This self-described Fashion Clown turns it on stages from Asbury Park to Bushwick, while in the midst of becoming nightlife’s newest in-demand costume designer. Whether they’re sewing for Asia O’Hara or bringing drama to the Nightgowns stage, Westchester-born Pierretta Viktori is here to slay!
Thotyssey: Hello Pierretta, how’s the summer treating you?
Pierretta Viktori: Hi! So far summer has been very busy, but I’m finally forcing myself to take some time off from working nonstop for my birthday next week. Due to DragCon, Pride month, and a few other big exciting things, it’s been a while since I’ve had a moment to breathe. But luckily, my sewing machine is directly in front of the air conditioner!
You’re a well-known costume designer in the city… are most of your clients in nightlife?
Yes! Right out of school I started working mainly with showgirls and circus performers that I met through my senior internship with Screaming Queens Entertainment. But over the years I’ve accumulated more and more drag clients, and now it’s fairly rare that I get asked for anything else. Fun fact: my first NYC drag client was [Dragula Season 2 contestant] Erika Klash, back when we were both just starting out!
She was Thotyssey’s very first interview! And it must’ve been a great feeling to see Asia O’Hara wearing something of yours during Pride!
That whole experience was wild; I was already up to my eyeballs in deadlines, and then 4pm the Thursday before Pride weekend, I got a text from another RuGirl I’d worked with, being like “Hey do you have time to make something for Asia O’Hara?” and obviously it would have been foolish to say no, so I ended up having to drop what I was doing, run to the garment district to grab fabric before the stores closed, and then get these pieces–along with all my existing deadlines–finished by Saturday morning. At the time, she didn’t tell me what the collection of face masks was for (the photos of her initial blackout look showed up online later that night), and my assumption was they were for backup dancers. But I was completely floored when I saw how she used them, and am proud to have had even a small part in the incredibly important statement she was making with that series of looks.
How old were you when you first became interested in sewing and designing… and was it always about circus and clown themes in the beginning?
My mom taught me the basics of sewing when I was a little kid. But I really became interested in design at age 12 or 13, when I started developing my personal style, and realized I didn’t like most of the existing clothes that were available–whether it be style-wise, or how they fit.
I started taking formal sewing classes when I was 15, and then went to FIT to study fashion design. At the time I wanted to be the next Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, or Betsey Johnson. But around 2010-2012 when I was finishing up with school, that segment of the high fashion industry crashed, and everything else got really safe and boring. I couldn’t relate to it at all, and my professors kept trying to convince me to make my designs more subdued so they’d have more mass market appeal. That’s when I decided to pursue costuming rather than fashion.
As for the circus thing… I honestly can’t really explain it, but I’ve always had a fixation about clowns and circuses, and just love the aesthetics of it. When I was a kid, I had VHS recordings of all the Cirque du Soleil shows, and that was a huge inspiration for me. And even before that, as a toddler, I had picked out circus-themed wallpaper for my bedroom! Ironically, I’ve never been able to pick up any actual circus skills myself, which is why I use the descriptor “fashion clown” (which I came up with before I knew Thorgy was also using it as a tagline, oops). I’m a full time clown who uses my sense of style to amuse people and brighten their days.
It’s worth noting that the first garment I ever sewed myself was a jester hat, in 6th grade!
Fitting! When you went to FIT, were you in any classes with some of the other queens who came through there?
I think the FIT drag presence really got kickstarted with Biblegirl and Aquaria, who were there after I graduated. While I was there, it seemed like a lot of the contestants for the annual drag pageant were guys who just thought it would be something to try once for fun. However, I was in classes with Miss Gamma Ray, who won Miss FIT 2011 and is still active in the scene. And I also realized recently when looking back at the program I got from the 2009 one that Christopher Palu was one of the contestants, although we never knew each other while we were in school.
When did you begin performing regularly as a drag queen?
My first performance was almost 2 years ago; I’ve been regularly performing for about a year and a half. It’s always hard though when people ask what my “drag birthday” is though, since I’d been going out as a “look queen” for about 3 years before that, and then doing drag in my bedroom for online competitions for almost a year before THAT. It’s been a very gradual process, since I’ve had to work through a lot of anxieties about whether what I was doing was valid and whether people would accept it, but so far so good!
Had drag been a useful tool for you into exploring your gender identity, or is it a pursuit that’s separate from that?
They’re absolutely related! One of the reasons why I initially started pursuing drag is because it gave me a way for me to embrace the feminine aspects of myself without feeling or being seen by others as female. Back when I first started going out, it was my goal to blend in with the male queens around me without anyone clocking that I was anything different. Really, who better to understand that someone can want to wear makeup and dresses and heels but not internally feel female than a group of people who do it professionally?
