Watching Dita Von Teese perform is a magical, sensual experience. Like a flickering candle, she draws you into her graceful movements, mesmerized. It's no wonder her performances sell out: She represents that classic, incandescent Hollywood glamour.
Von Teese is also a self-styled fashion icon, featured on Vanity Fair's International Best Dressed List and adorning numerous magazine covers, including Playboy.
The reigning queen of burlesque lives a full life, traveling on a whirlwind European tour with her latest alluring spectacle and designing her latest lingerie collection.
You can catch Von Teese on the small screen, too, as she recently appeared as a ghost named Vivienne on Netflix's goth baking series The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.
And she's busy planning for her annual New Year's Eve event, which returns to downtown L.A. at the Orpheum Theatre.
“I've created a show called The Art of the Teese, which we have toured with successfully all over the United States, Canada and Australia,” Von Teese tells L.A. Weekly. “While performing in Europe, I have been working with some of my cast members on their new acts for the New Year's Eve gala.”
Describing her vision for this year's event, Von Teese admitted she's always fantasized about a mythical NYE that evokes the golden age of Hollywood. “Last year's event [at the Theatre at Ace Hotel] created a stunning atmosphere of opulence, with the sold-out audience dressed to the nines, creating that New Year's scene I always dreamt of,” she exclaims.
This time, Von Teese has decided to up the ante, choosing one of L.A.'s most glamorous old theaters. “The Orpheum has a rich showbiz past, a stage made for vaudeville and burlesque shows, so it's especially exciting to invite the audience into this historic space. It'll be a night you'll tell your grandkids about!”
With her delightfully sensual, visual stimulation, Von Teese takes great pleasure in planning her glamorous shows. The veteran striptease artist has worked on every aspect of her epic performances for years, from the exquisite sets and gorgeous costumes to the overall production, music and lighting.
“It's a lot of fun to build a new show for New Year's Eve! I usually create a couple of brand-new acts,” she says excitedly. “And sometimes, I really like to pick something from my older repertoire, that I don't perform that much anymore. I like to think of ways to make the performances bigger and better.”
People who have been asking when she would do a burlesque performance again are excited to see it onstage. “Also, people that didn't go to my shows five to 10 years ago get to watch something they've only seen in photos or video.”
Los Angeles Burlesque
While many in the Hollywood celebrity gossip world will always remember her for marrying and divorcing the equally intriguing rock enigma Marilyn Manson, Von Teese's legacy is far from superficial. Rather, her knowledge of burlesque has helped revive the once-dormant genre.
It's no wonder, then, that Los Angeles continues to have a vibrant striptease and fetish scene, making it an ideal place for Von Teese to find new talent to feature in her vintage revue.
“I enjoy doing the auditions and seeing what other types of variety acts we can add to the lineup. I often like to visit the Magic Castle and their secret little off-site members-only theater, which puts on shows that are for performers only.”
Her most recent audition announcement on Instagram, held back in August at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, attracted more than 80,000 likes.
“We are seeing dancers of all abilities, from professional dancers, burlesquers, to strippers and variety acts,” Von Teese wrote in an Instagram post. “One of the things that I find compelling when I am watching a performer is not necessarily fancy footwork; I honestly love performers that convey sensuality and elegance, and a certain kind of ease.”
Because she's cool AF, Von Teese allowed the women auditioning to fully express themselves without worrying about intricate dance moves.
“Not being able to follow choreography doesn't discount anyone for me,” she told her Instagram followers. “In fact, some of my favorite performers are not technical dancers. … Truth be told, even at the height of my ballet dancing, I was just a flower or a snowflake in the back. just trying to keep up!
“But where there's a will there's a way, and here I am, burlesque dancer.”
Talking to L.A. Weekly after that audition, she said: “I was happy to see professional dancers, established burlesque performers and non-dancers that just have fantastic presence because that's one of the most valuable assets a performer can have, that can't always be taught. It meant a lot to me to see burlesque dancers that are already stars in their own right coming out to do the choreography for us as well.”
