FIRST OF ALL, I made it through my first critique of the semester yesterday in my hardest class and recieved comments about the piece like “sophisticated” and “well-advanced”–huzzah!! My lack of blogging has been due to me researching my butt off for the project (“Clothes Make Up Who You Are”) and then actually doing the project. But I’m back today with some fun things for all of you who read this blog!
The reason I wanted to do this is because while researching for this project because I’m going into the topic of vanity, I’ve really grown to love and respect Dita Von Teese more I had ever thought was possible (which is a lot since I’ve been a fan since 2007), and I thought I would share her awesome-ness for all of you. After the cut you will find a new interview with Suicide Girls where she discusses how she creates her shows and the research she does to make them authentic and memorable, and above you’ll find one of my new favorite interviews of hers that she did while promoting her book Burlesque and the Art of the Teese.
Personally, I think what Dita does is an art form and it’s what separates her from people like Jenna Jameson who do it just because they like sex. If you don’t believe me read on for a pretty inspirational interview from the burlesque performer….
Dita Von Teese: Striptease
By Nicole Powers
Dita Von Teese is one of the world’s most dazzling women. The Swarovski-adorned mistress of striptease has done more to preserve and promote the hallowed art of burlesque than any other performer alive today. Her sexy and spectacular shows feature stunning costumes and larger-than-life props, but are always grounded in the purity of the classic art form. Thus they have an innate dignity that never relies on the kind of bump and grind sleaze that many of Dita’s contemporaries mistake for erotica.
In a league of her own, the Michigan born and Orange County raised girl, who once had aspirations of becoming a ballerina, is an international glamour icon. Celebrated both for her performance art and her impeccable vintage style, her world-class status was sealed in October 2006 when she became the first ever featured headlining guest performer at the legendary Crazy Horse in Paris. She returned to the prestigious cabaret club in February of this year for a limited two week run which was so successful that she was immediately booked again for another series of shows the following month.
The hottest ticket in town, Dita’s run at the Crazy Horse attracted such luminaries as Jean Paul Gaultier, Kanye West, Kylie Minogue, and Stephen Spielberg, among others. Her performances are as rare as they are exotic however, in part due to the time and expense they take to conceive. Fortunately those who are unable to witness Dita in the flesh have two new options. The first is a DVD of Dita’s Crazy Horse show. The second is Stripteese, a set of three miniature flip-books books which capture individual facets of her repertoire and come packaged together in a deluxe gift box.
We caught up with Dita to find out more about the books and DVD, her new Opium Den set which was 4 years in the making, her plans for shows in Paris and Vegas in 2010, and her life in the romance capital of the world.
Nicole Powers: From reading your last interview with SG (with Daniel Robert Epstein in 2006), I understand you’re keen that people appreciate the history of burlesque. The format of this set of books harks back to vintage Victoriana. What inspired you to do the mini flip-book format?Dita Von Teese: The photographer, Sheryl Nields approached me with this book idea, and we took it to my publisher. Sheryl and I had worked together on several occasions for magazines and ad campaigns. I always liked working with her a lot, and trusted her to shoot my shows, which is rare for me because with all the time and money it takes for me to build a show, I don’t let just anyone shoot them. But I really love her as an artist and as a person, and I loved her idea for this book. I just showed up and did my hair and makeup and did my show for her as she shot it stop-animation style. The end result is fabulous. I’m happy with the way the three little flip books look tucked inside the velvet-flocked bookcase. It’s been selling well for the holidays.NP:What was the technical process to capture images that would move as you flipped them. Was it done on a still or video camera? And how long did it take?DVT:It was shot on a still camera and on the RED camera. Each show was shot in its entirety and we used the one we liked best. I think we did two days of shooting for it, several months apart from each other because the first was just done for fun, before the idea for the book.NP:The packaging is exquisite. Where you involved in the design of that too?DVT:Actually, for this book, all I did was describe the kind of look I wanted, and then approve it. I’ve always had this obsession with velvet flocked wallpaper, because when I was little, like 5, I remember that the house I moved into has this gold flocked wallpaper in the dining room, and I was devastated that my mother had it torn down. So I always have this flocked wallpaper in my houses since I first moved out as a teenager, and the cover of the book is inspired by it too.