A lot of the things I wear in drag (that aren’t pieces I made myself) are things I bought before I started drag and used to wear when I was younger, or bought because I liked them but never wore out of the house… I was uncomfortable with what people assumed about me because of them. Back when I was in middle / high school, I felt pressure to present more femininely once I went through puberty, and the boy-ish clothes I’d been wearing no longer fit the way I wanted them to. I tell people semi-jokingly that I would show up to school in drag because once I swung that way, it definitely went into the realm of performative femininity and costume rather than an authentic expression. I was going to high school in 6” platform boots, wacky printed tights, miniskirts with petticoats, corsets (over t-shirts for modesty’s sake, this was high school after all), multiple pieces of costume jewelry, and blue glittery garage door eyeshadow.
Since drag has become a prominent part of my life, I’ve been able to use that outlet to express that part of myself in a way that feels comfortable and authentic, while also being able to drop the performative facade during the day and be much more comfortable embracing my androgynous / masculine side without feeling like I’m missing out on the fun of also having that more flamboyant and performative side.
There does seem to be a growing number of drag performers whose own gender identities are unclear, or even irrelevant, when they’re dragging.
And I love it! Like I said, when I first started out I was trying really hard to fit in with the male Manhattan queens I was friendly with, and never heard about any other AFAB queens or gender nonconforming performers. But now I’ve got a nice solid family of non-cis drag weirdos, and it’s been really validating and affirming for all of us to find each other.
Your song selections for your numbers do not subscribe to traditional drag material either; I watched your Will Wood & the Tapeworms number from what you describe as a “gender reveal act” from BEEF! What inspires your song selection? Is it just about whatever song works best for a concept, or a look?
I’ve never really been super into top 40 pop music–plus I’m the world’s worst dancer, so basically I’ve had to figure out more creative ways to keep the audience’s attention… and therefore, look for songs I can build a visual narrative around, and put my sewing skills to good use. It goes back and forth between picking an artist I want to share with people, and listening to their music on repeat until I figure out what I want to do with it (this was the case with my other Will Wood act or my Papercut Skin act, for example). Other times I have a look or narrative concept in mind, and then search for a song that makes it work. I actually first started working on my gender reveal act back in January, and it was this big complicated mix of 8 different things that weren’t really coming together, so I scrapped it. But as soon as I heard “Love Me Normally,” I knew I’d found the right fit.
Other times, it just clicks in a way I can’t explain… that’s how my “Don’t Grab Me” act came about. And I most recently got booked for a clown / circus themed show, and then realized I somehow didn’t actually have a clown / circus themed act. I was racking my brain over what to do, and then at 3am on the way home from a show it randomly popped into my head to perform “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt as a mime, and I couldn’t decide whether it was brilliant or completely stupid, so obviously that was the right way to go. And it ended up being really cute!
Your busy summer continues on Thursday, July 12, when you’ll be at Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village for another installment of Vylette Tendency’s punk drag show, “Queer As in Fuck You!” That the BNA-winning Best Reason to Leave Brooklyn! You’ve done this show many times; I have a feeling it’s a very different environment from other drag shows.
“Queer As in Fuck You” is one of two drag shows I make sure I’m at every month whether I’m performing or not… the other being Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns, if that gives you an idea of how important this show is to me! It’s an amazing show to begin with, but having a show centered around alternative music / performance–with a bias towards non-cis and gender nonconforming performers–be able to thrive in Manhattan has been especially exciting to see. One of the coolest parts is the mix of performers: there have been Brooklyn artists who’ve had this show be their first time performing in Manhattan, and there have been more traditional Manhattan queens who’ve been really excited to be able to get weird in a way that a typical drag bar audience might not be receptive to. The whole atmosphere is great as well; usually a high percentage of the audience is other performers who came just to hang out. And because of the way the room is set up, we often have people sitting on the floor, so the vibe is very much one of performing in your living room to a group of friends.
And it’s so encouraging to have an audience that’s receptive and excited no matter what you have to offer. Vylette always ends the show with a call and response shout of “Not gay as in happy… but queer as in FUCK YOU!” and it’s always a very cathartic experience for everyone in the room to let go of their frustrations and anxieties and be surrounded by so many others who understand their struggles.
For this month’s show, Vylette has requested that I bring back my “Don’t Grab Me” act that I unofficially retired after doing it at Nightgowns, so if you missed seeing that now’s your chance!
Oooh, before we go on with the gigs, tell us a little more about what it’s like to perform at Nightgowns, the long-running multimedia drag theater experience created by Sasha that got amped up in production value after her Drag Race Season 9 win.
