Lizzie Biscuits: “What drives me is turning imagination into reality”
Exposed meets the modern-day makers plying their trades in the Steel City. Spread out across art, music, film, theatre, clothing, photography and more – we find out what makes these local creatives tick.
Lizzie Biscuits makes frocks and costumes for peacocks, turning imagination into reality in the process. Her opulent designs have been showcased by some of the best-known Drag Queens in the country and spotted in films, magazines and on TV.
How did you first start making costumes?
When I was a kid, I used to spend all day drawing frocks. I would say I was writing a comic book, but really, I was just inventing fifty different villains so I could put them all in outfits. I always made clothes for myself, I never wanted to look like everybody else – and making your own clothes is a good way to avoid that. I grew up with not a lot of money, and when I was 18 there were no affordable places that did interesting or original stuff. So, it was a case of going to charity shops, buying some curtains and making myself a dress – that sort of thing. But it wasn’t something I thought I’d do as a job.
When did that begin to change?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while… I suppose I internalised this idea that loving fashion/costumes/etc, is very shallow. If you want to be in a band, that’s “cool”. But if you want to make frocks, that’s very shallow. If you’re a woman, there’s an idea that being interested in appearance and glamour is somehow at odds with feminism. As I got older, I realised that’s all nonsense. There were a few points where connections were made that set me on the road to where I am now. My friend Audrey Hepkat launched Burly Q and in the beginning, each show had a different theme, so I’d make a special outfit to DJ in. That kind of reawakened a certain part of my brain. It brought back that love of finding a theme and creating something from it. Then I got into cosplay in quite a big way. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, but I started going to conventions and making costumes. And it’s more fun to be a Tudor Wonder Woman, for example, than just a regular ten-a-penny Wonder Woman, right? While this was happening, I was simultaneously being introduced to Manchester and modern drag culture through friends. I was seeing places like Cha Cha Boudoir and witnessing this creative and artistic scene that was about transformation, art and politics. I found it really interesting and stimulating.
So, when did you make the step to your own studio space and starting up as a business?
My friend Sophie Cooke (Imogen’s Imagination) had a studio in Exchange Place and me and my husband decided to get a studio space there, initially just as a workshop for our own costume making but it’s amazing how my work became elevated by having that dedicated space. It focused my mind (and made tidying up easier). Ever since I was 15 and making 60s mini-dresses out of curtains people would tell me I should sell them, but I was under no illusions about the quality of my output. Having the studio, that dedicated space, and the time to do it, just made me realise this is what I wanted to do: it was my thing. I was in my mid-30s and at a point where I didn’t care what people thought anymore. I enjoyed making frocks, so I just thought: why don’t I just make frocks?
Who was your first client?
I started by making stuff for a friend, Penny Slotz, basically for nothing, just to test the water really. Then at party in Manchester, I was talking to Anna Phylactic, and I told her I’d just started making frocks for other people and would love to make her something. So yeah, I went up to one of the most famous drag queens in Manchester and asked if I could make them a frock. That was about six years ago now, and that was the moment where my working relationship with Anna started. She’s my bestest, my muse.
What advice would you give to other makers in your field of work?
Everything I make, I’m pushing my practice and never stopping learning. I’m never satisfied with anything and I take it very seriously. You’re never going to improve if you already think you’re perfect, right? And keep any drama off social media. It’s neither clever nor classy.
How does the creative process work when a client comes to you?
Occasionally somebody has a really specific idea of what they want and will ask me if I can make it. The other way, which is slightly more common, stems from how I have a reputation for certain style of work: historically themed, detail-oriented and opulent. So, folks who know they want something in that vein come to me with a concept and we take it from there.
What are the most difficult aspects of what you do?
Fitting. In a normal situation, I’d meet them, take their measurements, make up a toile, fit that. No two bodies are the same and no two Drag Queen/King bodies are precisely the same twice in a row. I’ve come to the conclusion that doing a remote fitting is basically impossible. It’s hard enough getting it done properly in real life! During the pandemic doing such things over Zoom or whatever was not the one. Seven toiles for one outfit and it still doesn’t fit. Nightmare.
What is the most satisfying thing about what you do?
I get to make people feel beautiful and powerful. I’m rarely satisfied with my work, but three or four months down the line when a photoshoot emerges, or when someone posts a video talking about how happy or how good they feel in it, that’s the most rewarding thing. I want to make people happy.
With the rising popularity of drag culture in the modern-day media via platforms like Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, have you noticed a younger audience getting involved?
Some of my costumes were used to dress the set in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie! I would say a lot of my audience are young on social media, who I assume are drag fans rather than fans of a 41-year-old redhead with a Ferrero Rocher addiction, but they aren’t often my clients. The thing with being a Baby Queen is the money side of things. In the drag world, even during the pandemic, there is a constant need for new content. That’s expensive and time-consuming. It’s expensive having stuff made and not everybody can afford it. I do an annual competition where I make a costume for free, which is my way of giving back to the community I’m lucky enough to work in. I have started attracting some names – still yet to get anything on Drag Race itself though!
I’m never satisfied with anything and I take it very seriously. You’re never going to improve if you already think you’re perfect, right? And keep any drama off social media. It’s neither clever nor classy.
Is that the next step?
I don’t know but I think about this often. It is this kind of monolith of drag culture. It is a bit of a double-edged sword. Personally, I’m not someone who would ever be snippy about someone else’s work, as I just think you do what you do and if you’re having a good time that’s what matters but Drag Race is a competition, and part of that competition is the critique aspect, which sometimes is very harsh. Imagine there was a Queen wearing something I made, which we both liked, and then it gets read for filth on national television… When that happens I immediately think about the talented person who made it. It’s got to be such a kick in the teeth, hasn’t it? But yeah, come through Season 4… *fingers crossed*
More of Lizzie Biscuits work can be viewed at https://www.lizziebiscuits.com/
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