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A Conversation with Icon Black

“Normally I don’t call it drag, I call it art."

By | [email protected] | December 7, 2018 8:30am

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“Aw, I didn’t know I could order alcohol. Otherwise I would have,” says Icon Black, pouting slightly. We’re at a café near Tribunales where she just ordered an orange juice and I proceeded to request a glass of white wine. Matías Gutiérrez, aka Icon Black, is in what you could call “casual drag”: discreet, light, daytime makeup, and a brown wig in a loose ponytail. She’s wearing a baggy t-shirt tucked into a pair of ripped jeans and black high top sneakers. This is one of her looks inspired by Ally, the female lead in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, played by Lady Gaga.

Since the film premiered, Icon has been meticulously recreating Ally’s looks. She’s out and about in Buenos Aires as Ally, and she is Ally on Instagram. And her efforts are not in vain: she seriously resembles the fictional crooning leading lady. Icon passes as a tall, lanky, long limbed version of Ally (Gaga only stands 5’2”) with arms full of tattoos, all of which have something to do with Gaga or her music.

Today’s outfit may appear casual, but it’s the product of delicate consideration. “I thought about it yesterday and was up late trying the clothes on to make sure they looked OK, to see if maybe the waist needed to be taken in little. I plan everything in advance. I think about this 24 hours a day. I have no rest from it, but it doesn’t tire me.”

Icon refers to her craft as art: “Normally I don’t call it drag, I call it art. Drag is an art form, but I think of what I do as art in general.” Recently she realized it wasn’t a hobby and that she wants to make a living off it in the future. For the moment, the 22-year-old resides at home with her mother in Parque Chacabuco.

Our beverages arrive. Icon takes a tiny sip from the glass then realizes she’s in danger of smudging her lipstick. She carefully takes a black straw out of her purse. “I brought a straw because I knew this would happen. See, I think about all this stuff.”

Photos courtesy of the artist

The Bubble: Why did you choose the name Icon Black?

Icon Black: In a 2013 interview Gaga said she isn’t one icon, she’s every icon. It stuck in my head. She isn’t one thing, she can be everything. This was during the Artpop era. The album really made a mark on me. Around that time, I began to create something visual, a character, without realizing I was starting to do drag.

Actually, it’s not really a character: I am exactly the same in and out of drag. But I started trying different looks, high heels, wearing more makeup, growing out and dying my hair, bleaching my eyebrows. “Black” was chosen randomly because I needed a last name for Facebook. But now I love it and think it makes sense because my essence is kind of dark and my looks tend to be pretty dark. Or all white.  

How did you discover Gaga?

I first saw the Paparazzi video  on TV in 2009. It contained so much information and references. I was a lot younger then and didn’t understand them all; still my mind was blown. I went online, started investigating and was introduced to a new world. I fell in love with her. It felt like there was someone out there who understood me. My mind was at peace and I felt hope. And I noticed that she was always changing and transforming herself – I adored that.

In the early stages of my fandom, I would get in trouble at school for writing “GAGA” all over the desks as big as possible. I’d also put them next to the window, so the aliens could see. I know, I have problems (laughs). It’s just that I’ve always associated Gaga with aliens. I envision her in outer space, like in the Born This Way video.

How has she influenced you?

Before getting to know her, I kept everything inside. I didn’t even dye my hair. But she helped me begin to express myself. Once she walked out of a hotel barefoot and crying, dressed all in white, face painted white, eyebrows bleached, and took six minutes to walk to the car while everyone watched. I saw a video of that and was amazed. It was the purest expression of art I had witnessed up until then. This was also during the Artpop era. Nowadays, I put everything I want to express into my looks.  

Apart from Gaga, who and what else inspires you?

Gaga (laughs). I would say pop music in general. But only when it’s made by women. I think what men do is boring. And although I respect all artists, I can’t help comparing them to Gaga. When I see an Ariana Grande video I think “Gaga would have done it better.”

I’m also inspired by vintage fashion and designers like Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Armani, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Versace. And art, especially classical paintings.

Photos courtesy of the artist

Why do you think Gaga is so worthy of admiration?

She’s so human and humble. I think she’s a wonderful person. And you can tell she loves what she does. She always puts art first. I don’t know if you knew, but she broke her hip during a performance and kept going; she didn’t say anything at first because she didn’t want to upset her fans and followers. Later she had to undergo surgery and still suffers chronic pain due to the injury.  

Why do you think she’s a gay icon?  

I think because she grew up in this world. The straight ones always rejected her, calling her ugly and weird. So she’s very familiar with the gay world, she knows what she wants on a visual and human level. Plus, she gives a lot to the community. She’s an activist for LGBTQ+ rights. She even created the Born This Way Foundation  against bullying and to help create safe spaces for young people. I believe that helped her win people’s hearts.

What did you think of the film A Star is Born?

It’s beautiful. I went to see it three times and cried all three. Her acting is so natural. I find she’s a talented actress, but I also think the character of Ally is very much like her and that’s why she’s so good at playing it. Gaga also has a documentary on Netflix and she comes across the same way: relaxed, human and very warm. She’s not a show-off or anything.

What led you to start recreating Ally’s looks?

2018 didn’t really go as expected in terms of my art. I mostly made appearances at parties or events and was concerned with having a good time. Then I realized I couldn’t do that to Icon. So I decided to temporarily change my name: for a time, I was Drunky Black. I took a flask everywhere and would dress it up to match my look.