They did a great job. I’ve been working on my step-by-step how to beauty book, so I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to the design of this flip-book, so I kind of left the design to them and was thrilled that it came out so beautifully. I just wanted to pose for the pictures and do the promotion and signings for this book this time around, because my other book Burlesque and The Art of the Teese was an arduous task because I insisted on being hands-on. This time I had to let go a little bit.NP:Stripteese depicts three of your burlesque sets: Bird of Paradise, Classic and Martini Glass. What’s the creative process you follow when you decide to create a new set?DVT:The Bird of Paradise and the Martini are longtime shows of mine, but I wanted to do a third more intimate striptease for this too — “the Classic” — which isn’t a stage show I do. I wanted to make one of the books more of an intimate striptease, and less burlesque-y. So I wore this beautiful magenta silk corset that Mr. Pearl made for me. I think it’s my favorite of the three flip-books.
With regards to the process of actually making a new burlesque number, it’s different every time. Some of the shows I make take about four to six months to create if it’s a real rush, but most of them take much longer. For instance, my newest act, The Opium Den, took about four years to complete because the set is very elaborate, the costume was intense to make, the hand props were difficult, and I had a hard time deciding how I wanted the show to play out, so I kept procrastinating on finishing it.
And the music presented a whole new challenge. I have all my show music custom made for me these days, and so for this Chinese themed show there was a chance to do something really unique with the music. It’s very traditionally cinematic at the start, somewhat dark, then turns ultra sexy, then turns somewhat humorous with some real retro burlesque Chinese music.
For one of the songs I took The Cure’s “Lullaby” and had it turned into this powerful and sexy Chinese song. People go wild over it when it kicks in, because you recognize it, and it’s very powerful. I have this incredible music guy that I work with, he always manages to pull off my absurd ideas. He has the patience of a saint, which is vital when you’re working with someone like me who has absolutely no musical vocabulary.
But every show I make is different and presents new challenges. The three new shows I made for The Crazy Horse were really fun because I got to work closely with the dancers to create shows with them, which I loved. I also recorded two songs for those shows. Singing was a whole new thing for me, but I got offered a record deal from it, which is hilarious to me because I’m really terrified of singing, probably because I hate the sound of my own voice.NP:I understand your longtime friend Catherine D’Lish designs your costumes. I assume this must be quite a collaborative process. How does that work?DVT:Well, she’s a fabulous costume designer, and it was fun all those years when we would work together because we both had this obsession with Swarovski crystal and we would like to see how far we could take it, how many crystals could we get on a costume. I’m sponsored by Swarovski, so we were able to order all these extravagant custom-cut rhinestones in any color, shape and size we wanted, and she would have this amazing team working for her, like a family. It was great because, as a fellow performer, she knows how the costumes have to work, and could figure out inventive ways for the pieces to come off. Catherine has been performing herself a lot more these days, so she’s been shifting focus on her own shows, so this year I decided to work with some other designers for the shows that I did at The Crazy Horse.
I worked with Christian Dior and Elie Saab on the gowns, and Mr. Pearl on the corsets, Stephen Jones did my headpieces, and Christian Louboutin made custom shoes for me. It was amazing to work closely with Elie Saab, he did three gowns made in the haute couture atelier in Paris. There was one insane moment where I asked for a swatch of the fabric one of the gowns was made of, this very fine almost invisible tulle that had silver beaded stars all over it. It’s this long trailing beautiful gown [which has] miles of this gorgeous beaded tulle…So they come back with two things — a piece of plain tulle and a bag of the beads. I had no idea that each and every bead — hundreds of thousands of them — was embroidered on by hand. It was amazing. That’s what true haute couture is. I’m baffled by the details in the workmanship, and of course, shocked that I get to wear them onstage.
