When it comes to drag, one usually thinks of voluptuous, kickass personas whose fashion senses are flamboyant and flashy, mannerisms are bold and unapologetic, and whose sass is off the charts. Oh, and that it’s a cultural movement and art form only found in the West.
Get ready to tell that last point BGB ("bye, girl, bye!").
In this new China Temper series entitled Drag Divas, we celebrate the seductresses of sass and sirens of style that are the queens of the Middle Kingdom. So prepare yourself to get up close and personal with some of China’s drag community’s goddesses of glitz.
First up: The queen of the tease and vintage pizzazz, Velvet Teese.
See the China Temper posting with minor edits here.
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All images come courtesy of Velvet Teese.
Velvet Teese is a drag queen, makeup artist and college student who deems her drag persona as “a romantic piece of extravagance.” With the optimal word being extravagance, Velvet’s makeup, wigs and ensembles are nothing but unparalleled glamour that pays homage to vintage pizzazz. And with her show-stopping looks that are reminiscent of the golden age of Vaudeville, Velvet’s chosen performance style is naturally burlesque.
According to Burlexe, an online resource for everything burlesque, burlesque was initially a type of Victorian Era variety show in Britain. These shows, or “extravaganza,” would parody famous operas and plays of the time. The word burlesque comes “from the Italian word ‘burlesco’.” As an adjective, burlesco means jesting or mocking. #thankyougoogletranslate The cabaret dance style that is nowadays primarily thought of as burlesque didn’t come about until the 20th century. In fact, burlesque as a form of striptease or ‘hootchie-kooch’ dancing wasn’t a thing until a performer by the name of Little Egypt performed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. #TemperTeaching
The nom de guerre of Velvet Teese similarly seeps with nonpareil allure and timeless charm. In other words, it’s an elegant enigma of sensual euphoria and physical sensation. “The name ‘Velvet’ actually signals the moment when I take off the velvet gloves during burlesque,” Teese tells Temper, “…velvet is also the kind of fabric that I always love to land my hands on to touch, to feel. That’s what I want other people to feel about my drag. [I want them to feel] like a plushness caresses the bare skin, an insatiable thirst.”
And what about the tease…we mean Teese? “And about Teese, first of all, you probably notice that it’s from Dita’s name, Dita Von Teese,” Velvet continues while explaining her name’s origin, “she [Dita Von Teese] is my all-time favorite [American vedette/burlesque dancer] and one of my biggest inspirations. Also, it sounds like velvet tease, which is exactly what I do in drag, striptease. People usually just call me Velvet, which is fine but for myself I just wanna pay homage to Dita. That’s why I chose this as my drag name.”
Most drag origin stories start with curiosity quickly followed by a drag mother and duct tape. In Velvet Teese’s case the curiosity came first with no drag mother to show her the ropes or gray adhesive in sight. Being a kid in the digital age, Velvet’s first exposure to drag culture was through social media while a tween. “I first saw pictures of Violet Chachki on Instagram when I was in junior high school,” Ms. Teese recollects, “at that time I had no idea what drag was so I took it for granted that she might be a fashion model or something.” Through scrolling Violet Chachki’s YouTube, Velvet discovered the seventh season (“Violet’s season”) of the drag competition show that is “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” “That’s when I started to know about drag culture, mostly through Drag Race and social media but I still thought it was only a thing in the US and people did drag just to look pretty, stuff like that,” Velvet states.
That mindset of drag as something foreigners do to doll themselves up “just to look pretty” was flipped on its head once Velvet Teese moved to Beijing for college (“It was mind blowing for me to know that people were actually doing drag here, in China.”). Once in Beijing to study translation and interpreting, Velvet’s destined progression from bedroom enthusiast to star of the stage was set into motion. She began schooling herself on how to apply makeup via following Chinese drag queens and makeup artists on Weibo. But at this time actually getting into the spotlight and strutting her stuff was still not on Velvet’s immediate radar. That is until she met her partner. A drag queen themselves by the name Betty D, Velvet’s partner egged her on to try drag, coaching her on what it takes to be a drag queen and bringing her education on drag culture to the next level. On March 17th, 2021, Velvet’s birthday, Velvet made her debut in Beijing’s drag queen community. And since then she’s been captivating and teasing audiences regularly.
