Next door to the narrow and steep cobblestone streets of the Niederdorf – the oldest part of Zurich – is Zurich’s biggest gay club, Heaven, discreetly placed in the cellar of an old house.
Inside, seven drag queens are dancing and lip-syncing to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ in shimmering dresses and layers of makeup. They are part of the repertoire of queens that the club has been accumulating since opening in March 2013.
“We’ve had drag queens at our parties since the beginning,” Marco Uhlig, Heaven’s managing director says, pointing towards the back of the room, where a drag queen is brushing out her blond wig. “Stella, for example, was even with us at the opening.” Stella smiles into the reflection of the mirror and applies another layer of foundation powder.
Most of the drag queens that were at Heaven’s parties in the club’s beginnings were flown in from Berlin, where Uhlig is originally from, because there weren’t enough drag queens in Zurich.
Now, nearly four years on, the scene is firmly established in Zurich – something Uhlig believes is down to his club after he decided the city was lacking in drag performance, and launched “Heaven Drag Race”.
The event, which is in its fourth year, is a competition hosted annually with around seven fresh queens competing in question and performance rounds.
But in a city with only 391,000 inhabitants, isn’t it hard to find seven new drag queens each year? Uhlig shakes his head. “To be honest, I see new ones every other weekend when I’m working at the club!”
Zurich was starving for drag
One of Zurich’s best-known queens is Milky Diamond. The 24-year old is known for her “Trashglam” and recently starred in a collaborative production of the Swiss TV channel SRF and Vice.
“When I was around 20, I dyed my hair black and blond, inspired by Cruella Deville. I lost some weight, and started going out in women’s clothing,” Milky, the city’s self-confessed “queen of the scene”, says. “The people were fascinated by me – they were starving for it!”
She started performing in clubs, helped build up the Heaven Drag Race competition, and has quickly evolved to become Zurich’s most famous queen. “I’m kind of a star now, I got the fame I wanted, and I couldn’t be happier,” Milky says.
It isn’t just Heaven that hosts drag queens now, with more mainstream events picking up on the hype every month. There are bingo afternoons hosted by queens, “Drag Weeks” at Heldenbar, and more.
Ivan Blagajcevic, a dancer and drag queen living in Zurich, performed at the Heldenbar on January 10. “In 2009, when I moved to Zurich, there were only about three drag queens. Now, there are over 30.” Ivan is wearing a grey hoodie and jeans, his face cleanly shaven. The only thing that could give away the fact his occupation are his fingernails, painted with silver glitter. “I always do my nails when I do drag,” he says. “And, of course, make up. That’s the most fun part. But it’s about so much more.”
An accomplished dancer, Ivan has been performing all of his adult life, before doing drag on the side in 2012. Today, he does up to three shows a month as his drag personality, Evalyn Eatdith. “I like to be creative and try out new things and not only do the same old Britney songs,” he says.
Drag: an art form
Drag seems to be in a transformation phase. No longer perceived as a social oddity, it is gaining traction as a legitimate art form.
“I think it’s a phenomenon to see how today’s young people accept and cheer for drag queens,” Uhlig says – something he accredits to the popular TV show Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
And that was it. All that makeup, all those shimmering self-tailored evening gowns and all that splendour for five minutes. “It’s a lot of work,” Milky Diamond agrees. “But it’s absolutely worth it. It’s about being the person you want to be, the best version of yourself. And what’s better than that?”
Words, Luisa Bider
All pics, Milky Diamond. Pic: Toni Rey x Milky Diamond