Thursday, January 27, 2011

Elizabeth Von Dietrich Interview

I recently interview Elizabeth Von Dietrich - a well known Irish female impersonater. Dietrich is best known amongst the Burlesque and LGBT scene and has a fascinating story. She is the female alter ego of a talented photographer who,with the support of his wife and children experiments with fashion and make-up to create a really engaging character.

1 - Can you tell me about Elizabeth ... when and why did you first begin to create your alter ego?

Elizabeth pretty much created herself about 5 years ago. She draws her inspiration from the many women who shaped her male persona. Having being born into a single parent family her early years were surrounded by strong & independent women. I began dressing quite early always experimenting as kids do, I didn't realize then that it was not what little boys did, this was compensated with being made do sports & scouts all driven towards spending time with a make dominated structure.

Years later more in my teens I fell in love again with the creative side of me studying Arts and later photography, this meant living with and spending time with likeminded people, this awakened my suppressed yearnings to explore myself further, as a straight man I loved the gay & drama scene which brought many colourful & genuine people whom I was fascinated with as this was all new to me!

After working in a bar in San Francisco I fell into the drag scene and it totally opened my eyes to the world, every night I would see these larger than life characters have their audience in their hands and they got loads of respect & attention, in effect they were loved by all and I wanted a little of that. I never had their confidence so I decided to invent my own character a lady more demure & sophisticated than the drag queens in effect more like a woman you would pass in the street. I started off small and later got consumed with the ego purchasing clothes, make up & Wigs. Liz was not perfected overnight but took many years to perfect. She still is a work in progress.

2 - How did you go about creating the look and style for Elizabeth?

It takes about 3-4 hours to completely transform into her, firstly you have to shave! And that means pretty much everywhere, once that's done it's onto fake tan, so that's either DIY or a visit to the salon. Next is shaping brows & painting nails.

From Here is where the real process of transforming begins, Foundation, eyes, contouring, blush & lips. This is the part I enjoy most as I see my strong male persona drifting away and a lady appearing. Once painted I add foam hips shaped accordingly and corsets to give myself an hourglass figure. Silicon boobs are added along with more contouring & highlighting to create cleavage. From here I get dressed and like any girl I can go through 4-5 outfit changes. The final or crowning glory is the hair and this along with jewellery and shoes completes the look. Liz is created on many influences such as Liz Hurley, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn & many old Hollywood starlets and of course Rita Hayworth.

 3 - Is there a big difference personality wise between Elizabeth and your normal form?

Between Ben & Liz they couldn't be more different! He is very confident, sharp & outspoken where Liz is very passive, considerate, flirty & humorous. It's like one personality makes up for the other. Both like to express through dress sense.

4 - Growing up, were you always attracted to playing different characters and dressing up or is this all something new?

One of my earliest memories was wearing a nightdress & asking my mother to comb my hair, I was always fascinated with what women wore and how they presented themselves. My mum was a stylish woman and dress up with my cousins all girls always ended up with us all being women going shopping etc. We were too young to understand the constraints of roleplaying!

I was always the one in evening dresses and hats etc. I even got to play many girls roles in primary school as it was all boys schools I went to so somebody had to play Mary or the Female role, think they seen my potential ha ha.. Then when I went into my teenage years I forgot about it all and puberty kicked in so girls, drink etc. was all too consuming. I guess when you were young everything was innocent and without prejudice because it was all part of growing up, now at 34 it's anything but, you are judged on everything from Sexual Orientation, Clothing & Expression.

5 - What are people’s reactions when they meet Elizabeth - Do you think having an alter ego is something that still confuses people even though it’s slightly more mainstream?

Well it's kind of funny how people see me, if I'm in a alternative scene night out say a gay or burlesque night it's surreal as they love the look, vibe or attitude that Liz presents herself, there’s also the straight girls who are really fascinated how a guy can transform into what they see visually as a girl!

They want to know everything from the hair to the makeup etching guessing people’s perceptions of Trannies are that of trashy clothes, poor makeup skills and just generally looking like a guy in a dress, well there a new breed out there and do hope I'm one of them ha! Then with Straight guys they usually think I'm fine until I speak and they feel uneasy and embarrassed! I try to educate everyone I meet about my little alter ego and most people are genuinely interested. If i went out in the day I usually can pass in public as female however the clues in often stare and you can nearly hear them think! I dress completely differently if I go out dressed during the day more conservative as I just want to blend in rather than stand out.

6 - How do you feel once you transform into Elizabeth?

It’s an incredible feeling. I feel sexy, alive, flirty, feminine & passive. It's kind of strange as most people presume I'm gay until they find out a little more, they get confused i dress like an attractive girl is it not for Men’s attention? Well I suppose I mainly dress for myself and I do like attention when out on a night out like all girls, I love to hang out with my other girlfriend whom what trannies call GG's ( Genetic Girls) whom are real girls? Its funny my close girlfriends always consider me as a girl and not a guy even though they know about me! To me dressing is not about Gender or Sexual identity, granted many are Transsexual, Cross Dressers etc.

7 - Are there any groups that you are part of where you meet and discuss like as 'another' with other people?

Well firstly I guess there are many levels to this, on the modest level you have Crossdressers,transvestites,Fetish's etc. them people often find that dressing is not what they need in life and they feel like they want to be a woman full time which are transgendered and later transexual,however I feel like I don't belong to either groups, I dress because I like the idea of being someone different just for a few hours and the artistry of female illusion, it’s quite the theatrical & cabaret side that i love hence why I roll with the burlesque scene and I love that they embrace many interesting characters in the scene!

8 - Best Experiences so far?

Well there'd being many,... Meeting the author Marian Keyes for dinner as both sides and her basing a character in her book " This Charming Man" around me!  Winning Best dressed at a big Burlesque event, I entered the ladies category and won that.  Going to Ladies Day RDS this year as Liz, felt amazing to feel glam and special in my designer best along with the country’s most beautiful girls! Meeting done amazing friends through this world, they totally accept & respect what I do and don't judge me.  Winning a beauty pageant in Scotland and having a dress specially made for me, finding out the judge was head of fashion for Karen Millen Up...

This was one of my favourite interviews so far - I have met Elizabeth a few times and she is a fascinating character and extremley lovely to talk to. I think one of the best messages in the interview is, not everything has to have a label . . . everything is more ejoyable when the lines are blurred and you let go.
A big thank you to Liz for the interview!