Image Credit: Instagram: @jmallisonb
Jacob Bird, twenty-something years-old and with buckets of talent, is a great many things. He is, for one, a BA graduate in Music from the University of Cambridge with an MA from Oxford; and two, a fast-rising star in the modelling world, having appeared at the likes of Paris Fashion Week and in the pages of some of the world’s biggest fashion magazines. Then add to his bow the drag act he performs as Dinah Lux and you have one interesting person. Despite admitting that he “loves a bit of a performance,” Jacob never thought that he would be a model.
First scouted at 17 while still in school, he was more surprised than anyone. “When I first got scouted I thought they were joking because I had such bad skin,” he says, adding, “I don’t have any photos from then because I hated my skin so much.” Even after the boost of being scouted he says that his first agency “didn’t go all that well.” He explains: “my first ever casting was for Jonathan Anderson’s fashion show and I didn’t leave the studio for four days because he decided I was going to be his boy for the season; I opened the show, closed the show, ‘middled’ the show. Then I just didn’t get anything else for like six months. I couldn’t understand how it could all just fizzle out the moment I stepped off the runway; so that’s why I left that agency. Luckily, I got scouted again in New York by my current agency. I never thought it would be modelling, but I have always liked being on the receiving end of attention.” Having now been in the modelling industry for several years, he knows the process well and says, “it’s not what you expect; it’s not that glamorous. It’s so tiring. To go to the castings we have to get a 5:40am Eurostar with every other male model in the world seemingly on the same train. Then you have 20-30 castings every day, and for some of the castings you’d sit in a corridor for five hours with no food, waiting to be seen for about 20 seconds. It wasn’t glamorous but it was really fun; we would stay in these dive hotels but the whole place would be overrun with models so it would be really funny. The more successful you get, the more glamorous it gets. There are glam moments.”Another misconception about the industry Jacob is keen to point out is the image of the airhead model; the notion that because you’re a model, you’re stupid and have nothing interesting to say. “Everyone I’ve met in modelling has been so interesting and intelligent,” he says, adding “obviously you don’t meet consistently lovely people, but some of the most amazing people I know are models.” Jacob admits that finding time for his academic work is hard to fit into his busy schedule, but points out that his modelling work “is less frequent than it looks on Instagram.” It is his drag shows as Dinah Lux that he says take up the most time: “drag shows are often at night and then we’ll get really drunk and I’ll finish work at 5am and not want to do anything the next day.” Jacob first began performing drag in his first year at university, and when his agency found out they suggested he do it in Fashion Week. “Looking back now,” he says, “I look so bad,but it was a coming together. We’d go to parties, I’d meet these stylists, and I got more interesting jobs and got to wear beautiful clothes, much more interesting things than jeans and a t-shirt.”“When I was about eight or nine my Granddad gave me a copy of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert,” he explains. “I used to watch it all the time and became obsessed by it. Then I forgot about it, but when I was 15 I started watching Rocky Horror and loved it. So I’ve always known I liked drag even when I was in school, but I was super geeky and worked constantly.” It was at Cambridge that he began dressing in drag, which everyone did for the union drag night Denim.“I never really had much backlash against it”, he says, but recalls a time when someone was “put off his food” by Jacob’s outfit, a story here counts in his TED Talk: “I was like ‘this is fucking outrageous’, but by and large I’ve been very lucky.” As for myths about being a drag queen, he points out that “often people will tell you how to do your performance because they’ve seen it on TV and think they know what drag has to be. I fulfil most of that ‘criteria’, I shave, I cinch my waist, but it is by no means the only way to do drag”.
He recently took part in an interview with GQ about gender non-conformity and the release of Molton Brown’s new gender neutral fragrance. When asked about changing attitudes towards gender, he suggests that, “the fashion industry definitely has a large sway in public opinion on certain things and gender comes into that because one of the ways we express it is through clothing.” Drag is not only a job and a love for Jacob, but a part of his academic life, with his DPhil thesis being written on drag queens and lip-syncing. It is a topic that he says has been looked down on by some academics, but he is confident it says an awful lot about gender and music. It is appropriate then that Jacob Bird himself is someone with a lot of interesting things to say.