Nightgowns was basically the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I loved getting the opportunity to take a piece I’d performed on small bar stages for 20 people, and blow it up to its fullest potential. I made the screen projections myself just for that show, and it allowed me to add so much more context and meaning to the performance without having to completely reorganize the act.
It was a really interesting audience to perform to, since it’s so rare to have a drag show outside of a bar / club space where the entire audience is seated quietly, you’re not competing for their attention over a dance party or alcohol or hookups or whatever else people come to bars to do, and they’re completely invested in and supportive of whatever you’re doing. At that show, Untitled Queen did a very avant garde performance art piece involving a quiet spoken word lip sync of a poem, and ambient nature sounds instead of music, while interacting with a glowing cube full of steam. That would probably have never worked in a bar environment, but in this space you could hear a pin drop as everyone sat watching on the edge of their seat.
The backstage vibe was similarly supportive. We had a greenroom downstairs with a monitor so we could watch the show, and the entire cast watched the full show both times through, cheering at the screen like it was a sports game, applauding each performer as they re-entered the room after their number, and showering compliments about their favorite parts of everyone’s acts. My favorite thing that happened backstage that’s very indicative of the spirit of the show was that Cheddar Gorgeous had this amazing Queen Elizabeth ensemble with a huge backpiece that didn’t fit through the greenroom door, so she had to get fully dressed elsewhere. And then as soon as someone realized she was standing outside the door unable to hang out with us because the door didn’t have any mechanism to hold it open and swung shut on its own, three other performers immediately jumped up and started working with whatever they could find to try and hold this heavy door open just for the 3 minutes that Cheddar was out in the hall before her number, so that she wouldn’t feel isolated from the group.
All of us who were doing the show for the first time left it whining that we wanted this to be every show we did for all of the above reasons; it really is just on a whole other level.
Probably the most amazing part of the experience, though, was the reaction after. I received dozens of messages from women and AFAB people talking about how much my number affected them. It gave one person the courage to open up to people about their experiences with sexual assault; another person used it as a way to talk to her husband about why he didn’t identify as a feminist, and was actually able to change his mind. Others were just excited to see an AFAB nonbinary drag queen, and it inspired them to pursue drag or explore their own gender.
I owe a lot of my success to Sasha for featuring me both in that show and in her Pirate Jenny film. Even just a few days ago I had someone excitedly recognize me on the street after following me on Instagram because of Nightgowns, and a few weeks ago had a similar experience at a gig out of state where other performers knew who I was because of those platforms and told me how excited they were to see me perform because of it!
Pirate Jenny! That was amazing!
And there’s more coming! Only about half of what I was there for has been released so far. We also did a bunch of really gorgeous scenes at the Kings Theatre which you can see in the teaser trailer, and I believe there’s even more being planned for the future.
That whole experience ties with Nightgowns for coolest drag experience ever, especially since when I was first contacted about participating I assumed I’d be in the background of a crowd shot–but then when I received the scene sheet for Day 1 of filming, I discovered I was one of three characters who were named (the other two being Sasha and Peppermint) and basically fell out of my chair.
What a lot of people (including Sasha) didn’t know was that at the time of filming, I didn’t really have any involvement in the Brooklyn scene, and the person I was most friendly with out of all of these local performers was Peppermint! But the shoot was a great bonding experience, as we were all in drag in a small space together for several full days. And it’s through that experience that I connected with a lot of the Brooklyn performers who I now call family!
On July 18th, you’ll be at another interesting show you’ve done before.
I’ll be at Wepa Wednesdays at Cafe de la Esquina in Williamsburg… free drag shows on a beautiful outdoor patio while you eat delicious Mexican food, what more could you ask for?
That brings us to July 31st, when you will be back at Bizarre Bushwick for BEEF!
Yes! I finally got to be part of BEEF last month, and it was so much fun–I can’t wait to be back! It’s [host] Lee VaLone’s birthday show, so in honor of that he’s decided we’re celebrating Halloween in July and the show is demon-themed, which should be a good time!
My friend Boxxa Vine recently recruited me for the Mr/Miss Berkshire pageant she helped put on, which was my first PAGEANT pageant (presentation, talent, gown, q&a), while a lot of the NYC competitions use the term pageant more loosely. Formal pageant drag definitely isn’t something I can see myself pursuing too far (even Mr/Miss Berkshire was a bit towards the alternative side), but it was a fun experience to try out and I’m glad I did it!
I’m not a super competitive person, but Mx. Nobody has a really chill and inclusive vibe to it. Plus, it attracts a super compelling lineup of performers, so it’s a great show to come see even if you forget it’s a competition!
Cool for the summer! Final question, that maybe some clownish insight could enlighten us on: there was a movement to “ship” Pennywise and the Babadook last year. Do you support that relationship?
Ha! I definitely support it, us spooky queerdos have to stick together!