Dita Von Teese
Oh, Dita! From Showgirl to Icon
Dita Von Teese is a rare breed in fear of extinction. A self-made glamour goddess responsible for the advent of pure American burlesque in modern entertainment…perhaps a piece of vintage treasure sent from the past to school us on class and beauty. Dita Von Teese does away with the chic and brings in the elegant, and is one of the more original women of our time.
What’s your first memory of that old Hollywood world that came to fascinate you so much?
I love classic films, and I remember seeing a Betty Grable film when I was a little girl and thinking it was more beautiful than any cartoon I had ever seen. It was so colorful and so vibrant. For me that was the grandest era of musicals, those 1940s lavish, Technicolor musicals. She’s still to this day my favorite movie star of that era, and my love for those films hasn’t faded.
What does it feel like when people tell you that you brought the art form of Burlesque back into the spotlight again?
It feels good. It’s definitely something that I love to be recognized for. I never thought there was ever going to be a burlesque revival. I was doing these silly little shows in strip clubs back in the ’90s, and I never thought it’d turn into what it has. I’m glad if I get credited at all for it.
So 9 times out of 10, you’re on the Best-dressed list. How would you describe your own style?
I like the word “glamorous,” and when I think of the word “glamour,” I think of the art of creation. Glamour is not something that relies on beauty or having money or anything. It’s something indescribable and it’s something you have to learn and cultivate. What I’ve done is I’ve taught myself the art of glamour. So, when I think of fashion, for me, fashion is a form of theater, and it’s really my own art project, really. I like things that tell a story with clothes, and that have a lady-like quality to them.
Who influences your style choices?
I was a big fan of Anna Piaggi. I’m also a fan of the creators of fashion that I think is whimsical and interesting and artistic. Jean Paul Gaultier comes to mind because I think he has the same kind of obsessions that I do, like corsetry and certain colors and shapes, and it always comes through in his work, decade after decade. I like people who have a strong sense of personal taste and aesthetics, and I see that in Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as John Galliano. He’s always had a strong obsession and desire to reference the past but take it to a whole other place.
Your third book, Your Beauty Mark, is slated to release soon. What was different this time around?
This was a much lengthier process, and in fact, I’m still putting the finishing touches on it. But it should be complete and ready by December.
I worked very closely with a longtime friend of mine, and we both went through some life changes while writing the book. I know people have been really anticipating it, but I feel like the extra work that’s being put into it and the time frame is special because the things that I wanted to say have changed from when I first started working on the book. So, it’s been empowering as well. I don’t think there’s another beauty book like it. It’s about eccentric beauty and the things that are different but beautiful about us and embracing those things. It’s about telling women that it’s okay to wear the makeup that you’d like. It’s not the book that tells you how to be pretty; my book tells you how to be glamorous and how to stand out. It’s also about the women who like to be complimented on their makeup. Sometimes people say you should never be complimented on your makeup because it’s youpeople should notice. But this is for people that aren’t afraid of being different and enjoy it.
You’re teaching a Burlesque Class in June at Canyon Ranch in Arizona. Now tell me, what one could expect in this class? Are you expecting to be met with beginners as wells as seasoned performers?
I decided to team up with my closest collaborator of fifteen years now; Catherine D’lish is her name. She’s designed my costumes, and she and I have worked together to create my most lavish spectacles. She and I visited Canyon Ranch one year. I brought her there after finishing a particularly difficult stage show that consisted of a costume with hundreds of thousands of rhinestones on it. It had taken a year to complete, and so we went to Canyon Ranch to unwind, and quickly fell in love with it. She’s a teacher herself, known around the world as the best teacher of Burlesque. I had never personally taught classes, even though I’ve spoken about it and have a lot of advice to give. We’ve joined forces for this class that will be fun for us, and I hope people enjoy it.
Your lingerie line includes full size items that aren’t solid cover up pieces of fabric and keep the sexual nature of the garments. Is that something you set out to do with your line?
When I first sat down with my lingerie partners who approached me about building this brand, it was really one of my first questions if not the first. Are we going to be able to offer varying sizes? Because I felt that was something very important from the beginning. I personally love what lingerie [can] do for a woman, the way that we can accent or hide our flaws. We can use lingerie to our advantage and wear fine things that make us feel comfortable and sexy at the same time. It’s also about creating a luxurious and glamorous but very wearable lingerie collection, because I don’t believe in putting on lingerie for seduction. I have my stage costumes and then I have my lingerie, and my lingerie I don’t put on to seduce a man, [but rather] it’s because I genuinely love it. It’s what I believe in and what the brand is about: finding your confidence in things that make you feel good about yourself, and creating a sensual everyday life. Letting other people be privy to it if that’s how it comes out, but not trying to seek the acceptance of someone else, or wear what they think is sexy. It really has to start with you. It’s about transitioning from showgirl to bringing my own signature brand of glamour to other women that like it, and creating things that make sense in the marketplace.
Who would you consider to be a style icon?
People that are self-creating and daring and aren’t afraid of being ridiculed. It’s hard to have glamour icons in the modern era, because frankly, we’re living in a world of celebrities and stylists. A lot of my icons are people that I know in real life; they’re not movie stars. Movie stars are not fashion icons anymore. If I had to name a few favorite fashion icons, I’d say Tilda Swinton is amazing. [And] Fan Bingbing; I’ve never seen any of her films, but every time I see her she has some pretty eccentric looks that I admire. I like seeing people that look exciting that are wearing something unusual. I’m kind of tired of seeing pretty dresses. Yawn. Everyone’s so afraid of being considered “worst-dressed.” But let me tell you, that’s the best list to be on. I’ve been on the Worst Dressed List as many times as I’ve been on the Best Dressed.
What clothing or product do you never leave the house without these days?
That’s easy. I never leave the house without red lipstick. If I do leave without it on, you can bet that I’m putting it on in the car…with someone else driving of course, or at a stoplight! I can do a stoplight because I’m fast (she laughs). Yeah, I don’t leave the house without my red lipstick. I always have good lingerie on, too. Those two things are my essentials. I’ll have my red lipstick on, lingerie and a trench coat, and I’ll go do my grocery shopping.
Photography Marc Cartwright
Styling Laura Duncan
Makeup Gregory Arlt for MAC Cosmetics/Exclusive Artists Management
Hair John Blaine At Honey Artists for Vine de.la Vie
Prop Stylist Andrew Thiels
Photo Assistant Baker Chase
Interview Dio Anthony