When it comes to style, too much is never enough for Fayette Hauser. As an original member of the celebrated acid freak hippie drag queen troupe known as The Cockettes, and one of its few biological females, Fayette’s flamboyant and artistic style fused drag, performance art, rock ’n’ roll and psychedelia. This imaginative and theatrical approach to dress and life was the hallmark of The Cockettes, who exploded onto the counterculture scene of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco in the late Sixties.
Having grown up on the East Coast, Fayette was just coming of age when the underground of the Sixties was beginning to emerge. In search of freedom, adventure and alternatives, like many others of her generation, Fayette headed west to California and landed in San Francisco in 1968. There she was to meet the people with whom she would form The Cockettes, a short-lived yet incredibly prolific collective and cultural phenomenon embodying the revolutionary spirit of the times through radical self-expression, alternative living, free love, psychedelia – and more glitter than you could ever imagine.
As a sequel to THE Other’s special story on The Cockettes and ahead of the launch of Fayette’s upcoming book on The Cockettes, we decided to dive deeper into Fayette’s story and life as a Cockette.
THE OTHER: What did being a Cockette mean to you?
FAYETTE HAUSER: For me, it was a natural expression of who I was at the time. It was very much integrated with my own evolution as a person and with my creative life. I’ve never stopped being a Cockette.
How would you describe The Cockettes as a community?
FAYETTE: Our group emerged from an organic meeting of like-minded people. I was already living with this group of artists, commune-style, before we became an official theatre troupe. We would initially meet each other at The Fillmore, Winterland, and The Family Dog on the Great Highway – the bars and all the popular hangs. Then we ended up living together. In the beginning there were 13 of us, Hibiscus, Link, Scrumbly, Gary Cherry, Sweet Pam, Daniel Ware, Dusty Dawn, Reggie, Marquel, Marshall, Big Daryl, Rumi and myself. We were living in a large Victorian flat on Bush Street in San Francisco. When Hibiscus came to us and asked to move in with his idea of putting ourselves onto the stage, it galvanised us as a group. Our home officially became the first Cockette House.
What was your vision of Drag?
FAYETTE: We all liked expressing ourselves with our clothes, our “drag”. And I mean “Drag” in the broader sense of the word, as opposed to a personal drag fantasy about being a different gender. Our drag concepts were very complicated, multi-dimensional, involving more than just one fantasy. We were putting our souls on display and having fun with it.
We were Freaks and proud of it.
As a community, what were your aspirations?
FAYETTE: We were looking to create a new myth, a way of expressing ourselves that burst through old boundaries and concepts of what it means to be human. We were Freaks and proud of it. Living communally allowed us to experience an open and free life that was unconnected to the system. We were extremely nurturing and supportive of each other. We shared everything. There were many communes like ours all over the city. I think it was the communal aspect of our life and culture that has allowed the philosophy and principles of the counterculture to have such an enduring influence. People got a lot done in the communes.
How did it change your life?
FAYETTE: I was very un-grounded at the time, extremely spaced out. I had a lot going on in my head and found it difficult to express myself as words seemed inadequate. I couldn’t talk. Expressing myself with my clothes became my only means of self-expression. I created my own visual language and assembled my drag with great care as it all meant something special to me, something very important. Together we celebrated our own personal freaky-ness, we understood and loved each other. We emboldened each other and shared the desire to create Majick in all its forms.
Dress was a prime means of expression within the community of Haight Ashbury.
What did style and clothes mean to you as part of The Cockettes? Where did you shop?
FAYETTE: Within the counterculture community as a whole, dress was very important. The Diggers had a Free Store on Haight Street and those who came to the city with the intent of walking away from the mainstream could drop their clothes, get naked and recreate themselves, all in the Free Store. Dress was a prime means of expression within the community of the Haight. It was very important to show your inner self, to reveal what was meaningful to your soul, on your body. And above all, it was super sexy.
We were on a Quest for the Great Cosmic Item.
Once our shows began, we shopped every day. We were on a quest for the great cosmic item. Thrift stores and especially the Alameda Flea Market were our targets. Cockette Marshall got a job at the Third Hand Store, a shop owned by a hippie couple that sold vintage clothes. Marshall would save the crème de la crème for us. These beautiful things were very available as the mainstream public only wanted the new. Appreciating beautiful things from the past and re-purposing them was the hallmark of the Cockettes.
It was our form of anarchy to really mix it up, sexually as well as culturally.
How did you experience this sense of liberation physically?
