Designers and dick appointments with Lewis Cook

We took to the quiet streets of our hometown village to photograph Lewis, where traffic literally stopped at the sight of his outrageous clothes and Euphoria-daft make-up in the freezing Scottish rain. Crowds gathered in the shelter of nearby old man’s pubs, sputtering out their lager at the sight of a boy in thirteen inch platforms draped across our local landmarks.

At times we worried about being arrested for indecent exposure (sensitive people I suggest you stop reading now) but the highlights of the day were made by passersby who approached us offering their support, asking to paint Lewis or take his picture.

It was an experience which showed us no matter how small-minded a place seems, there will always be people who want to support you when you show them what you’re made of. Especially the woman on her work break who stood surveying Lewis with pride, talking about her own sons experience growing up in small town – the subject of this interview.

Something about Lewis triggers a response in people. With his neon green hair and sailor’s mouth, he’s a polarising character. People either want to lift him up or tear him down.

I wonder if it’s really as simple as the way he dresses or unapologetically speaks his mind, or if it’s because Lewis reminds people of somebody who never got to be as free as him. Whatever it is, I’d like you to meet my friend Lewis and I hope you see everything in him that I do.

Where did you grow up and who did you identify with around you?

I grew up in the armpit of the west of Scotland in a town called Balloch… Nah, it wasn’t really that bad if I’m honest. I had a decent upbringing. My parents fully let me be who I wanted to be, and have feminine things that weren’t very common for parents to let their children have at that time.

Most of my early years I can remember being a bit of a shut in. I loved survival horror games and from a young age I kind of surrounded myself with females only – whether that be real humans or idols. I used to be the biggest Buffy the Vampire Slayer geek on planet earth and at times I think I genuinely believed I was her, it empowered me a lot.

So I definitely trailed off there but to answer your question of who I identified with when I was younger, I would probably say nobody. I was strange and had interests that none of my friends or family had (yet).

How would you describe your style and where do you draw inspiration from?

It depends when you see me. I try to put an edgy spin on day-to-day looks, like going to the pub or going to the shop for a pint of milk (lots of fake leather) but realistically it’s not practical for me to do those things in 13 inch platform shoes… In my defence I don’t think I actually own any shoes that don’t have a platform.

Photography - Ross Gardner
Styling - Lewis Cook
MUA - Remy Mccumesty

I’d say the majority of my references for looks come from the club kid movement of the 80’s and 90’s. I also gravitate towards revealing, cartoon-like characters. My inspiration mostly comes from the designers who make the garments I wear but I also use film, TV and music as very big sources of inspiration too.

Who are some of your favourite designers and how did you first see their work?

I’ve been having garments made by BCALLA, an independent New York/Los Angeles based designer (real name Bradley Callahan) since 2015. They are such a creative powerhouse.

We actually got acquainted by me just dropping them an email saying how much I loved their work. I’d seen Pearl from Season 7 of Rupaul’s Drag Race wearing one of their garments, as well as looks they’d created for the likes of Azealia Banks, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and many others.

I had to have the garment and by luck they said yes. Ever since then they’ve been creating custom designs for me which I’m so grateful for. Aside from Brad I have an extreme soft spot for the German brand Namilia at the moment, and design duo Fecal Matter who are pretty much an innovative fashion social experiment at heart.

What was your experience attending a high school in a small town?

From memory I can honestly say that it wasn’t that bad. I don’t really remember getting a whole lot of shit in school, the first four years I played it ‘straight’, or as straight as I could when everyone knew I was gay but nobody ever brought it up to my face.

When it was time for people to know, I didn’t actually get that moment to myself, it was kind of ripped away from me by people that I thought I could trust.

Evidently I shouldn’t have trusted them but I honestly couldn’t be happier it happened that way because as soon as people knew, it felt like a release for me to just say – these are my likes and interests, however flamboyant and feminine they might be.

