FashionDecode introduces the fifth installment of “The Faces of Modern Beauty” by writer Johnny Cassanova. The Faces of Modern Beauty aims to spotlight individuals who are influencing or transcending the many facets of beauty. In the act of spotlighting these individuals, FashionDecode hopes to showcase and promote the various forms of beauty.
Johnny Cassanova chats with Domonique Echeverria, fashion designer and nightlife personality, about the inner warrior goddess, self-acceptance, and the challenges of being a designer.
Johnny Cassanova: How would you describe “true beauty”?
Dominique Echeverria: True Beauty has to be effortless and mirrored. Take someone like Amanda Lepore, who’s had plastic surgery and wears lots of makeup, but it’s effortless because her beauty is amplified by her genuine kindness, prowess, and aura. Anyone can have surgery or throw on makeup, but it takes a special type of energy for me to consider someone a “true beauty”. It may seem odd to use her as an example, but I think she’s the best example. If someone is a true beauty, not only are they physically beautiful, but they also act as mirrors to everyone around them. When I’m around Amanda, I always feel particularly special and especially beautiful. A true beauty is a mirror for others to see their own beauty – an individual who has an inner power that exudes a warrior, goddess or priestess energy.
JG: Speaking of the Inner Goddess, who’s beauty inspired you?
DE: My first beauty inspiration was my mother. She was a model in the 80s and 90s. She has a very classic look, but she has this eternal power that shines through. My second is Liza Minnelli’s character, ‘Sally Bowles’ in Cabaret. I was eight years old when I saw that film and I said to myself, ‘Oh my god, I want to dress like a cabaret singer every day of my life’.
JG: As you looked to these women for inspiration, how did you begin to develop your own visual aesthetic?
DE: I grew up in San Francisco around Drag Queens, Transsexuals, and performers who were all fearless. It helped me fully appreciate being and looking like a unique person – I’m a mutt and I look like an exaggeration of an average woman. I’m Puerto Rican, Spanish, Guatemalan, Mexican, Arabic, French, Russian, and Native American – these nationalities all have an intense presence. People don’t realize, but it’s easier to embrace yourself rather than mimic the people around you that don’t make sense for your mold. I guess my aesthetic is a little fetish, a lot of drag, classic hollywood, mysticism, and traditional costume from my background with attention to accentuating femininity.
JG: Painting your face must take its toll, how do you combat the wear and maintain your skin?
DE: I drink a lot of water. I also stay away from gluten and don’t drink much alcohol. I always wash my face at least an hour before I start my makeup. I put jojoba oil on and then Eucerin on top. I just let my skin absorb the moisturizer and breathe. Followed by that, I apply a Shiseido primer and give that about 15 minutes to dry and set. I can pretty much go crazy with colors, gluing things on my face, glitter, etc after that. Following an event, I always make sure take off my makeup before bed. I massage my face with baby oil then wipe off my makeup with Neutrogena makeup wipes (the blue pack). After my makeup is off, I wash my face with Dr. Bronner’s soap. To end my regimen, I pat my face dry, apply my moisturizer, and drink a bunch of water before bed. Honestly, though, your skin has a lot to do with what you put in your body.
JG: Growing up and coming from a variety of backgrounds, was there ever a time you struggled with self-acceptance and expression?
DE: Of course. It began when I was moved from a public school to a catholic high school for behaving badly. I went from a school with a diverse population of kids to a predominantly white, catholic high school called St. Vincent. It wasn’t until I was moved to that school that I became insecure. I was around all these blonde, misogynistic bitches – the boys never gave me an issue because I learned from an early age how to make boys eat out of your hands. The girls were the problem. It was my body, I had a twenty-two inch waist with a huge ass and tits. It caused me to attract a lot of sexual attention – I was never taught that it was wrong, but when I went to Catholic school, I could lean or sit a certain way and I’d be yelled at for it. The uniforms, on me, looked overtly sexual at any angle. When I graduated high school, I was able to go back into the real world with all kinds of different people and felt comfortable being myself again. It boggles my mind how women treat one another – I’m like. . .don’t you understand that you’re my sister and we need to stick together?
