It was just after 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning at Ladyfag’s first Battle Hymn party of Pride weekend when a towering drag queen whose look seemed to recall a very regal French poodle slinked past a young man in a mesh tank top. Nightlife icon Amanda Lepore, done up in purple lingerie, chatted with another club kid in a leotard bejeweled to read “baby slut” while 15 feet away two ripped male models in little more than black bikini briefs solicited partygoers to take photos.
It’s a party where one can neither be underdressed or overdressed, and the only real fashion faux pas is to be neither. Of course, as roughly half of the male-dominated crowd realized, that can be easily remedied by taking off your shirt and stuffing it into the back pocket of your jorts.
A bit of sin is encouraged, but the gospel-tinged house music spun by DJs Hex Hector and Steve Travolta promises to take everyone back to church. The dance floor of the Flash Factory, the 10,000-square-foot Chelsea nightclub the party calls home, was packed because no one wanted to miss out on the sweaty action. Attendees ran the gamut of gay taxonomy: bears, twinks, otters, femme queens, muscle boys, daddies, zaddies, whatever. Category is everything and anything. Although you can tell for most of the butch queens, it isn’t their first time in drag at a ball.
“This party is my dream party that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do. You can’t always plan it and you have all these ideas that you want, but that doesn’t always mean that it’s going to happen,” said the woman behind all the madness, the party promoter best known as Ladyfag, who deserves a category all her own.
“You’ll see like leather daddies, and then you’ll see the supermodels in the corner. Literally. You’ve got the club kids, and we’ve got the voguers in the back. We’ve got porn stars. We’ve got Chelsea gays. It’s such a melting pot, which doesn’t usually happen. They don’t always all want to be together. But people come out and dance and you see them connecting with each other on the dance floor instead of just dancing with their friends. I don’t know that many parties in New York where that happens.”
After moving to New York from her native Toronto 12 years ago, Ladyfag quickly moved up the ranks of New York nightlife, from performing as a go go dancer at Kenny Kenny’s parties at Happy Valley to one of the busiest and most revered promoters in the city. Battle Hymn was just the first of three parties she’ll throw throughout Pride weekend.
“It’s kind of like Christmas for gays,” she said.
Yet, when you make a career in parties, that often means a lot of your life is spent getting ready for parties, one way or another. In her earlier years, Ladyfag used to get ready at home and hid her club world outfits under a red trench coat during her subway commute. Now that she’s in charge, she arrives an hour or so before the party stars by car and has a hair and makeup person on hand to help her get ready. On Friday, that duty fell to hairstylist Sonny Molina and makeup artist Dawn Nicole.
Just a door away from where all the debauchery will unfold, the pre-staging setting was decidedly unglamorous: Flash Factory’s fluorescent light offices. Nicole had set out a selection of makeup on one table and across from it was another that includes the club’s utility bill envelopes and scheduling paperwork.
Ladyfag usually spend the time in the makeup chair talking logistics and keeping up with the status of the line with her lieutenants, while also scrolling through Instagram to view the pictures and stories of all the club goers who are on their way. “Aw, he’s adorable,” she said at one point after finding herself tagged in a random Instagram story and holding her phone to show the room. “I don’t know who he is, but he’s adorable.”
She’s noted a rise in over-the-top clubland looks in the past year or two, and theorized it might have something to do with the ascent of Instagram. “When you put that much work into a look then it deserves to be broadcast,” she said, noting she's inspired by the devotion her guests and the gaggle of clubland personalities she’s gathered to give her parties an over-the-top oomph.
On this night, she’s even borrowed a look from a member of her nightlife family, drag queen and fashion designer Hana Quist. The skirt and bustier-number is a riff on Battle Hymn’s logo. To make it her own, Ladyfag has added a vintage French chapeau. (Her other passion besides nightlife is antiques. The only thing that will actually get her out of bed before before 5 a.m. is an antiques sale.)
Molina primped and preened her long black hair into a sort of pirate-informed style, while Nicole added the finishing makeup touches of gold tears, though Ladyfag’s look is always changing.
“For these parties I’m very schizophrenic with my styling. Sometimes it’s willl be really over the top. Sometimes I’ll be, well, I don’t know if anyone would call me demure, but maybe somewhere in the middle,” she said.
Her makeup motto: “More is more.” Her fashion inclination is the same, just as long as she stands out. “My biggest fear is walking into a room and everyone is in jeans and I’m wearing jeans, or everyone’s wearing a dress and I’m wearing a dress. I never feel overdressed and I never feel underdressed. Whatever I’m doing I’m owning,” she said. If she’s in a pinch, her fallback is just to wear all black. “I’m a New Yorker,” she explained.
As for what one should wear to a Ladyfag party, well, she’s very open.
“It’s high-low and you don’t have to wear labels. At my parties, yeah, there’s a lot of fashion kids, too. So there’s a lot of kids in their labels, and there’s a lot of kids who probably can’t pay their rent and they come here and they look like a million dollars and they feel like it and that’s the whole point. That’s New York to me," she said.
“It’s about pageantry and fashion and feeling good,” she said of the Battle Hymn party in particular.
It's also, as it turns out, about giving back. This weekend's proceeds from Ladyfag's parties will benefit the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT Youth. Those shirtless men in bikini briefs weren't just there to take photos with club goers, either. They were also collecting signatures for the plight of Mr. Gay Syria.
Perhaps the key to Ladyfag’s dominance of a certain sphere of New York nightlife and longevity is her view that nightlife is always changing. Right now the moment is all about over-the-top Instagram-worthy looks. In a year or so it might be something different. Just go with it and don’t look back.
“I always say nostalgia is very dangerous when it comes to nightlife,” she observed. “‘Oh, it was better in my time!’ ‘Oh remember when New York was cool?’ People have been saying that forever. Every generation says that. I think people remember things they way they felt them. So when you first come here and the first time you come to a party it’s magic. It’s like the first time you have sex. Well, maybe that’s awkward, so it's like the second time you have sex, it was magic. It’s magic at other times too, but that first love is never going to be the same.”
“It’s really easy to sit there and say ‘Well, it was better in my days.' Your days are over if you want them to be over. For everyone else they’re still having a great time," she said.
It should be noted, though, that Ladyfag also preaches inclusivity at her parties. Even those who think New York nightlife may have been better at one point or another are welcome. And they’re welcome all weekend.
Indeed, Ladyfag says the one party she’d love to throw but hasn’t been able to yet is one that lasts from Friday night until the wee hours of Monday morning. Her Pride weekend line-up may not be exactly that, but it comes close. Friday’s Battle Hymn was followed-up by a superhero-themed edition of her Holy Mountain monthly party at Slake. And tonight, it’s back to Flash Factory for a special edition of Battle Hymn that will rage from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. DJ Honey Dijon will (at her own insistence) spin all 12 hours.
After about an hour in the makeup chair, Ladyfag was anxious to get out onto the main floor. After a mad rush of shoe lacing, bustier tightening and last-minute hair fixes, she exited the office and was finally among the people she was previewing just moments before on Instagram.
She’ll do it all again twice more this weekend alone.
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