I didn’t have to act a certain way anymore, it became a kind of ‘fuck you I’ll do what I want’ attitude from that point on. It made me be authentically myself which was all I could have wanted.

Photography - Ross Gardner
Styling - Lewis Cook
MUA - Remy Mccumesty

Was it challenging to find other people to relate to, and how did you find them?

Definitely. There were times when I felt so alone and like there was absolutely nobody like me, but I think that was more of a self- sabotage thing. I thought I was the only one who was in to these things and just didn’t look hard enough for the people who were.

Now when I think about it, most of the friends I had who I’m still close with today all embraced my likes and interests as much as me, and are destined for amazing things in the worlds of fashion, performing, writing etc. They all coincide.

What differences did you notice after moving to a city? Did you feel more or less comfortable being yourself?

I guess I’m still learning and growing with life at the moment but I think when people move to a city from a small town, they think all their problems are going to be answered by making this big independent move.

Photography - Ross Gardner
Styling - Lewis Cook
MUA - Remy Mccumesty

The reality is you’ll still be living basically the same life, just doing it on your own and that’s something that has been a huge learning curve for me. No matter where you are in the world you still face the same adversities, whether you’re surrounded by a family you’ve been living with under the same roof for twenty-five years or whether you’re on your own.

I don’t mean for that to sound as depressing as it does but what I’m trying to say is, it made me appreciate family and friends 10X more and that’s something I needed to happen.

What is dating like in the queer community, and what advice would you give younger people looking to explore their sexuality?

Without being shunned like the James Charleses of today, I have the unfortunate burden of being interested in pretty much exclusively unattainable men A.K.A straight identifying men. I don’t know how I managed to get myself in to that habit, it just sort of happened and weirdly isn’t something I actually seek out at this point.

Which means my dating experiences are non-existent and I’m pretty much always the dirty little secret – sometimes a blessing but mostly a curse. So asking me for dating advice is probably dumb but I’m well versed in hook-up app etiquette.

In my experience, if you’re looking for something serious you’re in the wrong place babes. Guys are essentially on these apps for one thing. I’ve always tried to play it safe on dating apps when it comes to meeting up with strangers, if I’m meeting someone then they’ve got to back up who they say they are with photos, video calls etc. and if they can’t then I just stop all contact.

I get that some people might not want their partner/friends/family to find out they’re on a dating app but I’m not about to die for a dick appointment.

I’ve had mostly positive experiences with online hookups but at the end of the day it just comes down to taking care of yourself, acknowledging what sort of mental state you’re in and being sure of what you want to get out of the experience before you go into it.

Have you ever encountered any violence as an openly gay/queer person?

Not as often now since I moved to Glasgow. The most serious time was when I still lived in Balloch but I was in Glasgow for the first ever Triggers show in the Classic Grand beside Subclub (weirdly now a frequent venue of mine) but at the time it was engulfed by complete neds.

Myself and a friend were dressed ‘provocatively’ and we were berated with homophobic insults before one of the guys approached us. I try not to take anything too seriously so I like to remember it in a humorous way.

My mind goes to watching the CCTV footage with a police officer after it happened – seeing the yob in question punch me across the face and without a single care, me turning to him and taking a long draw of my cigarette. I have never felt more Patsy Stone in my life.

Photography - Ross Gardner
Styling - Lewis Cook
MUA - Remy Mccumesty

This random guy then proceeded to attack my friend and burst his face open, which wasn’t as cute. But the important part is we didn’t let this guy scare us and we stood up for ourselves.

The only thing we did wrong was not wanting the police to take it any further and almost letting them get away with it.

Was it taken seriously by the police and people around you?

It was taken extremely seriously by the police. So much so that it was taken to court, which was a dragged out process resulting in a pretty light punishment for the person who done it. I think he got something stupid like a £300 fine.

But yeah, many people around us were angry and disgusted. One of the girls we were with that night returned to find us after the incident and I’ve never seen someone fly into such a rage, she took the situation deadly serious.

