“Kindness and love are really beautiful,” Domonique Echeverria tells me shortly before midnight, as she’s getting ready to host one of the city’s best weekly parties. (I had asked her about beauty.) Her make-up is already on from an earlier photo shoot—deep blues and purples over her eyelids, shades of color along her jawbone, and a crush of red lipstick—so she’s pulling out various dresses, tops, and skirts from her closet and armoire, both of which are stuffed full of clothes.
“I don’t really have room to have a drag-slash-costume closet and a regular closet, so I just wear everything,” she explains. “I’m me, 24-seven. I don’t own a T-shirt or a pair of pants. When I go to the grocery store, I’m in a full-length dress and some sort of jewelry.” Echeverria’s walls double as storage space for her elaborate, hand-made headdresses, which hang around her room next to leafy potted plants and photos of her friends, including nightlife luminaries Amanda Lepore and Joey Arias.
For the last few years, Echeverria has regularly hosted some of the city’s best nightlife events—like On Top at Le Bain, 11:11 at Open House, and Holy Mountain at Slake. “The majority of my clothes are things that I make,” she explains. “I’m a social person so if I’m in a bad mood, nine times out of ten, I’m dressing up and going dancing. I love seeing all the upcoming drag queens from Bushwick, the kids from the city, the kids that move here and it’s their first time dressing up.”
By day, Echeverria is a Bushwick-based costume designer, stylist, and model. When she first got into hosting parties, it was to promote herself as an artist. “I feel like it costs so much money to do a fashion show, hire models and a makeup artist, do press, and get a space,” she says. “You’re competing with huge designers and it all comes down to resources.
“I don’t have money to make a fashion line, design for myself, and make special pieces just for showrooms or to have for editorial purposes, so I just use the same thing that I wear to advertise myself [at parties],” Echeverria says.
Echeverria grew up in Bay Area, the eldest of five children who were raised by a single mom—and she remembers being shunned by her classmates. “I was that weird kid who didn’t have any friends in elementary school, who everyone made fun of,” she says. Echeverria would spend recess playing alone or, if her grandmother had yard-duty that day, she’d stand by her grandmother’s side, holding her hand.
Now, years later, Echeverria is six-feet tall with flowing locks of hair and perfect features. She looks like William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s vision of the goddess Venus, and people vie for her attention when she hosts—almost too intensely. “It’s kind of like I’m Mickey Mouse at Disneyland: People want to touch my hair, my eyelashes, and my lips,” Echeverria tells me. “They want to pull on my hair to see if it’s real; they want to feel the texture.
“Every single night I host, there’s at least one or two random drunk people that actually try to take my headdress off to try it on,” she adds.
To protect herself, Echeverria started to include armor in her nightlife costumes: wire face cages and metal chest and collar pieces. “I can’t wear a mask every single day,” she says. “I still want to show my face so I made those to represent my chaos while trying to protect myself in this strange way.”
She points out one of the metal face cages that hangs on a hook attached to a bookshelf above her mirror. On the shelf, there’s a collection of dolls of all sizes. They’re neatly arranged, standing or sitting, wearing clothing that looks at least two decades old. Why do you have so many dolls? I ask.
Echeverria, who had been trying on dresses, pauses to explain: “My mother grew up really poor. She always wanted dolls but her family couldn’t afford them, so whenever my mom could make a little extra money—when she would get gigs or travel somewhere—she would always get me a doll. All these dolls are from her over the years.”
Echeverria’s mother was also a model, and there’s a glamorous black-and-white headshot of a smiling woman on the wall that I suspect is a picture of her. “I remember numerous times in my life my mom walking past women being like, ‘Your hair is so beautiful’ or ‘I love that dress’ or just giving compliments as she’s walking down the street, smiling at women,” Echeverria says. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been a jealous person because I was taught to love everyone.”
I watch Echeverria select a black, floor-length skirt. Satisfied, she starts to look for a top. “My parents were very open-minded and accepting of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds, so I didn’t even know that people were supposed to hate each other like that until I started going to school. Then I was like, ‘Why is everybody being mean to the kids who are different than them?'” she remembers.
She settles on a sheer, black, wide-sleeved top that wraps around her torso. It brings out the colorful make-up that she’s already wearing, and Echeverria turns her attention to her hair. Her mother is half-French, half-Native American and her father, she lists, is Spanish, Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, and Mexican. From her background, she draws inspiration from “indigenous, ornamental pieces as far as jewelry, and color, and feathers,” she adds.
Echeverria is inspired by Frida Kahlo—”Everything from the fact that I refuse to primp or manicure my body hair to celebrating my culture”—as well as by “the idea of female warriors, female priestesses, and female saints. I have to be confident because I feel a lot of times that I leave my house and I’m at war with the rest of the world just by being a confident, tall, voluptuous woman whose idea of beauty is different.”
She has noticed that elements of her style occasionally come and go as trends—like feathered earrings or nose chains—and when that happens, she says, “I’ll take a break from that and dip into more of the glamorous side of my closet, or more of the drag or modern side of my closet. It just forces me to explore my closet since I have a wide spectrum of style.”
Sometimes even a week after wearing her newest piece to an event, she’ll see someone else wearing something very similar at the next party. “It sucks, but the good thing about that is that it encourages me to out-do myself, to be more creative, and to come up with different ideas that I don’t see people doing,” Echeverria says. On her phone, she quickly uses an app to call for a car; our interview is almost drawing to a close.
I ask her for advice about being an artist in Brooklyn—with prices so high, can it be done? “As artists, we have to help each other out because the odds are against us already,” Echeverria says. “To be able to make it as an ‘artist,’ and I mean ‘make it’ as just actually being able to make a living from it, I think it’s really important to surround yourself with a positive, encouraging community, even if that little group is three people.
“I think positivity breeds positivity so when you help your sisters out, they’ll help you back,” she says. “It’s hard because people work so hard here—and sometimes it’s hard to be generous with your time, resources, and connections—but I’ve found that every time that I help somebody, I definitely get it back. That’s something that I encourage people to do.”
Echeverria‘s car is on the way, and as I stand to leave, she hugs me good-bye.