At six foot five, Matthew Flower—aka Machine Dazzle—stands above the rest. And as a costume designer, he stands alone as a true queer theatrical genius. The 46-year-old’s costumes have been described as both art and architecture. Machine was a co-recipient of the 2017 Bessie Award for Outstanding Visual Design and the winner of a 2017 Henry Hewes Design Award. And now he’s coming home to Houston for a fashion show and performance.
“I was born outside of Philadelphia,” Machine says, “but we moved to New Caney when I was just one, and then we lived in Kingwood until I was twelve. We used to go to AstroWorld as kids, and when I was ten my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, which is in December, so I said I wanted to see The Nutcracker. It was the first time I had seen Houston Ballet, and I loved it. I said, ‘That’s what I want to do—be up on stage like those children in costumes!’”
In 1994, after completing an art degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he bought a one-way ticket to New York and hasn’t looked back. His love of avant-garde fashion, dance clubs, and performance art combined to make him a sought-after designer. He’s worked with Taylor Mac, Justin Vivian Bond, Joey Arias, Julie Atlas Muz, Big Art Group, The Crystal Ark, Stanley Love Performance Group, and The Pixie Harlots. His work as both a performer and costume designer with the group Dazzle Dancers has earned him the name Machine Dazzle. He says he prefers Machine, since “everyone knows a Matthew, but how many Machines do you know?” Not that it would be hard to remember him.
“I’m a tall drink of water,” he says. “And when you see me in heels, I’m a monster!”
The performer and costume artist will be in residence for one week at the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University this month, working with students to produce original costumes inspired by Natasha Bowdoin’s current exhibition, Sideways to the Sun. Bowdoin is an assistant professor at the university. On April 27, the public is invited to see a fashion show and performance, including a talk with Machine and Bowdoin about their creative process.
The Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University is a new international institution for the visual and performing arts in all genres, serving both the university community and the public at large. It is an experimental platform for creating and presenting vital artwork across disciplines, and for encouraging discussions at the intersection of the arts, humanities, and sciences.
“The Moody is delighted to elevate and celebrate the arts by hosting Machine Dazzle as an artist-in-residence,” says Alison Weaver, the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director at the Moody Center. “Machine’s work will enhance the Moody’s mission to foster dialogue across disciplines through his visionary costume designs. By activating the gallery that is currently home to Natasha Bowdoin’s exhibit, Sideways to the Sun, Machine will support our vision of bringing art to life through his original performance art.”
Machine was here in February to see the exhibit and meet Bowdoin, and has already started collecting material that he will use in designing the seven costumes based on Bowdoin’s work.
“Her paintings remind me of old vintage cartoons—the colors, the big flowers,” he says.
A fan of everything from opera to rock and roll, Machine will also sing at the fashion show. He’s currently working on a show for the Guggenheim, and at the time of this interview he was busy with his Easter drag costume.
“In New York we have an Easter parade every year where people dress up and walk down Fifth Avenue,” he says. “I dress up and parade around and get my picture taken, and then go to brunch!”
What: Machine Dazzle fashion show and performance
When: April 27 at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University, 6100 Main Street, MS-480