JG: Was there a journey between the insecurities of high school to the drag world? Or did that sense of confidence immediately return for you?
DE: It immediately returned. I started fashion school right after graduation. I was in college with artists, drag queens, gay boys, and I fit right in. But I guess the first time I REALLY felt empowered, loved, and supported was when I met my best friend Mani Motarjemi. He was the first person to put me in a waist cincher, red lipstick, and high heels – I was like there she is! It was before he started doing drag, so he just kind of put his early drag persona on me first before trying it on himself. I sort of acted as his little project when we first met. I always had a sense of style and loved dressing up, but he really forced me to push my own boundaries and explore myself. From then on, I accentuated every single thing about me – I let my hair grow longer, overdrew my lips, wore waist cinchers, taller heels, and crazier clothes. I basically let myself become a cartoon character, which is why I found my home in drag world. Drag queens are exaggerations and interpretations of females and I think that I’m an exaggeration of a woman.
JG: How does your aesthetic in nightlife culture differ from your every day aesthetic?
DE: Now that I’m a little older, I find my style leaning more towards the bohemian side, but they’ve pretty much become the same thing. Everything in my closet is used for in and outside of nightlife. I don’t have enough room in my closet for my things to not be versatile. When I lived in San Francisco, during the day, I used to be much more rock & roll. It was grungy, lots of ripped tights, mini skirts, combat boots, leather jackets. I think it’s only natural that my style is much more diverse now because my closet is curated according to experiences and various inspirations. In my closet, there is everything from bohemia, to my obsession with cults, to drag, to glitz and glam, traditional Latin clothing, etc. I dress different every day but this past year I’ve found myself having a much more tribal aesthetic.
JG: I’d like to talk about the fantasy that is your field of work and the type of work you tend to produce, how did this begin?
DE: I started designing in fashion school and hated it after I went to school. They were training us to be in the field – making sure we’re marketable, aware of target customers, and paying attention to trends. It was limiting. I’d create a collection and my teacher would say to me, ‘Each design could stem out into its own collection’. But I had more ideas, why couldn’t I just make it the way I saw it? I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I didn’t want to follow what they wanted me to do. So I started designing for Drag Queens and the rest of entertainers in their circle. Later, I became interested in making gown installations.
JG: How did you find yourself creating gown installations?
DE: I showed up at a gallery in San Francisco called PS1 naked, in a fur coat, with just sheer stockings on, and a pair of pumps. I immediately vibed with the owners, Brooke and Steve Waterhouse. They thought it was hilarious, but amazing that I showed up like that to their gallery. I told them I was a designer and wanted to do a show somewhere. Following that night, I thought about how expensive it was to do a show, how the garment is on the runway and a minute later it’s gone – no one in the audience really gets to see the detail. So, I called for a meeting and showed up with a proposal. The proposal featured a few other artists and a full plan. I booked the DJ, the performers, and on opening night, we had a line out the door. The place was packed with all kinds of magical people. It was really amazing how she trusted me to curate my own show, but she’s a very intuitive person and like I said, we instantly vibed. I thought gown installation would be a better way for me to showcase my work.
JG: Do you have any boundaries in your style or work?
DE: I have a strong aesthetic, which makes me particular in how I curate my I demand respect wherever I go. I believe every body should. It’s a part of evolution. I don’t put myself in a space where I feel disrespected, like a straight bar or club where everyone questions the way I look or what I’m doing. They’re not evolved enough to understand that there are other types of people. It’s not necessarily a boundary, but I just don’t let anyone make me feel less than what I want to feel. If you’re in a space you’re you don’t have creative freedom or people are making you feel limited, then change where you are, change the energy and move on. . .you don’t need their approval.
JG: What projects are you currently working on?