Photos courtesy of the artist

You put your flask in drag!

Yes. If I was wearing fishnets, I would put fishnets on it. At the Tebas fashion show  I was dressed in black and white stripes, so I painted the flask to match. The Drunky phase didn’t last very long. Soon I decided it was time for rehab, so right now I’m in my Rehab Black phase. It’s a calmer period. Icon needed a rest, but I didn’t want to stop. So I decided on a middle ground: throughout November and December, I’d slow down and relax by recreating Ally’s looks from A Star Is Born in chronological order.

That’s why today I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Ally’s a little boring, in my opinion. But that’s OK. In December I’ll be Ally in pop star mode, with orange hair. I already bought a wig and styled it accordingly. Recreating looks from the film to me is like resting, taking a break. Meanwhile, I’m conceiving new ideas for next year.

The look you wore to the movie premiere was stunning. Tell us about it.

I made it using a bedspread purchased for AR $150 at a feria americana. And the cape was originally a curtain (laughs). I sewed it by hand and then everything was held together by Velcro. Velcro is my best friend, I use it all the time. It makes garments easy to put on and remove, and it’s invisible. I also wore my 11-inch heels.

How do you even learn to walk in 11-inch heels?

I taught myself. Before doing drag, because of Gaga, I bought a pair of 7-inch heels. And I would go around the house in them or leave them on while doing chores, while eating. I’d leave them on up to five, six hours. Then I started going outside. Later I got the 11-inch ones.

But right now, I only wear those for special occasions or photoshoots. I often get hired to do photos for small independent brands that are just starting out. I also do a lot of fashion films with my friends from Suburbia. We made a ton this year. Many haven’t been released yet.  

What reactions do you get from people?

So far, I haven’t met anyone who said they didn’t like what I do. Many say I should be prouder. But when somebody tells me I look fabulous, it’s unlike me to reply “I know, right?” I do enjoy hearing that my drag is very polished and neat, because it means you can tell I’m all up in the details. At the same time, upon receiving a compliment, I can’t help thinking what could be better. I’m a perfectionist but with time I’ve learnt to relax a little. Before, I wouldn’t leave the house until I looked absolutely flawless, even if it meant getting to the club at 4:30 AM.

Do you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race?

I’ve only seen one season, the one with Adore. I thought she was cool because she’s a rebel and follows her own rules. But overall, Drag Race doesn’t interest me. It’s just another reality show. I feel it’s been staged. I like when people act naturally. On another note, I don’t like contests. I’ve been invited to participate in local ones several times, but I would never. That’s not my world. I don’t feel like I fit in the drag world in general.

Why not?

I don’t like to follow rules. During a time I worked at a party, and I hated being told, for instance, that the evening’s theme was “candy” and having to wear colors. I enjoy wearing what I want. Recently there was a Trabestia party where the theme was Fantasy. Everyone was wearing stuff like horns and elfish ears, but I went in a black t-shirt, jeans and high tops. I went as Ally.

That’s your fantasy, though.

Exactly. I bought these Converse All-Stars just for my Ally look. And I laced them all the way up leaving the top row of holes free – that’s how Ally does it in the movie. I’d never set foot in a club wearing anything other than platforms or heels. So that night was great, so much fun. I couldn’t stop dancing and didn’t want to leave. I had never enjoyed myself so much at a club.

Another thing I perceive is that there are cliques within the drag world. Either you’re super weird-looking or super fishy…I don’t like to belong to any clique. I don’t know if I’m very different from the rest, but I feel like I’m not of that world.

Photos courtesy of the artist

Do you like any of the local queens?

Lest Skeleton. I enjoy when things are taken to the extreme and Lest is always in latex and 11-inch shoes. But when people ask who my favorite queen is I usually say Lady Gaga. She’s like a drag queen without belonging to the drag world. She does her own thing, she’s always mutating and changing her look according to how she feels and what she wants to express. I do that too. I’m constantly rediscovering myself, what represents me and what doesn’t. I’d rather think of myself as an artist, not a drag queen.

Would you rather not be called a drag queen?

It’s fine, I don’t mind. But I don’t want it to seem like I’m a drag queen and nothing else. I don’t wanna be one thing, that’s why I don’t label myself. I want to be everything. I can be everything. I don’t mind being called “he” or “she”: I can be a man, I can be a woman. I am whatever people want me to be.

With your work, what are you trying to express?

My vision of life as art. I love Gaga so much because she sees things the way I do: artistically, theatrically. I visualize everyday moments, even problems, as paintings or scenes from a play. In the prelude to the Marry the Night video, Gaga says her past is like an unfinished painting and as the author of that painting, she must fill in all the holes and make it beautiful. She also explains she prefers to remember the events of her life in an artistic way, and that this fantasy is honest because she invented it. Meanwhile, we see her being taken into a hospital with Beethoven playing in the background and nurses that wear Calvin Klein – it’s all very artistic.

This is how I’ve always lived. I’m constantly imagining scenes in outer space or seeing the sky and clouds as oil paintings with little angels flying around. And when I envision my looks, I see myself in these scenes, against these backdrops. Even if I end up getting my photo taken against a white wall, that’s how I imagined myself in my mind.