I’ve been obsessed with the ‘Club Kids’ -the glitterati of New York’s underground club scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s- ever since I stumbled across an old episode of ‘Geraldo’ (a defunct daytime TV talk show) on YouTube. The kids discussed their looks and defended their commitment to nightlife with equal parts confidence and humour, despite being met with confused derision from the conservative members of the audience.
American TV devoted episodes to the Club Kids as the scene grew more notorious, their stages graced by a fabulous cast of faces, including a pre-fame RuPaul, and an unrecognisable but already iconic Amanda Lepore. These kids were performing drag every night, looking so alien but so at ease in their full-body paint, headdresses, wigs, wings and dominatrix get-ups.
Dean Bowery, photographed by Alexis di Biasio, 1990. Photo via slate.com
Strangest but most intriguing of all was the charismatic Michael Alig- the ‘king’ of clubland, who catalysed the entire scene with his guerrilla ‘outlaw parties’. The impromptu (and illegal) parties saw Alig and his entourage hijack locations such as a Subway platform, a McDonalds and a Dunkin’ Donuts, where they would arrive in costume and dance to music blasted from boomboxes until they were chased away by the NYPD. These events acted as advertisement for Alig’s weekly ‘Disco 2000’ and themed nights at ‘The Limelight’, a venue housed within a former-church, notorious for their hedonism, bad behaviour and sense of spectacle.
I spent hours poring over these clips, photos and flyers, before watching the ‘Party Monster’ shockumentary which detailed Alig’s spectacular rise, and dramatic fall from grace, following the manslaughter of his friend and drug-dealer Angel Melendez in 1996. After Alig’s crime came to light and he was arrested, the scene as it was began to crumble, and was all but disbanded by the time the city’s Mayor’s ‘Quality of Life’ policy began to get tough on the Manhattan club scene.
Michael Alig, photographed by Alexis di Biasio, 1991. Photo via slate.com
The ‘Club Kid’ subculture undeniably had a dark and drug-fuelled underbelly, and its legacy is doubtlessly tarnished by the crimes of its figurehead: crimes which unjustly triggered the scene’s decline and made it relatively unknown today.
However, the kids’ ethos, their commitment to DIY, to fun, to championing queer sexuality and gender-fluidity is one that feels necessary and modern, even today. Musto, an OG Club Kid, said of the scene that ‘it was a statement of individuality and sexuality…and it was a form of tapping into an inner fabulousness within themselves and bringing it out’.
Richie Rich. Photo via tumblr.com
The style of these kids, which James St James, another OG, called ‘part drag, part clown, part infantilism’, is one being revived and embodied by the likes of drag queens, including Vivacious, a veteran of the scene, Sasha Velour and Aquaria , as well as in the bold looks of untrained but uber-talented Instagram makeup artists such as Juliana Horner and the clothing and club-nights designed by London’s Charles Jeffrey (who actually made a great documentary about the revival of NYC’s underground club scene).
The Kids’ commitment to colour, their playfulness with shapes and altered facial features, as well as their opulence and glamour are traits which can inspire our own makeup looks, allowing us to transform as they did into someone (or something) else for the night.
Below you’ll find a collection of pics, from the archives of original Club Kids and those influenced by them, with recommended products on how to achieve their looks, so that in the words of St James in the ‘Party Monster’ movie ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like! I mean if you have a hunchback, just throw a little glitter on it, honey, and go dancing!’
Ernie Glam, photographed by Alexis di Biasio, 1990. Photo via slate.com
RuPaul, 1989. Photo via Twitter.
3ina’s Fluoro Lip Gloss is available in 3 shades, all of which have a neon glow under UV lights. A far cry from Kardashian-esque nude glosses, pair with a darker lip liner to match Ru’s boldness.
Charles Jeffrey. Photo via londonfashionweek.co.uk
The combination of bright colour and slick shine on the eyelids is always editorial. The look can be achieved easily through the application of bullet lipstick, but finding one totally eye-safe can be tricky! Nyx has you covered though, with its Glazed and Confused eye gloss.
Leigh Bowery photographed by Kate Garner
False lashes are a staple of beauty in 2019, but rarely do you see such dramatic colours and shapes as those worn by the Club Kids. Red Carpet FX offers unusual lashes- from ones tipped with butterflies to ones made entirely of feathers.
And you’ll want a lash-glue you can trust to hold them on all night; this waterproof glue by Ardell is also suitable for face gems!
Richie Rich. Photo via Pinterest
Astro Ernie & Michael Alig. Photo via Pinterest
Bright Colour-Block Shadows
One of the most replicable staples of Club Kid makeup is their eye looks, the application of unexpected, shapes and colours, often blocks of primary red and yellow, or purples and greens.