A fierce performer and staple of the Brooklyn drag scene, Sasha Velour is a queen who marries Russian precision with New York Club Kid creativity. Known for her unique stylisation of eyebrow painting, her roots in comic illustration and creation aren’t hard to work out. Online stories paint Miss Velour as a kind-hearted performer with community at the centre of all she does. We caught up with her shortly after the announcement that she will be competing in Season 9 of Rupaul’s Drag Race.
Tell us who Sasha Velour is?
Sasha Velour is an art queen but she’s also a community leader. I strive to be innovative and glamorous in my performances. I love extreme fashion and wild performances, but for me the most important part of drag is to enter queer spaces with a warm open heart, a unique voice, and lots of ideas and drive. I’m the creator of a special drag cabaret called Nightgowns and the creative director of a drag art magazine called Velour. I love creating platforms to showcase the depth and diversity of drag. From my perspective, drag is one of the most important things happening in the queer community (and the world at large) today!
Where did the name originate from?
Sasha is actually my given name. It’s a Russian nickname for Alexander or Alexandra. Actually I recently found out that my Dad named me after Alexandra Kollontai (Soviet Feminist Leader)…so technically I’ve had a “girls” name all along. And “Velour”? Velvet is my favourite fabric but all I can afford is velour.
How did you find yourself getting into drag?
I’ve always been doing drag. When I was a little kid, I never thought there was anything strange about portraying femme or female characters. Those were the ones that excited me – witches, vampire ladies, princesses, evil queens. It was nasty other kids at school who taught me to be ashamed of dressing up as I pleased. I’m lucky to have grown up with parents who intuitively understood queerness without even knowing the word. But for a long time, I felt drag and fashion would be private passions.
That being said, I couldn’t resist it forever. I did my first public drag show after college, as RuPaul’s Drag Race was starting to become popular, and drag gained more visibility. It wasn’t pride or halloween or anything! It was just a random Sunday night in my small midwestern hometown gay bar (I was visiting my parents and went with some high school friends) and I turned up in some basic sexy look.
It took me a long time to create a personalised style of drag that really captured my references and aesthetic. When I shaved my head and started to do bald looks – inspired by Nosferatu at first, but now much more glam! – is when it really started feeling right. That was about two years ago and now I’m a full-time drag queen and I live, breathe, speak drag. It has a tendency to take over your life. I love that about drag!
Drag pet peeves?
I love all drag, but I think each person needs to have a unique style. I hate to see folks who are too afraid of being weird or different and just end up being generic. Drag is about writing new, queerer stories, challenging gender, and crafting fresh and exciting forms of beauty. It’s paradoxical to me that there are “drag clichés” and I’d love for more folks to move away from them.
Who are your drag heroes?
Divine, Leigh Bowery, Doris Fish (Vegas in Space is one of my favourite movies of all time), Grace Jones (I think she counts, right?) RuPaul, of course.
Best and worst moments in drag?
First time I ever held the microphone in my hands, I saw my life flash before me. It’s terrifying to be “the speaker” for the room, to be funny, poignant, efficient. I think I tried to tell a very forced joke about the “patriarchy” that didn’t go over well. Eventually I just learned to talk naturally and be myself. I feel like I finally know how to host now – lots of folks think they can do it but doing it well is really an art!
I read you went to illustration school. How do these skills transcend into your drag?
The key to a clear character drawing, just like a good drag look is simplicity, distinctiveness, and then a bit of drama. I always draw my looks and makeup on a page before I make them on my body – that’s just how I think and it helps me a lot.
People tell me that I paint my face like a cartoonist. I “pencil” the crease, brow, and eye shape with my brown contour colour, and then go over it with creme black liner (the “ink”).
But even in art school, I was always more of a graphic designer than an illustrator (and certainly not a “painter”). I think about shapes and colours more than anything. But my favourite thing about drag is all the textures – that’s not something I got to play with as an illustrator. Fur, fringe, sequins, beads, leather! I love using it all!
Who would you want to share a stage with most?
Shirley Bassey. She’s my favourite singer in the entire world. I have performed almost her entire repertoire and I still fantasise about getting to meet her some day. The emotion she puts into her singing is unrivalled. She’s a true storyteller, and a drama queen, so I really relate!
Favourite look you’ve ever done of yourself? Why?
My favourite look I’ve ever done? I can’t choose! For New Years I got to collaborate on a headpiece with Diego Montoya. I’ve been wanting to wear more costumes inspired by Russian folk and fairy tale art (I visited Russia with my Dad last summer, and was really inspired by historical costuming). Diego did an incredible job with it, using leather, lace, pearls, and bones to make a deco white witchy Kokoshnik. Photo here (by Adam Ouahmane for Neverland Parties)
How do you come up with your looks?
Most of the time I’ll find a cheap vintage dress that I love and figure how to drag it out with fur and fringe and accessories until its a gorgeous editorial look! But I’ve always drawn sketches of fantasy dresses and hats and capes. I really just want to look like a magical vampire witch all the time…
What do you think it is about the Brooklyn drag scene that makes it so brilliant and so famous?
Brooklyn attracts artists, folks who want to experiment and innovate in every medium…especially drag! But it’s also a really diverse borough. Black and Brown performers, queer non-binary performers, alternative artists and designers-these are all centred in the Brooklyn scene, and I think that really sets the tone for important and exciting work.
What are the most important things for you as a drag queen?
Being honest, being gorgeous (and gorgeously ugly if I feel the need), being faggier and queerer than ever (especially in our increasingly hateful political climate), and working hard. Also a signature eyebrow and properly applied lip liner haha!
Where now for Sasha?
I have big plans for this year! Folks should keep an eye out for the third issue of Velour Magazine, and follow me on Instagram for glam updates, performance videos, and killer looks. It’s gonna be a revolutionary year!
Photo Credit: David Ayllon