Alongside Betty D, who Velvet sees more as her drag sister than drag mother (“I feel like we are more like drag sisters. I teach him how to do makeup and other stuff and he also teaches me somethings.”), Ms. Teese performs monthly at Nugget (小块儿咖啡), a cafe, record label and cultural hotspot plopped in the hutongs around Gulou.
If interested in being drawn into a world of glamorous fashion and titillating performance by this goddess of glitz, keep an eye on Velvet’s Instagram account for information about her monthly sets at Nugget (小块儿咖啡).
When it comes to drag as a creative movement and performance style, Velvet regards it as an art form where the ends justify the means. As the saying goes, through pain one finds pleasure. “Drag for me is kind of a fetish because I’m willing to suffer the pain and discomfort to present myself the way I want [.] [When] I’m feeling it, feeling my look, I feel sexy and powerful. So is fashion to me. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘uncomfortable’ though,” she states, “fashion is like my defense mechanism, my amour. Rihanna said and I quote, ‘she can beat me, but she cannot beat my outfit.’ I feel you, Riri.” With an infectious beauty that radiates and ensembles that own the room, Velvet’s fashion sense and attitude are next level. No one can beat Velvet’s chic.
Creating wigs that are vibrant masterpieces and makeup designs that defy the boundaries of the imagination, Velvet Teese’s stage looks are pure indulgent fantasy. Designing every look from head to toe, Ms. Teese’s persona is a sultry marriage that “incorporates elements of burlesque, pinup fashion, and classic glamour with oriental aesthetics.” Through blending these elements of the East and the old, Velvet not only has an innovative style but also pushes the envelope with what is viewed as sexy. “I always believe that there is no specific way to define sexiness, regardless of outfit, body shape, gender identity, etc.,” Teese explains, “therefore, I hope my drag can give people a more diversified perspective about sexiness, beauty, gender expression and self-exploration.”
This fierce fashion challenge to the status quo that Velvet possesses while in drag isn’t just a gimmick to get attention. On the contrary, it extends into her out-of-the-limelight boy life as a dissident act against the white heterosexual cis male ideology that domineers. “Fashion is also…my way to rebel against this heteronormative society and the gender norms. Back in high school, every time I tried to dress up cool or put on something ‘girlish’, my parents always accused me of not being masculine enough. I felt restrained and depressed [because] I genuinely didn’t agree with them on how boys should dress. Since then, I have developed my own gender free style. I no longer care how people might think of me when they see me wear something totally unacceptable to them. I mean I’m the one that would wear high heels and crop tops to the classroom on Monday with a pair of big-ass pearl earrings,” states Velvet.
With such a bold, I’m doing me stance when it comes to individual style, what does fashion mean to Ms. Teese? Let’s let her explain: “Fashion to me means that I have total control of how I present myself and the freedom to show my creativity. Fashion gives me the power to put myself first and to just unapologetically be my true self. That’s why I think fashion is not about a Prada bag or a pair of red bottoms. Fashion is for all who dare to let their true colors shine through.”
And that’s exactly what Ms. Teese does. She allows her brilliant, bold sass and beauty to shine without restraint. Here at Temper, we tip our hats to you, Velvet. You do you, boo!
Drag is known globally for its elegance, outrageous antics, and all-around eye-catching, show-shopping glam. Through otherworldly retro looks, Velvet embodies the whole caboodle of fierce, fabulous, drop-dead gorgeous queen. Adorned in DIY ensembles that are impressive works of art, her performances are just as captivating and fun as any of the more established queens in Beijing’s drag scene. And through her chosen performance art, striptease/burlesque, Ms. Teese strips away the gender binary BS, leaving behind beauty, authenticity, and pure art. What is there not to love!?