While performing at a sold-out show recently, Von Teese had a career-defining moment.
On Instagram she posted: “Last night in London was one for the books! This is what I worked my whole life for! I met someone last night that saw me feather fan dance at a strip club in North Dakota more than 20 years ago. Every single show, big and small, is what led me to this moment; so grateful for this ride, all of it!”
The Savvy Marketer
Von Teese is one smart cookie, extending her unique retro brand in a multitude of ways. For example, for $20 a month super fans can sign up for the Dita Von Teese Archives, which has more than 30,000 studio and performance pictures, personal scrapbook pictures, videos and interviews from her decades-long career.
Noting that her sensual visuals have enhanced her performances, Von Teese has been putting some of her most extravagant costumes on display in the theater lobby during shows, “so people can have a look at them up close.”
Some of her outfits, decorated with hundreds of thousands of Swarovski crystals, weigh more than 65 pounds. “They're quite something to see!” she enthuses.
Her ridiculously sexy lingerie collection debuted exclusively with Bloomingdale's in the United States in 2014, and has expanded to other retailers such as Nordstrom, barenecessities.com, designer lingerie company Journelle, glamuse.com and Australian fashion retailer Myer.
Von Teese also has a luxury gloves collection, a signature hosiery line and launched the world's first-ever striptease candle as well as her latest fragrance, Scandalwood.
Recently, DITA Eyewear announced it was collaborating with Von Teese on a classically styled line of glasses.
“The cat-eye is a well-worn style, a silhouette that rarely transcends the era in which it was created,” Von Teese explains. “My goal was to keep within the spirit of the 1950s but to craft our version in a slick, new way as a secret weapon for the modern femme totale.”
The Teese Influence
Cora Harrington, author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear and Love Lingerie and founder and editor-in-chief of the Lingerie Addict, has been impressed with Von Teese on many levels, describing her as one of the “fiercest advocates” for a return to glamour.
“I appreciate how transparent Dita has been about the construction and the artifice of beauty; for example, revealing that she dyes her hair or that her beauty mark is tattooed on,” Harrington says. “We live in a era where people are encouraged to pretend they 'woke up like this.' So to have a celebrity be so honest about the work that goes into their appearance is truly refreshing.”
Like a lot of lingerie lovers, Von Teese was Harrington's first exposure to the world of corsetry, fully fashioned hosiery and vintage-style underpinnings. “The garments she wore were so unlike anything I saw in my local mall or even the nearest lingerie boutique. … So much of her imagery informed my own aesthetic sense.”
One of the things Harrington loves most about Von Teese (“apart from the fact that she has one of the best — if not the best — private collection of lingerie in the world”) is how she has transformed her Hollywood career and become a true business mogul.
“Not only are her burlesque performances more popular than they have ever been before, she has a thriving lingerie line, several published books, a popular app, a glove line, a fashion collaboration … the list goes on and on. And her products sell out every single time,” Harrington points out.
“As someone who's also an entrepreneur and small business owner, I see Dita's career path as aspirational. The way she's not only diversified her brand but stayed relevant the entire time is the ultimate goal.”
Harrington considers Von Teese a modern-day icon. “So many of her looks, her images, her pieces are instantly recognizable. We're talking about someone who's personal friends with the world's greatest living corsetièr, Mr. Pearl, who also designed corsets for [Alexander] McQueen, [Thierry] Mugler and [Jean-Paul] Gaultier.
“She truly understands and appreciates artisanship and craftsmanship, whether it's in beauty or fashion or intimate apparel or even furniture.”
Writing and Music
Von Teese is also a prolific writer; her New York Times best-selling book Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour (Dey Street Books/HarperCollins) is 400 pages long. The book has been printed in numerous languages and is a delicious read for any fan.
“I think that writing my books has helped me to have a voice; it means a lot to me to be able to inspire others to embrace their sensuality and beauty,” she muses.
