Dylan Kepp: Sew Good

Dylan Kepp

OK, I am not Suzi Homemaker. I truly did once have to call someone to ask how to boil an egg. My attempts to mend a sock or sew on a button look like some version of Frankenstein’s scar. I actually flunked home ec. in seventh grade because I failed to make a simple skirt, which consisted pretty much of sewing one end of fabric to another. I’m a little better now, but I still would embarrass Martha Stewart if we were related. If you’re a little more skilled than me but could still use some assistance, Dylan Kepp is here to help. The fabulously creative Kepp has an online program to help you amateur Betsy Ross types who need a little help with your stitch work.

Hi, Dylan Kepp. Tell me a little about yourself.

I’m originally from Springfield, Delaware County.

I’m a Delco person myself, but I grew up in Wayne near the R5 train station.

Oh! I went to Episcopal Academy, so I’m very familiar with Wayne. I actually lived in Devon for a while.

Nice. So you’ve been to the horse show?

No, I haven’t. I lived right around the corner from it, and I’ve never been! Isn’t that crazy?

It is! You need to go. You could bump into Carson Kressley. He’s a world champion rider and usually shows a few horses there.

Oh my God, I did not know that. And I’ve run into him at events a couple of times. He’s a judge for the Miss’d America Pageant. What a great guy!

For sure. So you grew up in Delco…

Yes, I also spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Springfield. We’re a small but tight-knit family. Though it’s getting bigger. My aunt has had three kids in the past 10 years, so I’m getting a lot of cousins. We’re all very close. We try to get together often and take care of each other to the best of our abilities.

Are they nearby?

Yes, the majority are. In fact, my parents still live in the same house that I grew up in. My grandfather actually built the house.

Oh wow, he sounds handy. What did your parents do?

My dad passed away when I was 18, but he was a barber. My mom worked as an assistant to a pastor at a Presbyterian church at one point, but her main job was as the associate athletic director at Agnes Irwin school. She’s great; she was like a guidance counselor for a lot of kids; they would come to her for advice. She was kind of a stand-in mom for them.

Since your mom was an athletic director, did you play any sports?

Pretty much every one you could think of, short of squash and crew! I’ve played soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, ultimate frisbee; I ran track, I ran cross country. I’ve done a lot.

Which sport were you best at and which one did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed soccer the most, absolutely. I loved soccer. The one I was best at was probably track. I was a short-distance runner and did the 300 hurdles. I didn’t really like it, but I was good at hurdles. They put me on the varsity team in my freshman year.

What were your best and worst sports moments?

I was at a big qualifying meet, and the minute I saw the guy I was running against, I knew he was going to destroy me. He was huge! He was about 6’ 4” and massive. He had about 100 pounds on me. I was just this scrawny freshman in comparison. There I was up against him and just thought to myself, “Well, you are going to lose, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still going to try your best and at least finish the race.” He beat me by almost half my time, but I was determined to finish.

You learned early on how to overcome all sorts of hurdles. Did you go on to college after that?

Yeah, I went to Parson’s New School of Design in New York. I was there for two-and-a-half years, and then I had to leave. It was a tumultuous time for me. My dad died during my freshman year, and everything kind o — the ball of twine slowly unraveled. There was stuff going on in all different directions. It was eye-opening, and I learned a lot, but I wouldn’t say that college was the best experience, though I did make a lot of friends at school and in Manhattan who became part of my family. And it set me up for my career, which has been in performing and costuming and producing.

How did your father die?

My dad died from a drug overdose. He was an addict for a while. He actually did some jail time back before I was born. He was clean for a while and then relapsed the summer before my freshman year of high school. It left him with partial paralysis in his left leg and with some brain damage. He slowly deteriorated over the next five years and then died of a second overdose during my freshman year of college.

I’d say that would make it a little tough to concentrate on school.

Just a little. I just tried my best to get through it. I had to be strong and stand my ground and fight for what I loved and believed in.

What was coming out like in the middle of all that?

I was a child actor in the middle of everything, I started acting in fifth grade. You know those Schlessinger educational videos that they show you in school. I was in a series of them. And I also did a Yu-Gi-Oh! commercial. I used to go up and back to New York. During that process, my dad was really supportive, but it took him a minute to come around. I think he understood that I was queer-identifying from early on. At one point, he said, “We have to talk about this. I’m not really sure that I’m OK with you being…” I said, “Being gay?” and he said yes. So it was a little bit of a harsh reality because it was after the first time he’d overdosed, but I said to him, “And I’m not really sure I’m OK with everything that’s happened on your end and what you have to fight every day either. But we both can’t change that can we?” And he was like, “Oh shit, this is something Dylan can’t change. It’s who he is,” and after that, he got it. Now my mom? Completely fine from the time I was born. She knew and understood, and that was it. We’ve always been best friends.

When did you come back to Philly?

