Dubbed a “burlesque superheroine” by Vanity Fair, Dita Von Teese is one of the biggest proponents of the art form’s recent comeback. Born blonde Heather Sweet in a mid-size Michigan town, Von Teese quickly transformed herself to match the 40s movie stars and pinup girls she idolized—from her iconic dyed-dark hair and bright red lipstick to her cultivated collection of corsets. Now a published author, accomplished designer, sometimes actress, and soon-to-be perfumer, Von Teese is still bring vintage sexy back with her touring burlesque show, “Strip Strip Hooray!” The Eye talked to Von Teese about her tour’s upcoming New York stops, the importance of a good perfume, and how to top “the Marquis de Sade’s corseted sex slave” on her roster of past Halloween costumes.
How has reception to “Strip Strip Hooray!” been since the tour’s start in May?
The reception for the West Coast and Southern parts of the tour was incredible. We sold out every show, and thanks to the support I have from Live Nation, we played the kinds of venues that big rock bands usually play. The only changes I’ve really made to the show are little refinements to my costume: new Louboutin shoes custom-made for a couple of the shows, and one of the corsets had been in and out of the “Swarovski crystalling” workshop in Paris with Mr. Pearl all summer to have the tiniest crystals available meticulously applied. Every show, it had a little bit more and a little bit more, and now, finally, five months later and after much tedious work with tiny tweezers, it’s finally ready to be seen in it’s full glory!
How has it been working with your co-performers? Does their style of burlesque mesh well with yours? How did you all come together on this bill?
I had been planning the show and doing small runs in Los Angeles for a couple years now, trying out lots of different support performers from all over the world until we felt we had a cast that represented several facets of neo-burlesque, diverse beauty, and most importantly, each and every act is an absolute show-stopper. This is a show that keeps the spirit of classic burlesque alive, yet shows the possibilities of burlesque seeing a second Golden Age. Burlesque legend Tempest Storm came to the show in Las Vegas and said that there was never a burlesque show with the level of production we have. That was a feather in our cap, to have such a fine compliment coming from someone who was one of the greatest stars of the 1940s and 50s. We have Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish, Lada from The Crazy Horse Paris, Selene Luna, the incredible Perle Noire, plus my favorite Boylesque star, Monsieur Roméo from France.
You’re often cited as a champion of the neoburlesque movement. So, why burlesque and why now? What makes this seemingly vintage art form relevant for women today?
I think a lot of women see it as inspiration to see these shows that have a diverse selection of performers. Many of the burlesque fans see it as a way to feel beautiful and sexy without fitting into the typical modern day standards of beauty, where the emphasis seems to be on natural, bikini-model, so-called healthy-looking, tanned, slim bodies. Burlesque embraces artifice and fantasy, and it’s an image that can be emulated by anyone who puts their mind to it. It’s about sensual freedom, and the enjoyment of sex and fun of a playful nature! Seduction and feminine prowess!
You’re coming out with a new perfume—“Rouge.” What inspired you to go into the scent business?
Fragrance is one of the most powerful tools of seduction; it strikes directly to the source of emotion in the brain. Sex goddesses have always used scent throughout history. Being attracted to one’s scent is of the utmost importance in the quest for love. For me, perfume is a vital part of the story I have created of who I am, and how I want to be perceived. I love fragrance that weaves a web of mystery. I prefer to wear a unique fragrance that those around me can only associate with me, so I’ve always sought out special, rare perfumes. Scent also affects memory, and I always believe in creating new memories in love rather than trying to evoke old ones. My desire for being unique together with having the opportunity to create my own signature scents is an absolute dream. My perfumes are always meant to appeal to women who know themselves, and aren’t trying to conform to some standard of beauty.
How do you project glamour and sex appeal if there are ever days on which you’re just not feeling it?
It’s definitely not always easy, because I don’t feel like I can live up to my image sometimes. But I just put on my lipstick, stockings, and heels, pull myself together, and work it out! Things could be a lot worse; it’s better to be called on to talk about glamour and sensuality than to have to do real manual labor.
I caught your recent appearance on Top Chef as a guest judge for the aphrodisiac challenge. Do you actually have any favorite aphrodisiacs? Or do you find the concept at all overrated?
I love exotic foods. I love trying new things. But aphrodisiacs? I’m not sure that they really work like that, apart from just being sensual to taste. And anyway, I don’t need aphrodisiacs. I’m in my sexual prime.
When it comes to Halloween pageantry, do you ever go for the spooky looks—fake blood and the like—or do you tend to stick to high glam? Do you have a past Halloween costume of which you’re especially proud? A fantasy outfit you’ve always wanted to try?
When I was in my early 20s, I was always coming up with these outrageous risqué costumes. One year, I dressed my boyfriend as the Marquis de Sade, and my girlfriends and I were all his corseted sex slaves. And another year, I wrapped myself in an Italian flag, wore a long blonde wig with wreath of flowers, and went as La Cicciolina. No one ever knew who I was meant to be! The past few years, I dress up as a “normal girl” in jeans, a tan, and beige makeup. No one ever recognizes me, so this is what I do every year. This year, with ten costume changes for my shows, I won’t be dressing up. It’s just too much work after two shows in a row.
Marry, boff, kill: Bettie Page, Josephine Baker, or Lili St. Cyr?
I have no idea how to answer that question. None of them were the marrying kind, you know.