lonely Rodeo Star.

Dita Von Teese, a muse who became a mentor and a friend

Dita Von Teese was so impressed by Chachki’s idiosyncratic approach that she invited them to tour with her in 2017 and to perform their own number in the show. It was an immense honour for Chachki, who makes no secret of their fascination for their forerunner. “I learned an awful lot with Dita, from her way of producing an entire show with an impeccable sense of detail to how she runs her own business, always with great elegance. One time she said to me, ‘What I want is to see as many things as I can in the day,’ a quote I often think of.”

Finally, after years of touring with both Von Teese and their Drag Race colleagues, Chachki decided to create their own one-woman show in 2019, for which they undertook full art direction, from creating bespoke costumes and writing numbers to designing the lighting and choosing all the music.

Violet Chachki at the Crazy Horse © Lonely Rodea Star.

A fashion icon who seduced Moschino and Miu Miu

Their stage presence and their passion for clothing (Chachki has been collecting garments for years) garnered them the attention of the very exclusive fashion world. In 2018, Prada included them in one of its campaigns, while Moschino invited them to walk the runway on several occasions, as well as dressing them in a sublime black gown for the 2019 Met Gala: that evening, Chachki and the American artiste Aquaria, alongside their mentor RuPaul, were the first drag queens ever to walk the red carpet at the celebrated fashion event.

Since then, Chachki has become a regular in the front rows of the Schiaparelli, Giambattista Valli, and Jean Paul Gaultier haute-couture shows, even if their entrée to the fashion universe came at a certain cost. “It’s not always easy to be a drag queen in that world, where it took time for me to be taken seriously. But I was lucky enough to meet people like Jeremy Scott at Moschino and Fabio Zambernardi at Miu Miu, two incredible designers who have a sincere respect for our art, and who opened a lot of doors for me.”

Violet Chachki in Lonely Rodeo Star.
Violet Chachki in Lonely Rodeo Star.

A legendary show at the Crazy Horse

Between Los Angeles – where they live – and Paris, which they often visit, Chachki is currently preparing a performance at Crazy Horse, after seeing their first show there in 2015, which they adored. The made- to-measure piece, which will run for ten dates, and which Chachki is art directing, will first feature them alone on stage reinterpreting the cabaret’s classic numbers, after which they will become a “Crazy Horse girl” alongside the house troupe, with choreography by Philippe Découflé.

Where the outfits are concerned, there will be, among others, bespoke (obviously) Christian Louboutin stilettos, pieces by the young duo Coperni, and also costumes dripping with Swarovski crystals. Though Chachki speaks of the pressure in living up to the reputation of such a mythical nightclub, they also promise to put on a show that will be “breath-taking” and that will finally reach the exacting excellence to which they have aspired since they first started out. Among their mottoes is one borrowed from RuPaul: “When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.

Violet Chachki at the Crazy Horse, from the 24th to the 28th of June, Paris 8e.