Antigonish salon owners create winning wigs for national queen of drag
Drag culture helps cultivate wider acceptance, owners say
They opened the doors to their hair salon in small-town Nova Scotia 12 years ago.
Now they've rocketed to the top of their game, creating looks for Canada's ultimate queen — Brooke Lynn Hytes, host of Canada's Drag Race.
"I'll definitely have a breakdown if I see Brooke Lynn wearing my wig on the show, for sure," said Thomas Melong.
"We were so shocked," said Laura Anderson. "We were like, 'Whoa, what?! Did this actually just happen?'"
Anderson and Melong started Vivid Hair Studio in Antigonish, N.S., as fresh-faced 23-year-olds.
Last month, they claimed top spots in a national styling competition and snagged the chance to recreate their looks on human hair wigs for Hytes.
Hytes rose to international fame as runnerup on RuPaul's Drag Race in 2019.
Anderson said she loves that their recent success is starting conversations about drag culture with some of their clients.
"I feel like we've opened some eyes from people that had no idea ... maybe they knew it existed, but didn't really understand the culture so much," she said.
Anderson said they have long been fans of drag culture's over-the-top creativity and self-expression and find it inspiring for their own work.
"In a way, we're all kind of in drag every day," Melong said. "You wake up and you decide this is how you're going to present yourself to the world today."
Since Hytes modelled their looks, Anderson said several other queens have contacted them to order their own custom wigs.
While the contest was the duo's first time creating wigs, Anderson said they are excited to use the new skills to expand their services.
She already volunteers with the local hospital's Look Good, Feel Better group, and hopes to continue working with hair prosthesis and wigs for cancer survivors.
Big-city vibes in a small town
Anderson and Melong grew up just outside Antigonish and had no doubts about opening their salon there.
Before the pandemic, they travelled regularly, taking and teaching classes and participating in national and international hair shows.
They've made a point of making their business the most creative and welcoming space they can — for everyone.
Prices are based on hair length and style complexity, not gender.
"Doing that has opened the salon up to people being more comfortable coming here without needing to explain themselves, you know, and that's the kind of space that we wanted to create," Melong said.
Introducing drag to Antigonish
For Chris Frazer, VIVID's success shows that Antigonish is not the same town they came to in 2004. Frazer uses they/them pronouns.
The St. Francis Xavier University professor, and "damn good" hockey goalie, is also a celebrated drag performer.
Frazer said they were anxious about being accepted by the local community when they first arrived.
"I'm queer and I do drag and I'm out of the closet," Frazer said. "And Antigonish was not the most welcoming place."
Frazer said there were at least two incidents of gay bashing in the first year they were on campus. After those incidents, the university asked Frazer to take on a new role as faculty adviser for LGBTQ students at St. FX — the first in Canada.
The aim was to create a more positive and welcoming environment for queer students on campus and in the larger community.
One of the first things Frazer did was organize a drag show called Priscilla Queen of the Highlands.
About 100 people showed up for that first show in 2005, despite a snowstorm. It's only grown in popularity in the 16 years since.
A town transformed
Frazer said things have come a long way since the violence of 2004. Now rainbow flags are flown during Pride month downtown, and Antigonish has its first openly gay town councillor.
"I think there are far more people in Antigonish who are quite relieved to actually not have to sort of wear that mask of conformity, because it doesn't really represent many people here," Frazer said.
The VIVID team are regulars at the Priscilla shows.
"Having that show here has more of an impact than people realize on a small town," said Anderson.
Like Frazer, they're happy to see attitudes shifting and wider acceptance in Antigonish
"I want Antigonish to just be known for being a place that anybody is welcome and for being a place that you can do what you love," said Melong.