“It feels delicious,” purrs Joey Arias over the phone Thursday morning. He’s referring to his waist being cinched to just 19 inches with a custom Thierry Mugler corset for the entire duration of the MAC event celebrating his accomplishments as a performance artist, drag artist, cabaret singer and actor the night before. “First you put on the corset, then, when your bones start to move and your body relaxes, you tighten it,” Arias explains. “We went through a three hour fitting…”
Having originally made a name for himself performing with music legends like David Bowie and Klaus Nomi, Arias has become quite the front figure himself: not just because of his eccentric look—cinched waist, straight black bangs and all—but also because of his powerfully seductive voice.
“Music has always been part of my life,” he says, explaining that at just 14 he was signed to Capitol Records with the teen rock band Purlie before a stint with the improvisational theatre group The Groundlings in LA. “I’m originally from North Carolina and at six years old my family moved to Los Angeles because I was an army baby.” Aged 20, Arias drove across country with friend, Paper magazine co-founder Kim Hastreiter and finally settled in New York.
“I got back into fashion: I got a job at Ferrucci and I started getting involved with Antonio Lopez and designers and styling and bla bla bla. So I thought ‘I’m going to let New York City decide what I’m going to do’,” explains Arias. That’s when his life unexpectedly changed once again: he met Klaus Nomi and before he knew it found himself performing with David Bowie and Nomi on Saturday Night Live in December 1979. “I was back in music and it just grew.”
Wednesday night was the culmination of seven months planning and a lifetime of creating. “It started with Christian Mitchell who works for MAC. I met him many years ago when he was a sales person at the MAC store on Gay Street. We have been friends for years,” he says, leaving the impression that he knows everyone in the city, which he surely does having spent more than 30 years here.
“Christian [Mitchell] invited me for this big meeting and said ‘everybody wants to talk to you about what you want to do.’ I said ‘what I want to do, what are you talking about?’ He goes ‘we want to have a meeting about, you know, this event.’ I didn’t know what event he was talking about,” laughs Arias softly. For years Christian had been sending Arias MAC makeup removing wipes. But instead of throwing the wipes in the garbage, Arias kept them discovering that they were actually a part of his face. That became the theme of the party.
Several newly used wipes were exhibited alongside artifacts from Arias life-long career. A film created with his long-time collaborator Thierry Mugler was also projected for the first time. “The world is getting so lucked down with communication, with computers and people are trapped in so many different things. It was about dropping that and just being free and to be Z. To let yourself go and remember who you are. That was the theme we were going for. That was the beginning of Z Chromosome,” Arias explains of the film.
The one-night only show was a success: old time friends like Ruben and Isabel Toledo and our own James Kaliardos was there to celebrate the incredible artist. “Everybody was there, everybody was there for me. I couldn’t possibly say hi to everyone and they respected that. I touched them and held their hands. It was incredible,” says Arias emotionally. The biggest compliment according to Arias himself was being compared to Isabella Blow. “Someone told me ‘I just came back from the Isabella Blow show in London and I have to say your show is so much more exciting’,” he laughs.