Historical Drag

Introducing designer Charlotte Mombert with an exclusive editorial. Photography by Caroline Gerst. the models are Finnian Kempkes and Sam Costa. Hair and Makeup by Yeva Kolomiiets. “Unlike many others in this industry, I didn’t know I liked fashion when I was a child. My name is Charlotte Mombert and I was born in 2002 in Frankfurt, Germany. My fashion journey started in my high school years. I loved wearing clothes that made me feel strong.”

“During Covid, like so many others, I was looking for distractions. I started sewing smaller things when I was twelve and since shopping was not possible at the time, I started sewing. The hobby eventually transformed into a real passion. Nevertheless, I was scared of the fashion industry and its many issues. Only after my high school graduation, for which I made my dress, I considered making a career out of my love of creating and clothes-making. However, I eventually realised that there was no other job that I would rather do – or could even imagine doing – and so I applied to fashion school, despite my fears and doubts. Before moving out, I cleaned out my childhood bedroom.

While I was organising my bookshelf, I found a little notebook on which I had written “for the shop I will eventually open”. I must have been ten or eleven when I filled the notebook. In it, I had drawn a few dozen designs, most of them floor-length, floral gowns – nothing like the style that I have since developed, but it still put a smile on my face. I had made the right choice.

He put on lipstick and went out on stage.

Drag has been around for a long time, longer than one might suspect. Not only that, but it has existed in times and environments in which one might have never expected it. When looking for a topic for my third-semester collection, that is what I found out.

I had stumbled across an article about drag in the US military a few months prior, which intrigued me a lot. I have always found inspiration in both history and queer culture among other things, so the combination of both just seemed made for me. During both world wars, soldiers were looking for entertainment and distraction from the horrid happenings at the front. So they organised so-called soldier shows; events in which there was room for different acts to take their place on stage. Surprisingly, in this very traditional and homophobic space, a form of improvised drag was birthed. Soldiers dressing up in high heels, dresses and makeup took their place on stage and had fun doing so. That’s what fascinated me so much – the fun of drag in a space which isn’t usually accepting of such endeavours.

As a second focal point, I focused on the early drag kings. Drag kings are the less well-known counterpart to drag queens, who dress up in stereotypical and exaggerated female clothing. For drag kings, it was about looking like a dandy. Back in the 1920s and 1930s they were called male impersonators and did this not only for fun but also as a protest against societal and gender norms. Some dressed up in drag daily and some only did it now and then, for example at masquerade balls. And then there were those, who only dressed up in drag once a year, for example at one of the “Bals de Paris” – extravagant balls in Paris where everyone let out their most eccentric self and went out to enjoy the party.

And without exchanging contact information, both exited the bar at the break of dawn, heading towards reality.

With the photoshoot for my collection, my dedicated photographer Caroline Gerst and I, along with our entire amazing team worked together to depict the story of a soldier going to a drag bar before returning to war. In my mind, he has been home for a few days, and the end of the war is approaching. He heard from a friend about a bar which not only is secretly open at war times but is open for queer people to express themselves within the walls of the bar. On his last evening before returning to the battlefield, he packs more extravagant clothing which he later combines with his soldier’s uniform and heads off to explore this place. He feels the end of the war is approaching but he knows these last battles won’t be easy, so he wants to let loose one last time. After watching all the interesting characters in the bar for a while, he sits down and reads a card from an old friend. That’s when he sees the drag king. They immediately lock eyes and walk towards one another. They spend an evening in companionship. Both of them feel the chemistry but other than some flirting, neither of them acts on the attraction. At the end of the night, they exchange goodbyes instead of contact information. Neither of them knows whether the other one is going to survive the next months but in this moment, they are infinite.

We wanted to highlight not only the chemistry between both of them but also to stress each character in its individuality. The way I see it, the exuberance of the moment and the happiness it brings, despite it happening at war times, is what truly shows the essence of drag.”

Designs by Charlotte Mombert / Instagram: @mombert_design
Photography by Caroline Gerst / Instagram: @carolinegerst
Hair and Makeup by Yeva Kolomiiets / Instagram: @kolomiets.yeva
The model is Finnian Kempkes / Instagram: @finnsbilderbuch
The model is Sam Costa / Instagram: @savicostaa
Assistance by Marcel Freund

Fashion Brand is Charlotte Mombert and includes all fashion brands from the editorial. All pieces are made by Charlotte Mombert / Instagram: @mombert_design