Lavinia Co-Op by Princess Julia
Illustration by Elena Durey.
Princess Julia is a creative, writer, DJ, artist, lover of style and general multi-tasker. Her life has taken her through a multitude of counter cultural adventures from the late 70s to the present day. She is Culture Correspondent at iD magazine, writes a weekly alternative gay column #juliasays for QX magazine, DJ’s around London Town at our hotspots The Glory, Dalston Superstore and various parties and fashion events. She models on occasion signed to IMG.
Lavinia Co-op is a drag queen with a very forward thinking line of enquiry. Now in her mid 60’s Lavinia continues to find joy in her dressing up box. Stepping into her world is all about a very relevant life of discovery and enlightenment. Taking inspiration from just about everywhere Lavinia’s style has always been eclectic, slightly off kilter and a thing I can't stress enough… very, very important.
Born Vincent Fox in Hackney and growing up in the area Vin somehow sensed he was different, it wasn't really spoken about within his tight knit family circles but it was there nevertheless. The young Vincent looked at life with a curious eye, a questioning attitude and wondered where he fitted in. Growing up in East London in the 60’s the area wasn't what it is now by a long chalk, Vin had to find his own way. ‘I was going to the doctor because I didn't know if something was wrong with me. This was in 1968 or 9, then I was sent to a psychiatrist, I was like, ‘You cant' leave me like this’, it was horrendous. I went every week to talk to him and he'd ask personal questions about about who I fantasised about and I did think, ‘Oh, I’m getting the clues now’… The penny began to drop and the young Vin took matters into his own hands. ‘It wasn't until I went to the Liverpool Street urinals. I don't how how I heard about it when I think back. I went there and I met a guy outside, we went to one of the alleyways nearby and had a wank... I didn’t know you did any of that’. Vin explains in a way that at the time must have been somewhat of a shock, and indeed talking to Vin now as he recants his story you sense a degree of relief but also some of his wide eyed wonder of self discovery and bravery.
Finding work as a dresser at the Wyndham Theatre Vin made new friends. ‘It wasn't until I was a dresser, that's when I saw lots of gay guys, all sorts and I made a few friends there’. Chance connections led Vincent towards the Gay Liberation Front. ‘Gay Lib was a revelation… A group of radicle queers who were forging ahead. Being gay at those times was still very hush hush to the outside world, yes there were some shining lights and yes there were underground movements, but the early 70’s were full of stereotypes in mainstream media. Drag performance was on the Danny La Rue tip or the panto variety of with nothing much in between... well except a smattering of glam rock in the charts. And of course remember homosexuality had only been legalised in 1967.'
Formed in 1977 Lavinia had found a niche as a member of the Bloolips performance company spearheaded by Betty Bourne. They created an alternative theatrical experience where non conforming gender took centre stage. ‘We were very into androgyny as a concept,' Lavinia explains. ‘And it came from the Hot Peaches when they came over in the 70's.’ Betty Bourne was a member and formed Bloolips when they returned to the U.S. ‘Betty did use a song from them, it was called Ying and Yang. I grew my hair long. When that punk thing was happening I wore a pony tail to the side, it was outrageous back then. But with the androgynous thing we searched for things you couldn't get then.’ Things we take for granted now like unusual nail varnish, ‘You couldn’t get blue then so when things like this came in we were like wow!’
In fact the ground breaking Bloolips created a platform where the rules of gender became blurred and abstract. ‘At the very beginning we did a number called Bananas, we were men playing around with the feminine principle.’
Their legacy is apparent in the performances of today's drag queens. Bloolips subtly questioned areas of society with great humour and insight. ‘We did our own make up and drag collectively, sharing everything’. The cast was imaginative and committed, Betty was the boss, Diva Dan who was deaf, John Brown, Gretel Feather, Jon Jon, Naughty Nickers, and Precious Pearl. ‘You learnt bit by bit evolving ideas and all these variations over the years. Looking at drag in a different way, we never ever wore tits or tucks. You wouldn't necessarily be showing your bits.’
The Bloolips shows consisted of music, song, spoken word and dance addressing serious issues. Thought provoking and insightful it was here that Lavinia Co-op honed her skills and looks. Creating a persona out of the unexpected, putting looks together that broke the all rules. By 1980 Bloolips evolved with shows such as Lust In Space by Jon Taylor and travelled to America to spread the word.
Instinctual and ground breaking with a resonance that is still referenced today, Lavina Co-Op played with her on-stage persona with abandon much as she does today.
‘As long you had the lips and the eyes you were doing comedy, you could character a style to your face, so these were abstract fantasy ideas. If you weren’t going to wear a wig, what could you wear? Betty created a wig from string… We were just playing with it, it was humorous, it got very advanced as it went on.’ For one show, Strung Back and Strapless in 1984, the Bloolips took drag to new levels. ‘Oh!’ Lavina explains, ‘Let’s do a look where I'ma nice house, let's combine an umbrella as the roof.’ They were looking at notions of creating idyllic places. ‘Paul Theobald did a pastoral scene, for the painted hills he wore a period 1700's bonnet and the sheep were on a wire.’
Almost slung together in a considered way Lavina keeps true to her concepts something I note that keeps her keen eye ever excited by creating differentcharacters. With an ideal of genderless beauty I'm reminded of a quote used to describe a photograph of Lavinia taken by Peter Hujar in 1980, ‘Think of the sexless beauty one admires in a bird or a tiger – now make it human.’
Illustrator Elena Durey is an queer Irish illustrator, currently studying BA (Hons) Illustration in sunny Falmouth and would like to meet your dog.