Right now I’m working with Mr. Pearl on a new costume. He’s meticulous in his fittings, and has incredible taste, so it’s nice to let it go and trust everything to him. It’s all Swarovski jonquil, which is a beautiful canary yellow, and it’s got tons of yellow curled ostrich. It’s been in the works about two years now because the beadwork is very fine, and the fit of his corsets is beyond anything. Somehow he gets the tiniest waist you can imagine, but he makes the corsets out of this very fine mesh, so it’s hardly there, and is like a second skin. Honestly, no one knows how he does it. That’s why Jean Paul Gaultier and all the designers in Paris enlist him. No one can do what he does!
I’m baffled by the feel and the look of his corsets. I know that when I’m long gone, those corsets he has made for me are going to be the most important pieces of clothing I ever owned. He’s a very good friend, and my Paris apartment is very near to him, so we have fittings and sip violet champagne. Mr. Pearl is obsessed with violets. He always brings me a little bunch of them and he smells of violet perfume. He’s the most elegant man in existence!NP:You’ve been so influential fashion-wise, bringing vintage and burlesque style into the mainstream. You’ve also designed a super-cute T for H&M for their Fashion Against Aids campaign and have a limited edition Wonderbra lingerie line. Do you have any other future projects clothing-wise?DVT:I love working with Wonderbra. It’s been a really great collaboration the past two years. I also have a signature stocking collection. I would really love to branch out into a clothing line, maybe a line that looks at my own vintage clothing collection and recreates some of those amazing lost designs.
NP:Could you see yourself devoting more of your life to fashion design down the line?DVT:I would definitely like to continue working with lingerie, and if the right opportunity comes along that I feel I can put my name on and my energy into, and feel good about, yes, I would like to do more. But I’m careful about which things I lend my name to. I’ve been offered jeans campaigns, and obviously, that wouldn’t make sense for me.NP:Your frequently go en pointe in your shows and are seen wearing pink/red point shoes in the Bird of Paradise images. This question’s for the ballet geek in me (SG actually has a ballet group). Are you traditional in your choice of pointe shoe? Or do you go for a little comfort and modern day technology with a Gaynor Minden type shoe?DVT:I haven’t been dancing on pointe as often as I used to. Somewhere along the way I started having high heels made as backup for all the shows I do on pointe, because I would get so nervous over “real” dancers being in the audience. At The Crazy Horse, all the Paris Opera Ballet stars came to see me, and that was daunting! But I still dance on pointe from time to time onstage, especially for my Powder Compact and Carousel show, and of course for the burlesque Swan Lake [The Black Swan].
And yes, I go for the Gaynor Mindens. A friend of mine with ABT [American Ballet Theatre] told me years ago that they would change my life and make me more stable onstage, and she was right. I’ve been dancing on pointe since I was 11 years old. I learned the right way the hard way and at this point, at 37, I don’t need the extra suffering, and I like the extra flex Gaynors. But I would love to see the SG ballet troupe someday! You would love the music I had made, it’s all the most famous parts of Swan Lake re-recorded in striptease big band style. It’s hilariously genius!NP:Do you still take ballet classes?DVT:Yes, I just started up again the other day. My friend Liz Goldwyn, who also has a fabulous burlesque book called Pretty Things, brought me to a bitch of a Balanchine class. My inner thighs are on fire still! I also used to take private classes with a Russian teacher. I love the flamboyant Russian style. I’m always looking for ballet classes with funny teachers and live piano accompaniment.NP:What else do you do to keep in shape?DVT:I do a lot of Pilates. I work out with Mari Windsor in LA. She’s amazing. I do that about 4-5 times a week. She has this amazing DVD every girl should have. It’s a 20 minute butt and leg workout with a rubber band. I do it when I’m traveling. Sometimes I do yoga too, and then I also have a little trampoline that I take out in my house, and I run and dance on that thing to my favorite obnoxious dance music. It’s a killer cardio workout. I love to eat you see, so I have to work out. I believe that variety is the key to keeping up the momentum and having a successful workout regime.NP:At his point in your career, how many people do you have in your creative team?DVT:Well, still no glam squad, no stylist, no hair/makeup team. I like being self-reliant in that