The winter of 2013, I believe. I thought I was going back to school, but because of some other problems at home, I wasn’t able to go back. My mother struggled with things after my dad passed, and there were loan applications and school paperwork that weren’t taken care of, and as a result, I wasn’t able to go back to New York. But back in the Philly area, I got myself a job at a wedding floral design place and worked there for several years. At the same time, I started performing for Dollhouse at Voyeur.

When did you start doing drag?

The first time was in 2010 when I went out for Halloween as Poison Ivy, but the first real time doing drag was on Dec. 21, 2012. It was an End of the World party, because that’s when the Mayan calendar predicted it. I performed “Human Behavior” by Bjork. I still have video of it which I used in a show recently.

I came across you on the Philly Gay Calendar website, which is still a good source to find things to do virtually. You were doing a sewing tutorial, which I thought was something fun and different for people to work on while staying in. Is that what you do?

Yes, I mostly work from home. I sew and sell costumes and do pretty much all of my own drag productions. I’m saving money on fabric by using what I have around the house while we’re shut in. It’s been a fun challenge. I normally also do drag about four nights a week both here and in New York, and I also host karaoke at Knock here in Philly.

What is your drag name?

Iris, like the flower, Spectre. It’s a pun on “I respect her” because who doesn’t want to be respected for what they’re passionate about? And a reminder that respect is earned, not given.

I like that. I understand that your partner is also involved in the arts.

Who? Bear Trap? Yes, his name is Frankie, and he is a dancer. He works with a contemporary modern dance company called Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. And he also does burlesque under the name “Bear Trap.” We’re both performers, which makes for great chemistry. He understands when I’m in an artistic funk, and we work together well and are constantly pushing each other to do more. One of us will say, “I don’t know if that really works the way you want it to, why not think of it this way?” We’re good at checks and balances.

What made you decide to do the sewing tutorial? I think I also saw that you do a makeup tutorial as well?

The makeup podcast isn’t a tutorial. I’ve been doing my own makeup for years. One of my favorite things is the time spent in a dressing room with all the other performers as everyone is getting ready. I just love that moment, so I’ve been podcasting that special time in the dressing room while I get ready. It’s not a tutorial; it’s just inviting people in to watch the moment. With the sewing event, “Sew Good,” it’s definitely a tutorial. I do it live so that people can ask questions while I’m doing it. Most times, when you’re watching a demonstration online, it’s hard to follow all the bits and pieces. There’s always something that you might not understand or catch. You’re not able to stop the person and ask, ‘Hey, why did you do it that way?” Doing it live, people can post their questions while I do it. It’s a way to help people find something to do with all the free time they have right now. Something to distract yourself and to bring a little happiness into your life. I also did a one-woman show last year called, “Shades of Brocade.” I’m going to stream an adapted version of it live sometime in the next two weeks. People can check out Philly Gay Calendar or my Facebook page to find out when.

Other than Carson, what’s a favorite celebrity encounter?

I’ve met a lot of famous drag queens, but I feel like everyone’s met a lot of famous drag queens. Let’s see…Chita Rivera! I met her at an event I was doing. Before I went on, I was in full drag face but wearing sweats, and I got to walk up to her and tell her that I was performing “I Can’t Do it Alone” from her show “Chicago” that night. She responded, “Oh, I would love to see it, but I can’t stay out that late!” It was a drag that she couldn’t stay, but just to meet and hear someone who is a Broadway legend saying she wished she could see my performance was crazy. Oh, and Alan Cumming! I’ve met him a couple of times. Specifically at Kink Haus, a show that I did with Gunnar Montana here in Philly, and then we took it to New York. When we were in New York, he came to see us and invited us to come and hang out at his place, Club Cumming. He was also here in Philly for qFILX and he’s always just so nice and an awesome life of the party. He interacts and talks to everyone as if you were his best friend.

I remember when he was here there was a party at the Sofitel, and he took over the DJ booth and was dancing with everyone for hours.

Yes! I performed and was the MC for that party!

Wait, then we’ve met. You were the fabulous host in the silver dress!

That was me! Thank you. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I worked with “Bob the Drag Queen” for three days last March doing the makeup for the MTV Facebook show “Drag My Dad.” Bob was the host, and I got to stay with Bob for two days and again, a top-tier type of person. So funny and so down to earth, I met him once, and he totally opened his home and let me stay and was so sweet.

Who would you contact at a seance?

Alexander McQueen.

Three biggest fashion faux pas?

Socks and sandals. I just can’t. And designer handbags, why? They’re not that cute. And wearing heels when you don’t know how to walk in them. You’re supposed to look good wearing them, but if you look like a baby calf trying to walk for the first time, take them off. [Laughing] Practice at home first!

What’s something of yours that Frankie probably wants to throw away?

My black clothing! He’s all about color, and I wear a lot of black. He doesn’t hate it, but he probably wouldn’t mind seeing a few colors and patterns thrown in.

What’s a motto or favorite saying?

It’s from my mom, who always says, “Go with what got you there!” Use that energy and talent that brought you to where you are to keep going.