I met Coco downstairs at the Dalston Superstore. By day she’s Leigh Fontaine, Central Saint Martins A-grade fashion student, collector of chintz-patterned cake stands and all-round nice guy. By night she’s a hottie with a body, and a passion for drag, with a lot to say on the subject. We spent twenty minutes in a lavatory with a couple of gin and tonics during which I learnt the following:
Drag is political.
“Drag is about self-expression, challenging people, and stepping outside of societies lines to do just what you want to do. And that goes for all different types of drag. I don’t care if you’re an alternative queen with a green face, and a ratty wig, I think that is fabulous – you’re challenging society’s ideas of gender and what is normative. And the same goes for me, just because I dress myself up to look more polished, and more conventionally female, is doesn’t mean that I’m not doing anything less subversive.”
London has the best, and boldest, drag scene in the world.
“When Ru Paul’s Drag Race came on in England, it was good because it introduced drag to whole new audiences, but now that ‘Ru Paul’ look is exactly what people expect ‘drag’ to be. But it really pisses me off in the show when they challenge how people want to express themselves. That would never happen in London. I would never discount what another drag queen is doing. London has got drag right, London always gets it right, with everything.”
The distinctions between polished and alternative drag “tribes” are overhyped.
“In London, fans either seem to love pretty queens or alternative queens, but drag queens ourselves, we don’t give a shit! We are all one community. Like Alyssa Edwards says, “It’s just drag, honey.” I was in the Trannyshack beauty pageant the other week and there were two alternative queens in the top three, and none of us polished queens made it. It just shows how accepting people are in London. And backstage I wasn’t there going “Urgh, f*ck you, you’ve got green hair and your cock fell out and everyone saw it.” Instead I was so happy that we live in a city where all drag is acceptable.”
Drag queens don’t always start out so ballsy.
“When I decided to do drag I was going through a period where I was quite shy, as Leigh, so I created Coco as a way to perform and have a laugh. But within two weeks of performing as Coco I lost the shyness completely and now I’m really confident as both Leigh and Coco.”
All sexuality is performance.
“Sexuality isn’t about gender, it’s about what your perform as that gender. As a drag queen I exaggerate everything about a woman: so Coco has bigger hair, bigger make up, bigger tits, bigger hips and a bigger bum. It’s powerful to exaggerate these binary gender roles, to show yourself to be sexually confident, and carry yourself with an air of self-assurance. And the same goes for anyone: if you’re a straight woman and you perform confidently a man will want you, if you perform your lesbian sexuality confidently, another woman will want you. It’s all about the self-assurance.”
Women can empower themselves through their sexuality
“I have a lot of female friends, and when I started performing Coco, I really started to realise how people viewed women, and that’s why I am all about female empowerment. I know women admire the way Coco exudes sexuality and what pisses me off about some feminists is that they always play their feminine attributes down. They say “No you can’t be sexy,” when really a woman’s most powerful tool is her sexuality. And believe me I know this because I get away with murder in drag…”
Womenswear designers should give dragging up a go
‘By day, when I’m designing womenswear, I’m Leigh, and Leigh’s mantra is all about empowering women so my clothes are comfortable, stylish and you can mix them up. But it was only after I started doing drag that my tutor told me I have a great sense of what women want to wear. Without the drag, I just got told that my stuff was too much and I had to rein it in, but when I created Coco, I was getting A’s across the board. I put myself through a lot of pain to look like this, so I know what women want to wear and don’t want to wear. I create this female shape by taping and padding and corsetting so I know how the clothes fit around, and where they need to skim and where they need to cling. But it’s about much more than just the fit. As Coco I learnt about the importance of confidence, which definitely spilled over into my designs. I want a woman to put on a Leigh Fontaine dress and not have to wear anything underneath.”