way. I have a few favorite makeup and hair people that I work with on certain shoots, but I don’t use a team for red carpet things or anything like that. I think independence is vital. But I have a manager, publicist, a prop wrangler, a personal assistant and a pet sitter, and I guess I have about three attorneys that specialize in different things. I guess that’s not exactly a “creative” team. My manager is really the only one I work with on a creative level. I can’t live without her. I can count on her for everything. When I’m making a new show, creatively, I usually think about the show and research and hire someone. For instance, I hired trip ropers for roping lessons for my cowgirl show, and I hired a bull rider to teach me how to ride my mechanical-bull lipstick, and yeah, I smoked opium the traditional way to “get a feel” for my Opium Den show. Research!NP:Your shows — and the photos in Stripteese — feature elaborate props. Who designs and builds them?DVT:I work with a few different prop makers. I go to different people for different kinds of projects. I have my favorite welders, foam sculptors, etc… I’m very involved in the creation of the props, and I do a lot of the cosmetic work on them too. Most of the glitters and rhinestones I do myself. It’s therapeutic.NP:My singing teacher always said you should “f*** the lighting guy.” I think he was being a little OTT (he was rather theatrical and flamboyant), but it sure helps if you’re nice to them. In performance (and life) so much is about the lighting. Any tips?DVT:Oh yeah, well I agree. Lighting is so important and I cringe when I see how little attention is paid to burlesque show lighting. I learned a lot at The Crazy Horse in Paris. They’re the masters at lighting naked women to perfection. So when I was performing there, I would keep a sketchpad and draw diagrams of the lighting during rehearsals, and make friends with the lighting team and ask lots of questions. Lighting can make or break you, and beautiful, artistic light is what makes a show look grand and beautiful.
I get really excited when I’m at venues with exciting lighting rigs! And although I don’t go so far as to “f*** the lighting guy,” as your friend suggested, I have been known to send gifts and notes and to hang out with them and “ooh” and “aah” over their talents to show my gratitude. I did a show with someone recently who was dreadful to the crew, and I watched first hand what happens when you throw attitude. Those lighting guys aged her ass 20 years! So yes, make friends with the lighting guy!
The key is light that comes from all angles, especially from underneath and sides. You have to fill the ass with light. No white light, no red light, ever. And speaking of lighting, I always have good lighting in my house too. Dimmer switches in every room!NP:You have a DVD of your Crazy Horse residency coming out. I know in the past you’ve said that you don’t like to film your shows, but after watching the Bettie Page movie the other night it made me feel sad that so much of her work was destroyed under pressure from the government. Your work has been captured for posterity — and, unlike Bettie, you own or get royalties from most of it. That’s got to be a big upside right?DVT:Yeah, I get funny about being filmed, for a few reasons. It’s hard to capture the feeling that one gets when watching a live show, and also I’m not so willing to just hand over these shows that I put all my own money and time and heart and soul into, so it’s rare that I come to an agreement that works for me and makes it worthwhile. But I’ve been filming more of my shows lately. Besides the Crazy Horse DVD, I filmed some shows I did at the Casino de Paris too, which is the big stage Josephine Baker and Mistinguett danced on. I filmed my Opium Den act and some others on that grand stage, and will probably release some of that footage next year.NP:Burlesque is shrouded with such a rich history, and performing at such a historic venue must add a whole new dimension to your work. What have you learnt while working at The Crazy Horse?DVT:The Crazy Horse is amazing. It’s so cool to be backstage with those girls, they’re incredible talents, and they work so hard. They’re like racehorses! So beautiful. The Crazy Horse has been open since 1951, and the list of famous people that have been there to see that show is just mind-boggling. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe, Gypsy Rose Lee, Salvador Dali, Mae West, lots of US presidents.
It’s a very special place. The girls are so disciplined. They get weighed in weekly to keep their ideal weight that is set for them. They’re drop-dead gorgeous, and insanely talented dancers. And the best part is that they all get along, like a team. I spent a lot of time working with them and I love them so much.
