One to watch: Sasha Velour
Words Crystal Lubrikunt
Sasha Velour is an up-and-coming fireball of talent that resides in New York City. Graphic designer, illustrator, and most importantly drag artist. We got in contact with her to find out more about what she does’ and what she’s all about.
Hello Sasha! How are you doing? I hope NYC hasn't gotten too cold just yet?
I feel snotty and allergic and gross thanks to an ever-so-delightful bout of allergies, but the weather outside couldn’t be more glorious! Fall is my favorite fashion season—I live for layers and scarves and hats. This year, though, I’ll have to bring back the “ladies handkerchief” because being in face with a runny nose is NOT the ticket!
So tell me about Sasha’s drag style; you rock a bald-fantasy along with those beautifully unique brows, where does it all stem from? What inspired your look?
Well at the tender age of 4, when I took every opportunity to dress as the Wicked Witch of the West and perform her tragic melting scene for my parents (or really any stranger who would watch)! I guess I’ve always had a personal taste for femininity through the lens of powerful villains. My drag look started as a combination of my favorite evil femmes—Nosferatu, Lulu, The Great Tyrant from Barbarella, The Evil Queen from Snow White, The Wicked Witch of the West, Gollum etc. etc.—but I think Sasha has now really become her own character…with her own unique style!
With drag, I get to paint my inside fantasies onto the surface of my body, and show the world what I personally find beautiful. For me…looking different is the essence of beauty…so I try to break away from any kind of drag clichés, and really give life to my own strange tastes!
Drag queen, illustrator, graphic designer, you're an all-round artist! When did you start combining all of your skills together to create your live performances?
I really just started using visual art in my numbers as a way of storytelling. I take the “Fantasia” approach to music—I always see a narrative unfolding when I listen to a song…sometimes even a narrative that contradicts the lyrics (especially with heteronormative love songs, haha!). I wanted more tools to share that narrative with the audience, so I started holding illustrated images in my hand like a storybook while I lip-synched. Eventually I switched to projected images…and from there I just went bonkers. It’s all been trial and error, but I feel that inventing new ways to use visual art together with lip-synching is my special drag ability, and it gives me such joy to do!
You've just released the 2nd issue of your drag magazine VELOUR. Your magazine covers topics like historical moments of drag, movements in gender and queer politics, to name just a few! What were the motivations to create a project like VELOUR?
The goal with VELOUR was to create an independent art magazine all about the visual and philosophical brilliance of drag. Every time I go to a drag show, I’m inspired by the honesty and creativity of performers. For me, there are more brilliant ideas and innovations in drag then there are in any other working field of art right now. And the best part about drag is that it is really accessible, easy to understand, and fundamentally quite optimistic and empowering. So VELOUR employs drag performers and visual artists to really theorize the art of drag—what does it mean, what can it do, why is it important, what’s on the cutting edge? And we try to do all that through beautiful images, personal interviews, and straightforward writing. We want it to be gorgeous enough for your coffee table, captivating enough for your train commute, and important enough for your course syllabus! It’s a tall order and a lot of work for two people with other full-time jobs, but it’s so rewarding too! I love getting to showcase artists we believe in…we celebrate some of the lesser-known geniuses that we work with every day!
You work alongside your partner a lot with your art and performances; would you say you're like Sweeney Todd & Mrs Lovett, or Mr & Mrs Smith? What’s it like working alongside each other?
Haha! I LOVE these options. Johnny and I have more of an Yzma & Kronk dynamic. I’m an evil scheming crone and he’s the muscle that knows how to do practical things and is somehow weirdly joyful. It’s a perfect duo! But in all seriousness it can be challenging working together. We don’t ever have down-time like most couples—we sit around the dinner table (aka on the floor in our tiny apartment) and draw sketches for outfits together, or make lists of dream articles for the next issue of the magazine. I wouldn’t want it any other way…well, I mean a little vacation wouldn’t hurt…maybe when we are old.
You launched a night called NIGHTGOWNS last year in Brooklyn which Time Out NYC called it a "thinking-queen's drag show" Tell us more about that…
NIGHTGOWNS focuses on thoughtful drag, which can be artsy, political, personal, funny—really anything motivated by ideas and passion. It attracts audiences and performers who are hungry for something different and weird—not blood-and-nudity weird (that’s a cliché of its own after all) - but tears and laughter and honesty weird. It’s hard to describe—partly because it changes every month. We’ve had pieces about immigration and citizenship, trans liberation, mourning, violence…but we’ve also done choreographed disco numbers and Madonna and Kylie. No matter what, I pride the show on having a quiet audience! People come to really attentively watch some great drag…that in itself is pretty special!
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I really just want to keep doing what I’m doing now, and have the audiences and resources grow and grow. I love producing drag shows, drag publications, and drag artwork. I have ambitious plans—a traveling circus-style show of high-art drag performances, a definitive art book about the history and meaning of drag, a line of custom lace-front eyebrows, the list goes on. If in 5 years, I’m still able to support myself making queer art and entertaining my community, I will be beyond happy.
We'd love for you to do a UK special of Nightgowns one day! Any plans on coming over to our shores?
Ummm yes!! Nothing could stop me from bring NIGHTGOWNS around the world. When I hit your shores you’re definitely on the billing!
Follow Sasha on Instagram: @sashavelour
VYM #1: WHAT IS DRAG?
VELOUR #2: REALNESS