But is it good or what? To aid in our assessment of the Shanghai flagship store of Victoria’s Secret we turn to a true professional arbiter of style and taste for our times: A drag queen. And not just any drag queen: The victor/Victoria of the 2017 Shanghai Drag Competition, the queen of queens, the elegant and quirky Miss Mint, a New York transplant living for just a little bit longer in Shanghai.
Here she is in her werk clothes. God save this queen.
Just this afternoon SmSh and Miss Mint poured over the offerings at this ballyhooed Victoria’s Secret store on Huaihai Lu. What follows is like an interview with Miss Mint mixed with a review of Victoria’s Secret, plus a talk about life, a kiki, and a discussion of drag and fashion in the modern age.
We’re thinking outside of Victoria’s box here, as it were.
Let’s do this.
SmSh: So. First impressions?
Miss Mint: It’s beautiful. It doesn’t look like any Victoria’s Secrets I’ve ever been in. It’s definitely not like the shopping mall Victoria’s Secrets. [Laughs.]
SmSh: It’s a flagship store, I guess! Now, the company is “Victoria’s Secret: New York. London. Shanghai.”
MM: Yeah, there’s the big one in New York, but I’ve never been in it. It’s probably more pricey here than it is in the States though. Actually, I just left my job because I’m moving back to the States, but for the past three years I actually worked for Etam, which is a French lingerie company, so this trip is pretty interesting for me.
SmSh: It’s a bit overwhelming.
MM: Panties galore!
SmSh: When did you start doing drag and what was your inspiration? Other queens? Actresses? Fashion icons?
MM: I started drag November 2015. So, you know they have their drag competition at Lucca…
SmSh: I do indeed know.
MM: So, this past year I won it, but the year before was my first time in drag. Inspirations… well [Rupaul’s] Drag Race, obviously. I started watching when the second season was airing with my friends in college. I went to FIT in New York. So, it’s a fashion school — a very gay school [laughs] — and we’d all get together and watch Drag Race.
So that was big. And obviously all my favorite pop divas. Britney. Katy Perry. Yeah…
But drag was always something I wanted to do, and when the competition came around it was like, “fuck it, let’s do it.”
SmSh: What do you think of this? This looks like something Pearl would wear…
MM: Probably. Pearl wears a lot of lingerie, but I don’t even think she’d be wearing something this expensive. This is 750rmb.
It’s interesting though because I don’t think the Chinese market really has this — Victoria’s Secret. There’s La Perla, which is actually accessible and kind of nice lingerie. Even though it’s like thousands of dollars. But have you seen any of the local lingerie stores?
SmSh: I have!
MM: They’re horrible! Everything is so granny.
SmSh: Matronly. Oooo, this is nice.
MM: Every queen needs one...
SmSh: Where do you get your clothes?
MM: Taobao. Well, it’s a mixture. I studied fashion design so I also make some stuff. I’m very comfortable around a sewing machine. I also buy things from stores too. Who knows, maybe I’ll make a purchase today!
SmSh: How was your first performance? Tell me about your first show.
MM: Well, it was weird because I hadn’t even thought about that sort of transformation — what’s all involved. As soon as I put the lashes and the wig on, it all came out. I hadn’t even really thought about my persona or my character, but literally, as soon as I got dressed it came out. Like, I started acting and doing these little ‘surprised’ poses and being sort of quirky. I had not conceptualized it before, it just sort of happened. When the outfit went on, it all came out…
SmSh: What number lashes do you use?
MM: Well, before, I had no idea what I was using but nowadays I buy most of my cosmetics in the States and I’ve got the 301s. I’ve got those 301s.
SmSh: Nice, nice. What are your favorite brands of cosmetics?
MM: Oooo. Um. I actually really like Jeffree Star. I have a lot of Jeffree Star. Urban Decay. Sugarpill. I have a few little things from a lot of different brands. Too Faced is a really cool brand, like their packaging and stuff, but it’s a little too natural for me. [Laughs.] For what I’m going for…
SmSh: What’s your transformation process like?
MM: Oh god. Honestly, from like beginning to end, it’s four hours. It takes a long time, like starting with glueing your eyebrows, which takes a long time especially if you have these eyebrows. [Laughs.]
Yeah, from beginning to end when I put the wig on and can walk out the door, it’s like four hours.
SmSh: What’s the hardest part about getting your drag on?
MM: Doing eyebrows. Not covering mine but drawing on new ones after. Eyebrows are very hard.