It was daunting to go in there the first time. I was the first guest star ever to come in there, so they were rather suspicious of me at first. But I insisted on not having special treatment, and I worked hard, and we discovered a mutual admiration for each other. I don’t have nearly the kind of dance training they have, but they would come to me for advice on other aspects of performing, and they would always come to see my other shows around Paris. I have great friendships with many of the girls. I think they are extraordinary, and I’m glad that The Crazy Horse is seeing a revival. I’m their biggest fan. I think it’s the best show ever!NP:Will there be more Dita shows at the Crazy Horse in 2010?DVT:I’m most likely going to bring the show I did in Paris, the one that’s on the DVD, to the Las Vegas Crazy Horse at The MGM Grand sometime in 2010. It’s a much different show than the one I did there a few years ago. It’s much more elaborate and I do three full numbers instead of just one. And I am also in the process of thinking of the new acts I want to do in Paris for another run.
The thing is that none of my existing shows fit on that intimate stage, so I have to create special shows for their stage. The Crazy Horse is like being in a movie. The audience can see every little gesture. It’s much different than the burlesque I usually perform on big stages, and most of my stage props are too tall to fit on that stage. The Crazy Horse stage is a little more than 6 feet tall to make the girls look very tall. They’re all between 5’8 and 5’10.NP:I understand you’ve recently moved to Paris. Is it really one of the most romantic cities in the world?DVT:I love it. It’s beautiful. I’ve traveled the world and I still can’t find anything nearly as beautiful. I love the architecture and the pride that Parisians have in their city. I’ve been living there part-time, and I love the challenges that being in a new country presents. I love the ways that it also makes me appreciate America too. There are great things about both places. It’s changed my life to have a place in Paris in addition to my place in Los Angeles. I’m really happy that I finally did it. I realized one day when I was talking to an old friend from 15 years ago; I mentioned I wanted to live in Paris and he reminded me I said that way back when. So I was like, “What am I waiting for? Why am I afraid?” I just did it. And it’s not always easy, but I like the independence it makes me feel.NP:What are some of your favorite haunts? And why?DVT:In Paris? There are so many restaurants I love. There’s La Perouse, which is probably the sexiest, most romantic restaurant ever. It’s a very old, antique historic place. You can book these private little rooms, and the waiter rings a bell before entering the room, so you have total privacy in this plush little antique salon. The antique mirrors are still on the walls that bear engravings where ladies checked to see if the diamonds they were gifted were authentic. It’s the best place to seduce and be seduced, and the food is delicious too.
I also frequent a restaurant and bar called Mathis. I saw Yves Saint Laurent there before he passed away. It’s the place to be in Paris, very elegant and the food is divine. I also love to go to a brasserie called Bofinger where I order plates of oysters and bulots. For bars, I usually go to a place called Montana, or The Hemingway Bar at The Ritz. I love to go buy my tea and have lunch at Mariages Freres in the afternoons, and for late night dining after shows I go to a place called Poule Au Pot. They have a gold plaque with my name at my table because I was there every night after The Crazy Horse!
In LA, I don’t go out very often. I go to Chateau Marmont sometimes, but mostly I’m a homebody. I go to bed early and wake up early. I like having the days in LA. I also spend a lot of time in my favorite traditional Korean spas in Korea town. My favorite one is open 24 hours and I go there for three hour long massages and scrubs. It’s cheap and fabulous. And I love to just disappear and sit there with all the girls and watch Korean soap operas.NP:You wrote a chapter on stripping in my friend Carrie Borzillo’s book Cherry Bomb in which you wrote that when stripping one-on-one for someone special you should also “tease him with your words.” Are you a fan of sexting too? And, if so, has it ever got you in trouble?DVT:Oh yes, I love sexy-texting! But I’m also a good a love-lust letter writer. I write with rose-scented red ink on my personal stationery. A stranger recently tried to blackmail me to buy back some love letters I wrote to a boyfriend 15 years ago, and I said, “Feel free to sell them on eBay if you want. What do I care if people find out that I’m romantic!”
That’s one downfall of fame, I get lots of people that want to extort money from me to buy things that they think — hope — will be scandalous for me. Really, what could be scandalous for me? I’m a burlesque dancer!
