Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Wiggle it

House of Venus’s annual wearable art festival is not your usual drag soirée

House of Venus created Wiggle to celebrate local performers, artists and designers.  Credit: Robert-John Farrow

They say the higher the hair, the closer to God, which makes Wiggle a night of divinity.

Wiggle, which originated in Windsor, Ontario, 20 years ago, is an annual wearable art festival created by the House of Venus to celebrate the creative genius of local performers, artists and designers.

“We started [House of Venus] because we were doing different events in Windsor and then in the Detroit club scene,” house mother Michael Venus says. “We wanted to form a collective where we could do our crazy parties and our art functions and our genderbending. We would go to New York a lot for inspiration. We were really inspired by club kids and the different drag and fashion houses.”

The artists’ collective named itself House of Venus because its members “wanted to do something that symbolized love and positive energy,” Michael says. “We really felt like there was so much negative energy in our world, and there still is, so that’s why we picked Venus. It’s about beauty and love. We’re really into trying to change the world.”

After making its debut in Ontario, Wiggle came to Vancouver in 1996, where it planted the sequined seeds that have since grown into an annual extravaganza.

“When we did it [in Vancouver], we had tons of different fashion designers, and it really became more drag-focused,” Michael notes. “We had a lot of the quintessential drag queens involved, and there was a lot more focus on it, as well as beautiful headpieces and wigs and all that stuff, but there was definitely a stronger drag element.”

It’s not the drag you’d ordinarily see in Vancouver’s clubs, though. “When people do drag at Wiggle, it’s not just your typical Beyoncé number,” Michael explains. “Usually, they dig a little deeper and do something a little more alternative to the alternative. Our philosophy has always been ‘Just because I’m gay doesn’t make me cool.’ There are other elements.”

The whimsical event has been so embraced by the Vancouver community that Michael, who now divides his time between Toronto and Vancouver, didn’t have to think twice about where to host its landmark 20th anniversary.

“Wiggle is definitely a Vancouver tradition, which is why I had to do Wiggle 20 here,” he says. “Wiggle is home in Vancouver. It’s really the only event of its kind in Canada — or in the world, for that matter. This is where we made Wiggle become the huge thing that it is, so I’m very loyal to our Van City peeps.”

The innovation bubbling on the West Coast is why the bi-coastal House of Venus (at least part of it) dug in its stiletto heels here. Although Michael has considered taking Wiggle back to Ontario, he says he’s still drawn to Vancouver’s visionaries.

“Vancouver is a smaller city, and I’m always so shocked because there is always such amazing, innovative talent, comparable to big cities like LA, New York, London, Montreal,” he says. “Our populace is obviously a lot smaller, so to me it’s always inspiring to see what comes out of this town.”

It isn’t just local talent that has helped shape Wiggle. Hosts of the show have included Lady Bunny, the legendary New York City queen and creator of Wigstock; Candis Cayne, the first trans woman to have a recurring role on prime-time television; and Miss Guy, frontman of rock group Toilet Böys.

During Wiggle 9, none other than Deborah Harry was spotted in the audience. When Harry came backstage, Michael offered her a bottle of water from his own label, called Cotton’s Fountain of Youth, after his drag alter ego, Cotton Venus. Having the Blondie legend drink from a bottle of water with his mug on the packaging was one of his most memorable moments of the past 20 years, he says.

“Year after year, it’s about seeing what these hairstylists and artists — and people who just have a glue gun and like being creative — come up with,” Michael says. “The real amazing thing is seeing what fucked-up shit they create.”

Wiggle 20 will be a weekend of celebration, with a preview on July 11 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, followed by the show on July 12 at The Fox Cabaret.

“The magic continues; the saga goes on,” Michael says. “It’s emotional and overwhelming to see something last so long . . . Dreams do come true.”