By Elizabeth de Moya
Hollywood party promoter, costume designer and fetish model Perish Dignam seems always to be surrounded by beautiful go-go dancers scantily clad in raver costumes. He throws dubstep parties under the auspices of his company, Swoon, with themes like "Pink & Wet," "Pirates & Ninjas" and "Klown-o-ween," staged at venues including Dim Mak and Vanguard.
Hundreds of cosplay fans come out for the music, the costumes and the delights of Dignam himself, who carries a compelling mystique. Obsessed with fetishes, he calls himself an "ultrasexual," as opposed to straight, gay or bi. "I [see] being sexually attracted to something as not a gender thing. It's a fetish thing."
He adds: "A fetish doesn't need to be sexual. It's something that people can ... fantasize about, whether that's a mystical world or a costume."
Pale and skinny, Dignam sports blond hair the first time we meet at the warehouse he inhabits downtown -- which is also where he parks his candy apple-red Ferrari with plates that read "Perish" -- and bright red the next. The 35-year-old Philadelphia native greets us in skinny jeans and an unbuttoned tuxedo shirt with the arms ripped off but prefers to be photographed in his platform boots and fantasy-inspired raverwear.
Dignam is the ringmaster of Swoon parties, which are akin to steam-punk carnivals. Metal bikini-ed women bearing power tools send showers of sparks off their genitals, while fire dancers writhe and sway onstage. Attendees who don't dress up can pay as much as $20, but those with the most elaborate costumes (as well as anyone who wants to shoot the event professionally) get in free.
Funded almost entirely out of his pocket, Dignam's parties' profits go largely back into more parties; he prefers complete creative control, and himself designs the elaborate sets, manages the performances, hires the staff and sells the tickets.
The music is dubstep, and he requires even the DJs to be in costume. "(Some) parties, everyone is facing the DJ booth all night long, 'cause he's the center of attention. But with Swoon, people who come to our parties are as important as the DJ. They are a spectacle," he says.
Dignam has traveled nationwide and studied everything from industrial design and engineering to something called "symbolic interactionism and psychology." He's been on his own since he was 15. His mother died of a drug overdose a few years earlier, so he lived on the streets of Philadelphia for a time. He arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-aughts, eventually showing up at Hollywood clubs nightly with hordes of models in tow. He developed a big social-media following and before long began throwing some of the city's most talked-about events.
Dignam truly loves his scene and, despite flaunting the spoils of his success -- with, say, the Ferrari -- he notes that he's "constantly rolling the dice with my finances."
"[If] I'm on the [brink] of financial self-destruction, I go out and I celebrate. The great thing about being a costume designer is that you can be poor but look like you're rich. ...Hollywood demands, especially in the party industry, that you celebrate yourself."
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