FAYETTE: Beautiful bodies covered the streets. There was a powerful body consciousness, a sexual awareness that wasn’t evident in too many other parts of the U.S, especially for women. It was a complete joy when I discovered this aspect of life in San Francisco, in all its full-blown glory, when I arrived there in the fall of 1968. We Cockettes took it to a whole other level as we challenged a lot of image boundaries and what they mean. Nothing was sacred to us. It was our form of anarchy to really mix it up, sexually as well as culturally.
Too much was never enough.
How would you describe your style at the time?
FAYETTE: My style evolved from the Cosmic Gypsy look, which was the main tribal look at the time to a more cubistic, very personal style. For me it became a celebration of the mind and body all at once. High key colors contrasting each other, the flow of colors as they move over the body, accessories as surreal elements, over-sized and comical as well as beautiful… There were many things going on in my head and I would put as much of it as I could on my body. Too much was never enough.
What inspired you creatively?
FAYETTE: When I was a teenager in the 1960’s, there were art house theaters in Manhattan that would show silent films, early films from the 1920’s and 1930’s, musicals from the 1940’s and 1950’s as well as foreign films like the French New Wave and I sought them out. These films influenced me a great deal. Around this time I also discovered clothes from other eras while I was in art school in Boston. In the Sixties, the mainstream trend in clothes had a very two dimensional aspect, very straight lines, large flat patterns that didn’t exactly celebrate the curve. Even though I adored Mod clothing, what I found in antique clothes was a very different way of looking at my body, a way of feeling about my particular shape (more like a pear) that was much better suited to clothes from another era. But I didn’t start wearing these fabulous items on the street until I landed in San Francisco.
Did anyone particularly influence your sense of style?
FAYETTE: There was the influence of the women from the original tribe of San Francisco, The Family Dog that determined my look when I first arrived in the city. Specifically Nancy Gurley who was the wife of James Gurley, the guitarist for Big Brother and the Holding Company. She and James would go to the mountains of Michoacan in Mexico and take mushrooms with the Indians. The Michoacan Indian women wore colorful skirts made from hand-woven fabrics, lots of beautiful stripes, and arms of colorful bracelets. Nancy adopted this look as she was very influenced by her mushroom experiences and felt that she had a spiritual connection to these women. Nancy dressed Janis Joplin and the women of the Family Dog as well as women in other families like the Grateful Dead, all wore this Cosmic Gypsy look. It was very much the street look for women when I arrived in San Francisco.
I had met Nancy Gurley in Aspen, Colorado the summer of 1968, which was a life-changing experience for me. I had never met anyone with such an expanded consciousness as well as one so brilliant. She became a role model for me and determined my destiny, as it was she who brought me to San Francisco and into the arms of The Family Dog.
Psychedelics made it very important to materialise your visions.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the power of psychedelics.
FAYETTE: Psychedelics were the catalyst for everything in the culture of the Haight. You can’t even talk about the period without talking about psychedelics. Whoever found themselves on Haight Street in the Sixties either embraced psychedelics or they left the city and went back home. It was that much of an intense part of the scene. Personal transformation was key to the counterculture experience. Psychedelics took people’s prior history and put it into a nice little package, tightly wrapped, and then promptly threw it out the window, never to be seen again. Most decisions anyone made that were considered of vital importance came from an Acid Vision. Psychedelics made it very important to materialise your visions. That is certainly true when it came to the original Cockettes. We were all acid babies, psychedelicised to the max and intent on creating magical visions on stage and off.
How did psychedelic experience inspire your style?
FAYETTE: Psychedelics added enormous dimension to my mind. They gave me a very clear, cubistic and surreal perspective on the world and it was this point of view that I brought to my dress, which became my style. Layers of concepts and colors, fabulous items large and small, eras galore, with a touch of the occult and a large dose of satire. And all with my tits up to the world, of course.
Now living in Los Angeles, Fayette Hauser writes, lectures and travels sharing her photographs, stories, and thoughtful insights. She most recently lectured at US exhibitions including: ‘Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia’ chronicling the pioneers of avant-garde art and design in the Sixties and Seventies – the exhibition next travels to the Cranbrook Museum in Detroit and opens in June 2016; ‘Counter Couture: The Fashioning of Identity in the American Counter-Culture’, which includes Fayette’s “Cosmic Gypsy” outfit and other styles of the Wearable Art Movement, which exploded in the late Sixties and early Seventies – the exhibition next travels to Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan and opens in February 2017.
Check out Fayette’s website: www.fayettehauser.com
Support or pre-order The Cockettes Photo Book by Fayette Hauser, featuring beautiful & intimate photographs by Fayette and many other photographers
Read The OTHER’s article introducing The Cockettes and how it all began