I am late for my portrait sitting with drag diva Violet Chachki. As the taxi swings into Place de la Concorde, I spot her in one of the square’s monumental fountains, throwing shapes for photographer Guillaume Thomas. She is wearing a Schiaparelli dress of Hockney swimming-pool blue, and traffic has shuddered to a halt.
Ten minutes later, Chachki and Thomas join me at the nearby Hôtel Costes, my home base during my visits to Paris. The rooms are opulent but small—and designed to appeal to Napoleon III—and Chachki’s presence is commanding. At over six feet tall, even without the four-inch heels and Priscilla Presley pompadour she was wearing earlier, she is not scaled for the space. Lounging on the bed is a solution and, I sense, a relief to her. Chachki has come to Paris to take in the fall/winter couture shows, held in late January, and they are a Rubik’s Cube of fittings and photo opportunities, dinners and schmoozing. And then there is the business of being Violet: She is currently touring with her own burlesque show, “A Lot More Me,” promoting the perfume Dirty Violet, and keeping her 1.7 million devoted Instagram followers up to speed.
It’s a long way from performing in drag shows (with a forged ID) as a teenager in Georgia. Winning the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2015 was a turning point, as was joining Dita Von Teese (whom Chachki refers to as “mother”) in her show “The Art of the Tease” just two years later.
Chachki leafs through some of the vintage movie magazines I picked up on the Quai Voltaire. “What a babe,” she sighs, eyeing a Technicolor portrait of Joan Collins, taken in 1959. Committing Chachki’s swooping brows, bee-stung lips, and showgirl eyelashes to paper, I am, of course, following the drawing she has meticulously mapped out. I’m not surprised to learn that this paean to artifice takes anywhere up to three hours to achieve. Lately, Chachki (who was born Paul Jason Dardo in 1992) has been doing photo shoots out of drag, looking sultry in leather and tattoos. “Fuckable is marketable,” she says with a shrug, and then wonders how that sounds out loud.
As drag becomes ever more mainstream—RuPaul’s DragCon, which hosts a Kid Zone, attracted more than 50,000 visitors to Los Angeles in 2018—Chachki remains a renegade spirit. Part Hedy Lamarr, part Hedwig and the Angry Inch, she is a punk Dovima, and she’s coming for you, one fake lash and fetish heel at a time.
David Downton is an Editor at Large for Air Mail