I really don’t write anything I would be embarrassed of anyway, and I only sexy-message with my beau, and he’s even more discreet about his privacy than I am. I never sexy-texted with guys I was casually dating. Trust is important. And again, I don’t think it’s a big scandal for a burlesque dancer to get caught sexy texting!NP:Being sexy is a lot of fun, but as we peel the layers off we all just want to feel secure and loved. What makes you feel loved and secure?DVT:My very closest friends, the friends I’ve had for twenty years. And my family. It’s nice to be around the people I don’t have to keep up any image for, that I can trust with everything.NP:Having had a romance very much in the public eye, are you keen to keep your private life private at this point? And how possible is that?DVT:It’s really difficult. There’s only so much you can do. Right now, I’m trying to preserve the privacy of a fairly new relationship, but it’s not easy between relentless journalists that won’t let you get away with not discussing personal things, and then there’s paparazzi. Sometimes pictures pop up on the internet and we had no idea whatsoever that we were being followed and photographed, and that’s an odd feeling.
But I accept that people want to know. I know that personally, I don’t like reading endless interviews from actors that refuse to discuss anything but their acting craft. It’s boring. You have to give a little something.NP:I interviewed your ex, Marilyn Manson, recently. We had an hour-long conversation, during which he repeatedly talked about the loss he felt after past relationships and the trouble he’s had dealing with it. I also have another friend going through a tough divorce right now. What advice would you give when it comes to moving on and the mental adjustments you need to make to make that happen?DVT:It’s funny because I’ve been some kind of divorce counselor for a few of my girlfriends that are going through it now. One of my friends wants me to write a book with my little mantras and pearls of wisdom. I’m full of them! I guess the best advice I have is to accept the pain and to know that it’s part of the risk we take in loving. Inevitably we learn from heartbreak and we recover, and hopefully emerge ready to become a better partner for someone new.
In the midst of a hellacious heartbreak, I work my ass off to stay occupied, and I try to imagine myself further down the line when I’m right again, and in love again. I’ve been through enough heartache to know that we don’t ever die from it, and we always find someone better suited to us. And I personally force myself to think hard about what I did wrong and try to get my revenge by being a better person for someone new. My revenge is always based in living well and trying to be better. It works every single time!NP:What do you look for in a relationship now? And how has that changed as you grow older and wiser?DVT:I guess I’ve just realized that I want to be with someone that inspires me to want to be a better person, and that feels the same way. No one is perfect, so it’s up to us to choose the things that are OK and the things that are not. I’m not perfect. I’m just looking for someone who can accept my crazy, and I can accept theirs. I know which things I will no longer accept in my relationships, and I’m not afraid to say no anymore. I know that I’m wiser about a lot of things in love, and I’m grateful for all the experiences, good and bad.NP:How do you find new inspiration and happiness in your life?DVT:Well, I enjoy what I do for a living, and I like to keep trying new things and challenging myself. I don’t have trouble finding inspiration, it’s just finding ways to execute the ideas. That’s usually where the frustration lies. As far as happiness, well, I think of it as being like the weather, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, [but] you can’t appreciate the good weather without the bad.NP:You have an upcoming film project, Mata Hari (written by Martha Fiennes). Can you talk a little about this?DVT:Well, it’s just a script right now. It’s not actually in production. It’s an amazing script, and I would love to play Mata Hari, especially because the other Mata Hari films were hardly factual, and this script sets the record straight on her. I don’t really have any interest in acting unless it’s in films I would actually like to see, so I pass on most of the acting projects that come my way. I really like being true to myself and doing what I do. I have no problem being content to be a burlesque dancer. I didn’t do it as a stepping stone to “bigger” things, I did it because I love it.NP:Stripteese will make an excellent Christmas gift. What’s on your Xmas list?DVT:Mostly I love Christmas because I like seeing my friends and family, and being home for a change, and baking cookies and entertaining. But when it comes to gifts, I really like sentimental gifts, or things I use all the time, like teacups and martini shakers, vintage picture frames, scented candles. It’s easy when you look around my house and see all the stuff I collect. Just stop by an antique store and pick up some silly trinket and I’m happy!
Stripteese is available from Amazon.com and all fine booksellers.
Meet Dita at her two Los Angeles book signing events: Friday December 18 @ Hennessey and Ingalls at Space 15 Twenty (7 PM), and Sunday December 20 @ at Revamp Vintage (2 PM).
For more information on Dita’s appearances, performances, books, DVDs and lingerie go to Dita.net.