“I enjoyed writing about the things that first sparked my love of glamour, the reasons why I became a pinup girl and burlesque star. Finding my confidence is something I always wanted to share, in hopes that it could inspire others.”She is currently working on her next book, to be published in 2019.
Recently, Von Teese wrote the foreword to Robert Flynn Johnson's book Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892, providing an insightful essay into the significance of these photos.
“The local photographer and his anonymous muses appear to straddle an artful titillation, at times striving toward Degas nudes and at another, more in the spirit of a strip and tease,” she notes. “There is a beauty in even the most mundane moments.”
Von Teese's vibe is so alluring that she attracted the attention of a French musician. Earlier this year, her self-titled debut album was released via the Paris-based label Record Makers. A collaboration with singer-composer Sébastien Tellier, the album conjures up a modern-day Brigitte Bardot or Serge Gainsbourg feel.
“I'm not a professional singer; in fact, I'm quite uneasy about recording my voice,” she says in the album bio. “But I do enjoy the thrill of doing things that are outside of my comfort zone, so in the past, I've collaborated with artists I admire that have invited me, such as Monarchy and Die Antwoord.”
But nothing compares with this project with Tellier, she acknowledges. “Having been a fan of his music for a long time, I would go to see him play live in California. And when I performed for the first time at the Crazy Horse in Paris, I invited him because I was such a fan, not daring to imagine that someday he would compose an entire album for me.”
When the duo began recording, Tellier offered to let Von Teese write some lyrics.
“But I preferred the feeling of letting go, of making a Sébastien Tellier record,” she says. “To describe the album is difficult; perhaps it's me with less makeup. At times, there's a certain vulnerability, which stands in contrast to my stage image of a confident and glamorous woman. I would never dare say such things in real life.”
Tellier had long imagined creating music for a woman. “I was looking for someone both beautiful and unique. When I saw Dita dance to a piece of music I had written for her, I had a feeling that her physical presence and her personality were a perfect fit with my music and I started to compose only for her.”
Tellier says Von Teese reminded him of Snow White, because she has the “freshness” of a cartoon character.
“But when I saw her arrive at the studio in her black Mercedes, I understood that she was a ghost,” he said. “Observing her, always smiling, available, I thought of mermaids, shells, mother-of-pearl objects and of marble. My wife, Amandine de la Richardière, wrote some sexy pop lyrics to balance the melodrama of my tragic vision that love always ends — in my songs — in bitterness and regret.”
After having worked with her, Tellier describes Von Teese as a fantasy factory, “in the sense that when you think that you've finally pierced her mystery, she turns out to be more than ever a creature of dreams, totally out of reach.”
With the #MeToo movement, one might wonder if this vintage theatrical entertainment has been impacted by recent events.
“I certainly can't speak for everyone,” Von Teese says, “but it's hard to think of the ways that it has affected burlesque from my point of view. Unlike burlesque of the 1930s and 1940s, the neo-burlesque world isn't really driven by men, so I think the industry of burlesque isn't really subjected to the same kind of issues as, say, the movie industry.
“Men aren't the most powerful icons in burlesque anymore; that's just one reason why the revival is much different than it was in the old days. Women are in charge in modern burlesque! That's not to say that they might not be in #MeToo situations stemming from women in power.”
Von Teese is a fearless feminist; she once spoke at the Oxford Student Union in England, where other elected speakers have included the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Tony Blair and Anna Wintour.
An advocate in the fight against HIV and AIDS, Von Teese was MAC Viva Glam spokesperson from 2006 to 2008 and in 2009 participated in the H&M/Fashion Against AIDS T-shirt campaign. She also has performed and appeared at several events for AmFAR and was honored with its Award of Courage in 2008.
“I am still with AmFAR and the MAC AIDS Fund occasionally,” Von Teese says. “Being a spokesperson, it was amazing to see what a difference their work has done in the fight against AIDS. So whenever they ask me to be present for something, it's a pleasure to be involved.”
What's next? “I'd like to take more vacations. Right now, at the top of my list is a nice tropical holiday, on the beach, under a big hat, with a coconut drink in my hand!” she quips.