SmSh: Hey, they’re meant to be sisters, right? Not twins.
MM: Yes. Or cousins. Or maybe neighbors. Depends on the day. Brows are hard. Maybe even hard for people who have been doing it for a long time. Because it’s something that you freehand draw. Your brows are so expressive. And they change the entire look. You can be happy, angry, surprised — brows do so much. So that’s the hardest part.
SmSh: Want to try some of this perfume?
MM: Hmmm. Smells like baby powder. That’s not cute. And this one smells like air freshener… and the bottle looks about as cheap as this fragrance is. I don’t know. I buy in bulk so I get mine at the Bath & Body Works! My name is “Mint” so I get the peppermint… I like to smell like mint.
SmSh: Miss Mint! Yes! I was going to ask, where does your drag name come from?
MM: Ah so. I had a group of friends who were also super into Drag Race and they were all working for Disney. They all moved back after they finished Shanghai Disneyland. But we were all out in front of Luchador on what used to be Yongkang Lu…
SmSh: So many great ideas originated on that street…
MM: Yeah. But we had just had margaritas and I had a mint-flavored margaritas and I was like “ahhh, I really like mint everything”, and it was like… hey, that should be your drag name…
SmSh: What are three words that describe your drag persona? …Or four, or five, or six, or seven…
MM: Ummmm. Quirky, Sweet. I pretend to be sweet. Aannnd, maybe sexy? In MY version of sexy.
SmSh: What’s your show like?
MM: Stripping, mostly. [Laughs.] Taking stuff off. No, I like props, I like to use props. For the competition I did “Read You, Wrote You” from All-Stars Season 2 so I had on a paper bag for the lyric, “your face needs a paper bag”. That sort of thing. But yeah I like to do stuff that’s kind of silly that might make people laugh.
…Along people with thinking I’m gorgeous. [Laughs.] Quirky but hopefully pretty. Less pretty more personality.
SmSh: What are the crowds like in Shanghai? Is Shanghai an open-minded kind of city, do you think?
MM: It really depends on the crowd. I’ve performed for the gay crowd at Lucca. I’ve done shows at The Pearl — a lot of the Qi-Pow! shows — and those are kind of fun because a lot of the people there are not familiar with drag and are easier to entertain. Like, all you have to do is spin around and it’s like *gasp* a man in a wig!
Sometimes, the local gay crowd can be a little strange. Not that they’re over it or anything but you can tell they’d rather see some go-go boys. So they’re not super into it. I just had my goodbye show at Happiness 42 and some of the tables in the front, people are like texting. So I was throwing things at them, to try to get them to have a response.
It’s mixed. Some people are really into it and for some people it hasn’t caught on yet. But there’s no tipping here, that’s really important to mention. Because honestly, we don’t get paid very much. With the time, money, and energy you put into it, you might break even sometimes. So the tipping would help to balance that out. But… oh well. I guess if waitresses don’t get tipped I don’t deserve to get tipped either.
SmSh: What’s been your most favorite show you’ve done so far?
MM: Well you know I’m in this drag house, The House of TBD, with Miss Jade, Ennis F.W., and Honey West who moved back to that States— oh my this I could get into..
MM: I mean I don’t know if I could physically get into it, but this is really gorgeous! The problem is I don’t have real boobs to fill this transparent thing with. I’ve got nothing to fill that with… Oh but yeah, The House of TBD, it was a cosplay show so we did Powerpuff Girls. And that was so much fun. We got a huge response from the crowd. So that was fun. It was a great collaboration with the four of us. And if people like it, it always helps.
Oh, is that a million dollar bra… oh, I think it’s rhinestones. They got this from Taobao…
SmSh: What about your least favorite show?
MM: Least favorite… hmm. Well, last summer for Pride, and we also had kind of a cool concept — we were doing “The Wizard of Oz”. So we all did a character. I was Dorothy, naturally! But we had spoken word movie clips and we couldn’t really heard the sound, so that kind of put a damper on things. Music you can kind of get away with if you cant even really heard it because you go with the beat but with words, if you can’t hear it you’re doomed. Not that it wasn’t a great experience. We still had fun.
SmSh: I’m wondering if they’ll let us try anything on…
MM: I’m… not sure… that they’ll have your size…
SmSh: I thought they were supposed to have big wonderful western sizes in here…
MM: Okay, now this, this is something I would wear. This. Is. Sickening.
