In 2008, our favourite drag king performers, The Kingpins, launched their label Birthday Suit. Their first collection was called Azaria Lives and was all about what would’ve happened if dingos hadn’t eaten Lindy Chamberlain’s baby daughter but instead raised her to become a strong, sexy, outback babe. The range was launched with an exhibition in conjunction with Surface 2 Air and since then Azaria capes and Tasmanian-tiger-pelt inspired sequin capes have been bought by a host of celebrities and fellow performers who like flashy gear, including Kanye West, Beth Ditto and Peaches.
We spoke to Técha Noble, who works on Birthday Suit, with sisters Katie and Emma Price, about The Kingpins, fashion and why their lives seem so fun-laden.
Vice: You, Katie, Emma and Angelica have been performing as the Kingpins for over ten years now and, not being entirely familiar with the Australian drag king scene, we’re curious as to how it’s changed in that time?
Techa: Well since we began there’s always been a huge and appreciative scene in Melbourne and Sydney and drag itself has really evolved to become an interesting conversation in the last ten years. While we are definitely connected to it, our energies are dispersed over contemporary art and live performance so there are a lot more performers who contribute a great deal more than we do to the local club scene.
You’ve also been involved in lots of important art shows and biennales. Is what you show an extension of the live stuff?
Our shows have always been about performing in drag and messing with genres—for instance, one show can cover hip hop, Norwegian death metal, rock and anything in between—always relating back to the world of queer performance that we come from. As we were doing these nightclub shows, we started thinking about how it could work within a gallery context or how it might relate to a contemporary art conversation.
You’ve worked a lot in Paris and even launched Birthday Suit over there. How did that come to be?
We were actually in South Korea doing a project for the biennale over there when we met Samuel Boutruche and Benjamin Moreau, the two guys who make up the collective Kolkoz. They started up a lot of the amazing clubs over there too like Le Baron and Le Paris Paris but they’re contemporary artists more than they are club producers. We got along like a house on fire and have been going to Paris fairly regularly ever since. We were also part of an exhibition at the Museé D'art Moderne and have done live performances at the Palais De Tokyo.
Moving onto the clothes. I assume you guys have been making costumes for The Kingpins from the outset. Was it just a natural progression to start the label?
Absolutely. We’ve always hand made all our costumes and found beautiful old samples on our travels, which we’d always wonder what to do with. Emma and Katie have, since they were little kids, gone to op shops and bought vintage clothes and antiques and reworked found objects.
So will your ranges always include the ready to wear and the more theatrical pieces?
Definitely. Being performers ourselves, the more elaborate stuff is always a priority and for instance Beth Ditto wore the key and lock cat suit from the recent winter collection on stage just last week. She’s really amazing and it’s weird because prior to starting the label, she was the one person I thought I’d like to dress. Oh, and Grace Jones.
How amazing is Grace?
She’s a very powerful woman. I’m really interested in the history of costume. I look at a lot of the stuff that was made in the 20s and 30s in Europe and much of it has quite heavy animalistic elements, which I really love. That’s a constant inspiration.
Do you have any fashion predictions for this year?
I realise its a cliché, but I dont make a habit of following or predicting fashion. I don’t look at fashion a hell of a lot—rather I try to form ideas from a range of different sources. I know where we’re going with fashion this year though.
Great. Where are you going with fashion this year?
It’s a bit of a secret but we’re very much into the Caribbean vibe. Oh and animal inspiration—there’ll always be that.