Paris-based director Ali Mahdavi's music video for Violet Chachki's empowering anthem 'Whatever Violet Wants' paints the influential drag queen as a domineering, surrealist figure that will stop at nothing to get what they want. After winning Season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2015, Chachki has performed all over the world, headlining burlesque festivals and touring with longtime inspiration Dita Von Teese. Just don't call them a musician. 'I don’t think I have a career as a musician. I’m a touring performance artist,' they say.
Ahead of launching their new music video exclusively with SHOWstudio, Chachki and Mahdavi talk about their shared references, the allure of old Hollywood glamour and their love of 20th century fetishist artist Pierre Molinier.
Violet Conroy: Can you tell me about the experience of working together on Whatever Violet Wants? How did the project come about?
Violet Chachki: Well I have always loved the Sarah Vaughan classic 'Whatever Lola Wants'. It’s a true drag staple. I also have always loved the lyrics, anything about a woman who knows what she wants and goes for it has always drawn me in. Those are the kinds of women that inspire my drag. I’ve had the idea to cover it for a very long time and of course putting my own spin on it, making it a bit more modern and fetish-inspired.
Ali Mahdavi: I've known Violet since 2016. I met her at a Miu Miu party in Paris and was fascinated by her level of glamour that you hardly see in anyone today. I offered her and Miss Fame to shoot for Candy Magazine without knowing that she was the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 7, which I became a fan of after it finally aired in France. From there our friendship and artistic collaboration never stopped. When Violet made me listen to her song 'Whatever Violet Wants,' I offered to do a music video in homage to Pierre Molinier. I don't believe that music videos should mimic the lyrics of the song. This vision came to me instantly.
The work with Violet is extremely easy. We speak the same language, have the same definition of glamour the way it was defined by the Golden Age of Hollywood, plus this must be our fifth collaboration. There is no boundary between work and friendship when we work together. I conceived and designed the video very precisely. Everything was storyboarded based on Molinier pictures. What is strong about Violet is that thing that only exceptional models have in front of the camera; she takes the directions but she transcends your initial vision to something beyond what you designed.
VC: What about Pierre Molinier inspired you?
Violet Chachki: I see myself a lot in Pierre Molinier's work. There’s that classic and simplistic hyper femininity that somehow still manages to be androgynous, powerful, shocking, and domineering. I started out doing drag in my childhood bedroom and taking self portraits on my MacBook and even collaging them and mirroring them in Photoshop. I think self-portraiture and photo post-production is so important to a drag queen. It’s even an extension of make-up to me. It is about creating the image you have of yourself in reality. It’s glamour and it’s powerful.
AM: I've known Molinier's work for 25 years now. It was a shock when I first discovered it, but now it's part of my unconscious iconography. Sometimes I'm inspired by him and it's not even conscious, I realise it once the work is done, like for the first Louboutin campaign I did for his nude collection.
There are two main reasons why I admire him. First, his approach to his own vision of beauty that has roots in fetishist obsessions, but goes far beyond. He was so uncompromising about his vision that he remained very poor and had to commit suicide because of money issues. I hope to not follow his path...! Luckily for me, when I get commissioned for work, I really love to adapt myself to the DNA of the brand I work with.
There is also a madness about him. But what makes a difference between the artwork of a mad person and an artist is that this madness is consigned in a very strict frame that gives structure to his vision. He is a surrealist artist. André Breton loved his work and, like all surrealist artists, his work reflects his unconscious vision. Having had long psychoanalysis, this is also how I work. Most of my work comes from my unconscious visions, whether in dreams or daydreams.
Similar to many photographers and directors that I admire, from David Lynch to Hitchcock to Fellini to Guy Bourdin to Steven Meisel, Molinier started by drawing and painting before becoming a photographer and director. For me, this is the royal path to having a fair, right and implacable eye.
VC: On an aesthetic level, what references do you share a love of?
Violet Chachki: For me, Molinier is the reference. Simple and classic things that will never not be titillating; garter belts, dildos, toile, back seamed stockings and black pumps.
AM: As I mentioned before, we are some of the last true warriors of glamour, the way it found its epitome during the Hollywood Golden Age from the 1930s-1950s, and the French haute couture of the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s (Yves Saint Laurent by Helmut Newton or Antonio Lopez, just to name a few). Today in Hollywood, if actresses are too beautiful they are hardly considered as good actresses. So the real glamour is now mostly in the hands of drag queens and few of them master those codes as Violet does, or Miss Fame or Lola Dragoness Von Flame.
VC: Violet, do you think of your career as a drag queen and a musician as separate, or do they overlap?
Violet Chachki: I don’t think I have a career as a musician - I don’t even think most musicians have careers as musicians anymore. I’m a touring performance artist. Drag is about creating your own world. Giving birth to a new person and deciding every detail about that person. What’s their name, how do they look, how do the move, are they funny etc. Adding what that world sounds like is important to me at this point in my drag career.
VC: Who are your ultimate style icons?
Violet Chachki: Dovima, Dita von Teese, Marlene Dietrich, Bettie Page, Lady Miss Kier.
AM: The first rule to have style is to not follow fashion but to follow your own vision of beauty, that is not only determined by how beauty is defined conventionally. My ultimate style icon is Marlene Dietrich from the moment she started to work with her pygmalion Josef von Sternberg. In today's world, someone like Dita von Teese is as uncompromising as her when it comes to style. There are many other names that come to my mind. María Félix in the 1960s and 1970s when she started to mix Mexican traditional outfits with Parisian haute couture and high jewellery. Of course, Loulou de La Falaise, who I worked with, is impossible not to mention. In quite a distorted way, Arielle Dombasle can achieve a high level of glamour by her beauty, wittiness and incomparable intelligence. For men, David Bowie is the male equivalent to Marlene Dietrich. Not visually, but in the intensity he used to redesign himself and become the most beautiful man of all time. He is probably the only man on earth who managed to be glamorous to death without becoming a drag.
VC: What does 2021 hold for both of you?
Violet Chachki: I hope a lot of art, dancing, travelling, sex, and showbiz.
AM: I have some very exciting projects as a director coming in - a documentary series as well as a long feature film whose concept I created with my idol and mentor, Jean-Claude Carrière. The other project I can't wait to see out there is my first clothes collection.