A bedouin bedecked in nothing but newsprint. An enantiomorph, shimmering in the dark like a human negative. An S&M demon with a vulva for a face. A bearded woman wearing a Technicolor dream coat. A living representation of René Magritte’s Son of Man.
The fantastic individuals Damien Frost photographs for his series Night Flowers don’t look like they belong to 21st-century London. Instead, they’d look more at home in the dreamy London of writers like Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Clive Barker, and Michael Moorcock. Yet these are real people in some of the fringiest-fringes of London’s club scene, collected by Frost in a new book from Merrell Publishers called Night Flowers: from avant-drag to extreme haute-couture.
What’s a Night Flower? Frost says he borrowed the term from drag performer Maxi More as a “poetic way to describe the wild array of people that constitute the more colorful elements of the London alternative club, queer, performance, and arts scene.” It’s not a commonly used term, he admits, but he likes the way it describes the “loose-knit society of drag queens, drag kings, club kids, alternative-queer, transgender, goths, fetishists, artists, burlesque and cabaret performers, and gender illusionists who bloom at night and burn bright amongst the neon lights of late-night London.”
In his day job, Frost works in Soho, an area in London’s West End long established as the city’s entertainment district. It’s an area that was “once known for its neon and seedy nightlife,” Frost says, but which has fallen prey to gentrification in recent years. Still, pockets of the old Soho remain, and in time, Frost found himself staying out later and later at night, drawn to the colorful characters who can only be found after midnight–and which he would eventually make the subject of his art.
It seems unbelievable that there are people walking around London at night in these outfits, but Frost swears that each of his Night Flowers is shown exactly as he originally encountered them, in clubs, on dance floors, or waiting around in hallways. These looks aren’t being recreated after the fact, either: Frost shoots them then and there, against the nearest dark wall. Why do the Night Flowers dress this way? Primarily, it’s an extreme form of self-expression: a way of experimenting with one’s look even as they also explore their sexuality and identity in a (mostly) liberal-minded city.
At the same time, many of Frost’s Night Flowers are professionals. “There’s many who are fashion designers and makeup artists who will experiment with looks and clothing in the club scene and kind of road-test ideas,” Frost explains. “A couple of years ago some outfits Lady Gaga made headlines for wearing in Paris were first worn by some drag performers in London when the designer fitted them all out in it for a party. So while it may seem quite far fetched to see it on the streets or in clubs at night it could just as easily turn up in a movie or fashion magazine months down the line.”
Night Flowers may look otherworldly, but really? They’re just ahead of the fashion curve.