MM: A lot of it is too Beyonce fierce, but this is more Katy Perry quirky. “Firework”.
SmSh: Love that song. You know, all this stuff is a lot nicer that I was expecting. It’s really a nice store. I was expecting sort of ’80s hair metal video vixen wear. Like video vixen stuff. Cheesy sorts of stuff.
I… remember the catalogues from my youth, you know what I mean?
MM: Actually. No. No, I don’t. [Laughs].
But yeah, like Tawny Kitaen! Like a medium-level lady of the night. Yeah, I agree the store is beautiful. Although, with this one I’m not a fan of the color of the bra with the orange. You want to get me making a weird face at it?
SmSh: Oh, here’s the ‘80s video vixen one.
MM: There she is! She needs to be spread out on some sort of car. Actually, the leather is quite nice. I think this outfit suits you, though. You should you should put your head in there to make this look like your body. I think if you were doing drag this could be your thing. Sort of Joan Jett-y with more hair.
SmSh: You know I do a really good Kate Bush.
MM: Actually you know all of these sort of look like the closet for Britney Spears’ latest Vegas show. But it’s hard to say anything bad about this stuff. It’s beautiful.
MM: I like these shoes.
MM: Anything with stars. Anything with a heel, I’m all over it. Anything strappy. Open-toed shoes are kind of tricky for queens because we wear lots of tights and you end up with webbed feat because you can see the toes. [Laughs.]
[At this point the manager (I think?) noticed our shenanigans and came over to have a chat.]
Victoria’s Secret Manager: What do you guys think!
SmSh: It’s wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! What’s your policy on trying stuff on?
Manager: Oh yeah! If you wanted to try stuff on, you could, but we’d have to take you to a separate area.
MM: Is that how all Victoria’s Secrets are?
Manager: Or we try to do it when it’s not as busy. Or we tell all the other women in the changing room what’s happening… to make sure it’s okay. It’s just to make sure everyone is comfortable.
MM: Yes, I’d imagine it might be something — “Hello everyone, there’s a man coming in here to try on some panties…”
Manager: Oh, you’re fine. Actually, we have our “Angel Suite”, which is only available for people who book appointments, so that’s also private.
MM: It’s for the very VIP clients…
SmSh: Can we have a look at the Angel Suite?
Manager: Ummmmmm… technically no. It’s by appointment, y’know…
SmSh: Oh that’s okay. We understand. We’ll book something. We’ll be back.
Manager: [Laughs.] Yeah, and I don’t think we’ve opened it quite up yet.
SmSh: Do you realize you’re in the presence of royalty here? This is the reigning drag queen of Shanghai. 2017.
Manager: Oh really! I love it. Welcome!
SmSh: Hey, I heard the star-studded Victoria’s Secret big fashion show is coming! Care to confirm or deny?
Manager: [with all sorts of side-eye] It’s not official yet…
SmSh: Oh I know it’s only “reportedly” coming according to today’s internet.
Manager: Exactly. But we’re happy you guys are having a good time! And If you see a free changing room you can try grabbing one of the girls on the floor to try to get you in there…
SmSh: Let’s finish off by trying to convey some useful information to people. Give people something concrete about this place they can use. On the basement level is the more straightforward bras and undies, dorm wear, and whatnot.
MM: Yes, the real-real girl stuff.
SmSh: Do people want to know about sizes? About prices? Everything we’ve seen so far is like 800rmb to 1500rmb and upwards… this is not.
MM: Yeah, this level probably very popular in America. For the girls that don’t ever want to get ready. Dorm pants — the tragedy is that they don’t always stay in the dorm.
SmSh: This is the 5 pairs of undies for 300rmb and stuff.
MM: Well yeah, it’s not really my cup of tea. But then again I don’t really wear women’s panties. This one looks like it’s been made to help you tuck actually. These are tucking panties.
But yeah, this is all for the college girls.
SmSh: I’m just going to refer them to the website for the technical stuff. We’re here just for the show stoppers. I feel out of my depth here on this “real life” floor. Sizes for these women’s undies are going up from “extra small” to “large” here. Is that useful information for anyone I wonder? So...I think we’re done! Four floors. So much lace. So much sexy lace. What was your favorite thing you saw today?
MM: Oh, it was that dress. the kind of teal one. That one I would actually wear if it was reasonably priced. [Laughs].
That’s just my opinion though. You know, I’m just not the average sort of girl…
Victoria's Secret Shanghai is at 222 Huaihai Zhong Lu. Details here.