It was an unprovoked homophobic attack on two people who were just trying to enjoy themselves. It’s scary to think there’s people out there who are so insecure in themselves they’ll seek validation in hurting other people.

What helped you get through unpleasant experiences with other people?

This is going to sound like the biggest cliché of the gay century but LADY FUCKING GAGA. I’m not kidding when I say that she brought me through some of the toughest times in my life with the light she shines for LGBTQ people, and I’m honestly forever grateful for getting to meet like minded people because of her and her art.

I honestly wish I had more to say but that’s my answer in a nutshell for how I got through the dark parts of my life.

Image shared on Lady Gaga's Instagram of Lewis Cook and his friend Penny
Lewis’ friend Penny (left), Lewis (right)

What misconceptions have you had to deal with and what ones do you think still exist?

People most of the time will consider me to be over the top, obnoxious and ridiculous at all times WHICH I AM, but there are so many different sides to me that make me a fully realised human other than being just those things.

I think this comes with the whole masculine and feminine aspects of being “gay”. My sexuality has nothing to do with the way I act, it’s just a stereotype and so what if I’m FEMME it ain’t hurting nobody, I’m just making people see something that they haven’t seen before (I hope).

Which artists and creatives in the queer community are your favourites and why?

Oh gosh there are so many! My absolute favourites at the moment are @ogrebabe aka. SHREK 666 and @rattybyebye aka. Ratty. Both frequently appear at Shoot Your Shot events and they are a complete credit to the queer community.

I’ve seen SHREK perform numerous times now and it’s this insane amalgamation of fetish, fashion and swamp creature that somehow just works.

Ratty is that glamour girl/socialite everybody knows who is always delivering you the highest of fashions. When you see her you either want to know her or be her.

What events are you looking forward to this year?

Literally any SHOOT YOUR SHOT event. @sysglasgow @bonzaibonner @lezzerquest @djannagram

Photography - Ross Gardner
Styling - Lewis Cook
MUA - Remy Mccumesty

If somebody wanted to be a stylist, where would they begin and what advice could you offer them?

Working as a stylist has hit the back burner for me at the moment but being creative with fashion is where I really thrive and I want to continue pushing myself to work in this field. I genuinely enjoy it so much I’d do it for free if it was feasible for me.

I’d say start exactly where I’ve started by steadily building a solid body of work to present to employers and try to make connections along the way with models, photographers, hairstylists and make-up artists. It can be expensive whilst you start out but it doesn’t have to all be about big brands. You can always join Facebook groups for creatives in your local city to see if any independent designers or graduates would be willing to loan you garments for shoots whilst you start out.

The more shoots you’ve styled, the more likely designers will be to loan you their garments in the future – so get involved in as many shoots as you can! Message photographers and models saying you like their work, or an MUA and ask to work on a look together.

What do you think of shows like Drag Race pushing queer culture into the mainstream?

A blessing and a curse. Yes, it showcases all these amazing creative people but then it creates this magnifying glass used by 12 year old Stacey from Yorkshire to give her critiques on people who live the art. There’s too many people watching drag on a screen and believing they know every facet of it.

Photography - Ross Gardner
Styling - Lewis Cook
MUA - Remy Mccumesty

Have attitudes towards you in public changed since shows like this became popular?

I wouldn’t say drastically but I did used to attend shows that featured drag race queens A LOT and everyone would be so encouraging, complimentary and uplifting so I think one positive thing with having drag and queer culture being in the limelight right now is that it’s great for inflating our egos.

And since we’re talking about it so much – in Drag Race fashion, what would you tell your younger self?

I’d tell little Lewis to believe in himself and go full throttle, don’t half ass anything or let opportunities pass you by or stifle your creativity because it’s what brings you the most joy and feeds your soul.

Photography – Ross Gardner
Styling – Lewis Cook
Make-up Artist – Remy Mccumesty

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s