From old downtown theatres to dives to dance clubs, LA continues to be a bonanza of burlesque. Big or small, demure or trashy, themed and prop-filled or bodaciously bare, seems like there's always a gaggle strutting -and stripping off- their stuff somewhere in town, and has been ever since The Velvet Hammer troupe emerged in the early '90's
Though Hammer is no more (Lucha Va Voom splintered from the group with much success, though) another gal who came up around the same time remains one of, if not the, queen of the scene: Ms. Dita Von Teese. When it comes to illustriousness (and we're not even counting the notoriety of once being married to a certain shock rocker), retro appeal and most notably, blindingly gorgeous production value, Teese, who was born and raised in Michigan and started her performing career while living in and then emerging from Orange County, always delivers.
On the eve of her first major production in Los Angeles in over two years, the performer speaks with Style Council about why she hasn't performed in LA for a while, how she put together her new one, her new signature cocktail for Cointreau, and other projects she's got up her bedazzled sleeve.
Why has it been so long since your last LA show?
I've been doing a lot of shows in Europe. I perform at The Crazy Horse in Paris a lot. I've been really aware of the shift of where I've been doing my shows. Europe just seems to appreciate what I do. You know, I'm not on a reality show in America. What I do is still considered a little bit risqué here. It's somehow accepted there. I can do more mainstream things in Europe, even TV, like the David Letterman type shows. I can't do that here. I get booked more overseas and for a lot more money, but I've been trying to put this one together for a while… something here in LA where I live. Something for my fans in Los Angeles. I put this whole thing together basically on my own. I never use a choreographer or a glam squad. It's a big labor of love for me.
Tell us about the show, “Be Cointreauversial”
Everything I'm doing has not been seen in LA before. I'm debuting a number that I've been putting together for almost 4 years. It's costing me more than any other show I've ever put together…. and that's saying a lot. 4 years and close to $100,000 later, the number that I've created is ready, my oriental fantasy. It's all based on this elaborate Chinese opium den. It's different for me because I usually do these big technicolor '40's, playful fun numbers, and this one's a little bit dark. I'm really excited about it. The set is beautiful and the costume is out of this world.
I'm also bringing one of the numbers I created for the Crazy Horse in Paris. It's never been seen anywhere outside of there. And I'm doing a version of my martini glass act with giant Cointreau glass. Reinventing it. I just wanted to make the whole thing absurdly extravagant. I also hope this will become a regular thing at the Avalon.
What is your relationship with Cointreau, the orange liquer?
I'm the brand ambassador. They helped me make this show happen. I've been with them for a few years now. I'm in all the ad campaigns. I did a signature cocktail for them called the “Cointreau Teese,” which will be served at the event. I went to Paris and they had their master mixologist work with me on my favorite colors, fragrances, flavors, things like that. I think it's a really beautiful, feminine cocktail. It'll be available at some of my favorite LA spots like The Viceroy, The Beverly Hills Hotel and Villa.
The Cointreau Teese Cocktail Recipe:
1 1/2 oz cointreau
1 oz creme de violette
1/2 apple juice
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
Rim with fresh ginger
Tell us about the other performers on the bill tonight?
The emceee is Murray Hill. He has that old cchool burlesque comedy thing going on, it's not a replica. It's orginal. He kills me, and he's a heck of staller. Ava Garter is a friend of mine from right out of high school in Orange County. Raja and I go way back, he's debuting a new number. Mayte Garcia is doing a wonderful belly dance. I handpicked some girls from Les Fleur de Sans who have a show at the King King, that will be good. Selene [Luna], we all know, just brings the house down everytime. She's agreed to come out of her semi-burlesque retirement to do one of my fave numbers.
Speaking of Selene, who was in the Velvet Hammer, what do you think about the bounty of burlesque here in Los Angeles? You say Europe is more accepting of your brand of entertainment, but there sure are a lot of gals showcasing saucy dance/strip shows here, aren't there?
There was a huge explosion in the popularity of burlesque in America, but it's still hard for me here sometimes. I feel like America is where I'm still defending what I do. I read about myself and a lot of people, are like, “I don't understand what she does besides wear red lipstick and vintage clothes. I think its because here, people don't get to see what I do as much. I have to admit I've been asking myself why I'm always getting booked for 10 times the money in Europe than I would get booked for here.
So it has more commercial value there than here?
Yeah maybe. But this show isn't about that. I love the idea that when I walk out on stage for the show [tonight], it's not gonna be filled with celebrity VIPs or all the bigwigs of the city. It's gonna be fans, people who bought tickets to come and see me.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I'm doing a step-by-step beauty book with Rose Apodaca. A how-to beauty guide for girls who want to be different and want to wear eccentric hair and makeup. I don't use a glam squad like I said, so I'm telling girls who like vintage glamour how to achieve it. I always loved the idea of creating a fantasy. I feel like I'm my own art piece. Really, I'm just this ordinary blonde girl from Michigan when it comes down to it.
Dita Von Teese's “Be Cointreauversial” show at The Avalon,
1735 Vine St., Hollywood. Doors 8:30 p.m., show at 10 p.m.Tickets at:
WWW.dita.net/LAAvalon or The Avalon box office 323-462-8900