Transvestites hired to pass the dressing

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The Independent Online

Raymond Blanc prefers Frenchmen, Alastair Little favours self-confident women in South Molton Street shoes: name a restaurateur and he or she will have a distinct "type" of waiter or waitress. At Diva, a restaurant due to open next weekend in Frith Street, Soho, central London, the type is transvestite.

According to owners Giacomo Capizzano and Kevin Garrity, their 10 "waitresses" were found by word of mouth and advertisements in Boys magazine. "They're calling us, now," says Mr Capizzano. "We're offering an opportunity for them to work in the identity they prefer."

But the preferred identity will not be too camp. "Less feather boa, more real-girl look," says Mr Capizzano. "There is a restaurant in Paris where the waitresses are transvestites and it's all big eyebrows. We call that 'anti-appetite' drag. London has much more sophisticated street drag ... much more like a fashion show."

Nikita, one of those recruited, prefers a tapered and booted Mary Quant, swinging Sixties look. His/her colleague, Courtney, is altogether more Gatsby.

Diva takes its lead from a New York restaurant called Lucky Cheng's which opened last year. Diva will specialise in pan-Asian food, along with a special menu devoted to salads, provided, one would imagine, for a clientele with a high proportion of modern girls who must watch their figures.

"People ask me if it's a gay restaurant," says Mr Capizzano, "and I tell them restaurants don't have a sexuality." But the waitresses most definitely do. "The straight world might see them as freaks," says Mr Garrity, "but we see them as talented."