CHAT Burlesque performer Dita Von Teese on her signature look, drawing ideas from classic Burlesque, and why “striptease” describes her work best
“Ilike clichés of things… or clichés of women of fantasy,” says Dita Von Teese. That might somehow explain her martini routine where a striptease ends with her tucked in a giant, gulp, martini glass. (Cameron Diaz paid a small tribute to her and the routine in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle .) Dita has been on the Playboy cover, walked the ramp for Jean Paul Gaultier and Moschino, starred in campaigns for Vivienne Westwood, performed at events for Louis Vuitton, Chopard and Cartier, is on the VVIP guest list of the biggest dos in town, is a spokesperson for MAC, has her perfume and lingerie range, and penned two books, with a third in the pipeline… Probably the only neo Burlesque performer whose name is known to people with little or absolutely no knowledge of or interest in the field, Dita is Neo Burlesque’s biggest celebrity.
Dita, who hails from Michigan, U.S.A, was in New Delhi recently for an evening organised by Cointreau (she’s a brand ambassador). At the boardroom at The Leela Palace, where the interviews are held, Dita looks how she always does — striking porcelain face with the only spot being the one she opted for (the tattooed beauty spot), red lips, winged eyeliner, raven black side-parted wavy hair (blonde so long ago even Dita, originally Heather Sweet, wouldn’t remember). One would think that’s how she wakes up looking.
Modelled somewhat after Betty Paige, this is the retro 1940s’ look that Dita is known, and loved, for. “Over the past 20 years little things that I picked up now and then all came into one look. There’s a lot of experimenting my entire adult life — experiments with hair and makeup and clothes — and then it’s been pretty much the same for me the past 15 years,” she reflects. And it’s not likely to change. “I generally really like my signature style. I feel strange without it. I feel weird when I’m not wearing eye makeup like I usually do,” she adds, voice so gentle and low it’s a struggle to transcribe the recording later.
Working in a lingerie store in her late teens, it was a fascination with vintage style, pinups and lingerie that led her to posing for pinups and later performing in creative shows. Inhibition, she says, wasn’t an issue. “I never had problems with confidence. For me I was just having fun experimenting. I didn’t know it would be a career.” Her association with the fashion industry began when she modelled Jean Paul Gaultier’s archive collection for a photo shoot for Flaunt magazine. (It’s an ongoing association; two years ago, wearing a sequinned corset, she also did a striptease during the designer’s couture show in Paris.)
Finishing touches are being given to Dita’s third book, scheduled to be out later this year. (“That’s just it — I’m giving all my beauty secrets out.”) This year Dita also started touring her new variety show ‘Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray!’
Ideas for shows, she says, stem from art, film and book, though sometimes the attempt is to take a classic Burlesque show and interpret it differently — by using technology, for instance. While there are not favourites in terms of routines, ‘Opium Den’, on account of being her biggest production, is dear.
In several interviews in the past Dita has been dismissive of people’s misguided attempts at politeness in calling her work “performance art”, a term she considers pretentious. (Her Facebook page describes her as an “entertainer”.) “I really like the word ‘striptease’. I want to be an entertainer and I want people come away from my show feeling that they saw something they never saw before. And I like to change people’s minds about striptease,” Dita explains. For venues, she’s particularly keen about old theatres. “They’re very nice… the feel that a Burlesque show might have lived there in the ‘40s.”
“I really like the word ‘striptease’. I want to be an entertainer and I want people come away from my show feeling that they saw something they never saw before