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The Vancouver queen who loves a chunky shoe moment couldn't escape the disapproving glare of judge Brooke Lynn Hytes
The “Brat Pack” on Canada’s Drag Race is down a member. Vancouver has had a strong presence on season 2, with four queens hailing from the west-coast city. Kendall Gender, Gia Metric and Synthia Kiss formed a defacto in-group among the cast that intimidated some of the other queens.
Their familiarity wasn’t just because they hail from the same city. Offscreen, the trio were part of a weekly Vancouver drag show called Bratpack that ultimately served as a kind of Drag Race boot camp.
But alas, there won’t be a Vancouver hat trick at the end of season 2. For episode 7’s Sinner’s Ball challenge, the queens had to design looks based on the seven deadly sins and Synthia Kiss sashayed away thanks to a halfway-there animal print “Greed” look.
Born in Peterborough, Kiss didn’t actually start doing drag until she moved to Vancouver after graduating from fashion school at Toronto’s Ryerson University. A designer by day for high-street fashion brands, she says going home on a design challenge stung, but readily admits the sewing competition among the cast was tough, with Montreal’s Pythia and Ottawa’s Icesis Couture regularly wowing the judges with high-concept creations.
Speaking of the judges, this week’s episode featured more dramatic disagreement than we’re used to seeing on Drag Race. At times, Amanda Brugel, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Brad Goreski and guest judge Gigi Gorgeous’s facial expressions seemed to be critiquing each other, making it hard to guess which queens might end up in the bottom.
Chatting about her elimination the morning after, Kiss animatedly recounts her time on the show like she’s your bubbly new best friend. It’s not hard to see why she wound up cast on the show. She sounds off on judge Brooke Lynn Hytes’s intimidatingly honest face, why chunky shoes are more necessary than ever, and the best and worst drag fashion trends.
How did you become a drag queen?
I became a drag queen by amalgamating the skills of a needy, attention-seeking middle child, taking dance and art classes, having a desire to own a sewing machine in high school and getting a degree in fashion design at Ryerson. When I moved to the west coast, I realized these were the makings of a drag queen. I just went for it. Let’s shake this into a cocktail and boom! Synthia Kiss was born. Here I am!
What experiences from your time in Toronto shaped the Synthia Kiss we know now?
The grit, the wit, gettin’ lit. I’m a Church Street girl. I love Queen West, though. The Beaver – R.I.P. I heard that closed since I’ve moved away. Tapette, Business Woman’s Special – there are some fabulous parties. Drag was always inside of me, and I was just too chicken shit to do it. I realized life’s too short. I entered a competition. They were looking for a member of Bratpack and the rest is history.
Bratpack consisted of a changing crew of queens in Vancouver, but the era I was part of definitely was its highlight. We started to really care about numbers being choreographed, looks being cohesive and promotion online. We really gave it our full shot. And we made it all the way to season 2. It was so fun to see Kendall [Gender] and Gia [Metric], who were also part of Bratpack.
So what was that dynamic like in the Werk Room given you guys were so tight knit?
Eve 6000 put it really beautifully. She was saying it was so nice to see you guys get along and be close but every single queen has their sisters. In a time where you’re most vulnerable – in an unfamiliar, scary environment – you too would love to have a couple Judys besides you being like, “You’ve got this girl.” The three of us had that going on. It did come to a point where I was like, ‘Guys, we got to stay away from each other. We need to socialize and be part of the whole cast.’ I did not want to leave that experience not knowing the other queens.
What did you find intimidating or scary about being on the show?
I found EVERYTHING to be intimidating and scary. I thought the runways were going to be the one thing that I would rock and have the best time of my life. But I literally had knots in my stomach. Every time I was on set, I had to be mindful of my breathing and constantly calm myself down. I wasn’t used to the hurry-up-and-wait nature of TV. I was vibrating in this way where I just needed to learn how to chill out. I found the whole experience really scary. There were times when I was cracking jokes because I’m a people pleaser. The way I feel comfortable in a situation is if I hear laughter. Making other people laugh feels great. I’ve turned that into a superpower, and I’ve learned to reel that in when I want to and turn it up when I want to. When I was being funny, it was because I needed to to feel safe.
It’s scary! Brooke Lynn is scary! On the runway she doesn’t have a poker face. If she doesn’t like something, she’s just like [makes unimpressed face]. I’m like, I feel like a piece of garbage right now. It was so intimidating.
How much effort did you put into your own looks for the show?
So much effort. So much work. It was a real hat trick getting everything ready during the pandemic. There were weeks where we actually thought we were going to reenter a lockdown. How do you actually get these raw materials to create these looks? It was very stressful.
What was it like going home on a design challenge?
It stung a little. At that point, I had already accepted the fact that there were some very, very talented designers [in the cast] and different types of designers. I’ve worked for brands like Kit and Ace, Mountain Equipment Co-op – mass market, larger-scale production. It’s a different side of the fashion industry, and so when we were designing our looks I must have still mentally been in that world. I was like, “Oh this is crazy. They’re going to LIVE for crushed velvet and biker shorts! Like, THIS IS INSANE!” And then you get there and Pythia has literally molded her head to have an identical [second head]. I walked away feeling really inspired and also humbled that I don’t know everything.
Smart people know their strengths, play within them and then also ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with me leaving the show with a bigger budget and having people help me. I would love to be a creative director of Synthia Kiss Inc. Let’s work together and massage these ideas so they feel on brand. Hire some new kids on the block. Keep me fresh! Keep me hip! Get some Gen Zs designing for Synth! [laughs]
What about a drag athleisurewear line? Can drag translate into mass-market fashion?
Could you imagine? They’re like tights, but with padding on like the balls of the feet so at the end of the night it’s orthopedic. Those cheap shoes, they’re mean to your feet! The dogs are barking! Basically it could be for all the parts of your body that hurt when you take drag off. It can be like a silk hat for the end of the night. I like it. That’s a good idea!
Is it drag if it’s not painful?
No, beauty hurts. Beauty is pain.
What would you say is the best drag fashion trend right now? And the worst?
Ooh, I love the mullet. I love when a queen can pull off the mullet hair. What’s my least favourite right now? This might be controversial, but I love boobs. So when a queen is padding without boobies it just doesn’t make sense to me. Call me classic, but I feel like if you’re going to do the hip then round it all out [with boobs]. It looks a little funny when there’s no tatas. To me, when I put my padded bra on, it changes the way I hold my shoulders, my posture. It just gives me that hourglass silhouette. Without the bust, it looks a little unbalanced. I feel like a lot of the kids these days are going without that. It looks like a missing piece, in my opinion.
It does seem like on Drag Race we’re seeing more exposed breastplates.
Even our promo – it was the season of pasties. We had three or four girls do pasties. It was insane.
Do you see any trends bubbling up?
Chunky shoes! Brooke Lynn hated my chunky heels, but they’re definitely going to be a thing. The amount of queens I’ve heard who are having injuries, rolling their ankles, straining their knees – we’ve got two girls on this season who hurt their knees death dropping. We need stable footwear, people! The Spice Girls did it. We can do it, too.
Watch a video version of this interview below:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.