DE: Last summer, I made costumes for Nomi Ruiz from Hercules, Love Affair, and Jessica 6 – I have plans to work on more costumes for her now that she’s back in Hercules and Love Affair. I’m working on a series of costumes that will be shown in SF for Bianca Starr on January 11th. Every month I make new looks for myself and my creative partner, Ryan Burke, for nightlife events: Holy Mountain, Kunst and now the Crystal Palace. Further, I’m going to be working on costumes for Chelsea Wolfe. I will be putting together a mini collection for February Fashion Week here in NYC. Aside from all of this, I’m always working on stuff for myself and various performers and artists.
JG: As you are a prevalent force in the fashion community, how would you describe today’s fashion in one word, what would it be and why?
DE: Reductive…[Laughs]. I’m not saying that I’m a completely original person and that everything I do is a pure idea because it’s inevitable to absorb similar influences and inspirations as other artists. We live in a world where most people are exposed to the same things. I just think people are too concerned with belonging and being cool that they forget to take chances. They’re too concerned with being trendy – they’re not even listening to themselves. The fashion world is watered down. It’s the same shit over and over and over, again. But in the same breath…everyone is broke, some people can’t afford to take chances because they might not sell and then their company loses money. I don’t know, I hate answering questions about other designers because it’s their own shit. I rarely look at magazines anymore and don’t keep up on everyone’s collections. I just do what feels good, what I’m obsessed with at the moment, or revisit fashion moments that make me happy. But man ‘o man…if I had a team of people working for me and an investor, the things I would make!
JG: Do you believe it’s hard to be an original in a time where we are overexposed to media?
DE: It’s not as hard as people believe. People need to take chances. My friends that are designers, who are killing it, are taking chances – maybe it will work or maybe it won’t. But because the economy is such shit, no one can afford to take chances. Your designs may be innovative and different, but it won’t sell – you have to water it down so people will buy it.
JG: As we move from fashion to beauty, in a time of major beauty trends – including the natural look, androgyny, and the embracement of all figures – what are you views on the direction that beauty is headed in?
DE: Do you know what’s funny? Being a voluptuous girl, who has been used a lot for editorials and little campaigns here and there, my body is a trend right now. I’m attached to a trend. It’s really weird – I’m happy to be an example and mirror for women and people, but I, sometimes, feel like shouting at disapproving people, “HEY! THERE IS MORE THAN ONE KIND OF PERSON IN THE WORLD – GET OVER IT!” I have never looked at another woman and thought, ‘Oh my god, she’s so tall and thin – I hate myself’. If I see someone who is hot, stylish or beautiful, tall or short, fat or thin, I say, “Yes, bitch, you better work”. Most of the girls I have dated and have been friends with are tall and thin girls. There are all kinds of bodies out there. As long as people are healthy and happy, who gives a shit what they look like? I don’t feel the need to put other people down. I’m happy that there is a movement happening that is teaching women to embrace the way they are, to embrace healthy lifestyle choices, empower themselves. However, personally, it’s kind of annoying that everyone always wants to talk about my body being a trend.
JG: How do you hope to change the perception of beauty that we see today?
DE: I suppose this is where our interview comes full circle. I believe there are certain people who are mirrors that help others see who they are – I feel that I’m one of those people. If I can walk down the street with my head held high, love in my heart, and admiration for kindness and confidence in others, then why can’t you? What people don’t understand is that you are your own worse enemy. Your insecurities will eat you alive, prevent you from getting what you want, and I’m not just talking about insecurities of physical appearance. When you believe in yourself, others will believe in you. If you want to change and be a more evolved person, you have to be secure with yourself. Insecurities make you a dick. If you’re around people who make you feel insecure then don’t be around those people. There are billions of people and animals on this planet – even ghosts, go be friends with them. Move out of the situations that involve assholes. You have the right to have the boundaries. You have the right to be loved and if you’re around people who are assholes then stop wasting your time before you become an asshole. DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.
By Johnny Cassanova