The Lady interviews Dita Von Teese
‘I’m very domestic, really’
As Britain falls back in love with, ahem, nudity, Matt Warren speaks to burlesque sensation Dita Von Teese about how to have fun with your clothes off – and why, one day, she might make a jolly good housewife
In the basement of London’s rather grand St James’s Hotel, Dita Von Teese is talking about feminism, Fifty Shades Of Grey, Cointreau, a cat called Aleister – and, ahem, taking her clothes off. She looks immaculate in a beautifully tailored black dress, a raven-haired – and jolly chatty – Betty Grable in a shock of scarlet lipstick.
But then Miss Von Teese is the woman who made the world fall back in love with burlesque, bathing in giant Martini glasses onstage, as naturally as if it were something we all did before grabbing our keys and heading off to work. Following in the tradition of the great Gypsy Rose Lee, she has transformed ‘stripping’ – a word she uses freely – into an art form.
Perhaps it’s something in the water, but nudity has rarely been more popular. Only last week it was reported that scores of people in amateur dramatic societies, from Cannock Chase to Grassington, are eagerly shedding their clothes after getting the right to stage the hit show Calendar Girls.
But isn’t there something a little, well, anti-feminist about a lady ‘disrobing’ for a living? ‘Take a look at my audiences,’ she says with a smile (she smiles a lot). ‘There aren’t gangs of men there. Most of my fans are women, and most of the men who come to my shows are there as part of a couple. I have come under fire for being anti-feminist and doing what I do for men – but I don’t. I’m largely doing it for women. That throws the anti-feminist argument into a tailspin.
‘I create everything for my shows, from the lighting and props to the styling and choreography. I do my own financing. I have paid my dues. The actual stripping part is one of the most miniscule elements.
‘Perhaps so many women come to my shows because I’m about achieving a look, creating it, making it and building it. I’m not just a busty model in Sports Illustrated magazine.
‘Clearly, I’m not everyone’s idea of the perfect role model – it’s burlesque. What someone is inspired by, someone else might feel offended by. But sexual fantasies should be exempt from political correctness. In my own fantasies, for example, no one loves me for my mind… my shows are about fantasy.’
Behind the gloss and glitter, Miss Von Teese (who was born Heather Renée Sweet) is likeable, hard-working, hands-on and surprisingly down-to-earth. As well as running her own show, she does all her own make-up – ‘I hate going to the beauty salon’ – and still loves hunting down vintage bargains. She is particularly fascinated with retro style and 1940s cinema, passions she inherited from her mother, and is a trained costume designer.
‘I have always surrounded myself with beautiful things, and not expensive things. In fact, that’s how I got into the vintage look in the first place. I was earning £2 an hour, so I had to go and find things cheap. In fact, I still buy £5 hair dye, rather than going to a salon and paying £300.’
Dita Von Teese is, in fact, a natural blonde. She dyed her hair jet black aged 22 and never looked back – ‘I now even have black hair in my dreams.’ Dyeing her hair is now a fortnightly ritual.
‘I was an ordinary-looking blonde girl from a small farming town, so to go black-haired was to turn myself into an art piece of my own design. I gave myself a Hollywood makeover.
‘My boyfriend at the time actually got really upset. He loved my long blonde hair, which I often wore up in a beehive. In fact, he’s only just got over it – 20 years on.’
She certainly takes her looks very seriously. In her 20s, she used ‘tightlacing’ (using a corset to modify your figure) to get down to a 16in waist – she now confesses to being closer to 19in. ‘It’s not something I do every day any more, much to the dismay of my corset-maker, who just left me a note saying that it needs to be cinched to the max at all times,’ she laughs. ‘I’m not worried about records, I just like the shape. But it’s a lot of work.’
She also practices Pilates and swears by The Beauty Detox Solution by Kimberly Snyder, which seems to involve drinking an awful lot of green smoothies. ‘I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t afraid of getting old. But am I really going to miss my bum when I’m 70?’ she jokes. ‘At least I’ll have lots of pictures. Besides, my vintage style is timeless. It’s not like I’ll have to stop wearing miniskirts, because I never wear them. And my hairstyle works on someone of any age.’
So will she just keep on working? ‘I don’t have any plans to retire yet. I didn’t know when I was 21 that I’d be in better shape at nearly 40 than I was then. But I did drink lots of soda in my 20s.’
Perhaps nudity keeps you youthful? And perhaps more of us should give it a whirl? ‘I get so many letters from women asking if they should, but most of them are asking about how they get over their fear of taking their clothes off in public. If you’re afraid of taking your clothes off, don’t do it. I’ve never been afraid of that.
‘Still, I think I inspire lots of women to try it at home with their significant other.’
Like in bestselling bonkbuster Fifty Shades Of Grey? ‘I haven’t read it,’ she confesses. ‘I think it might be a little too fluffy for me. I like Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, books that paint beautiful pictures of garter belts and stockings and women smoking cigarettes in Paris. Sending emails [like the lovers do in Fifty Shades] doesn’t really do it for me. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, but I prefer something a bit more colourful; a bit more serious.’
So what does Dita Von Teese do at home, which she shares with a Devon Rex cat called Aleister (after English mystic Aleister Crowley)? ‘I’m quite a good cook so I love to entertain friends at home with canapés and cocktails [she has just launched a designer cocktail bag for Cointreau]. In fact, a lot of people tell me that I’m going to be a really good housewife one day: I cook, I bring money home, I wear nice lingerie.
Last edited by LittleMsSunshine; 03-10-2012 at 12:00 PM.
Company Magazine: Interview with Dita Von Teese
Our favourite vintage queen and burlesque dancing sensation shares the story behind her début fragrance and talks beauty from handbag to home.
What was your inspiration behind the new fragrance?
About 3 years ago when I started working on this perfume I was dating a guy and we really liked each other, we were walking down the street and he asked me what my perfume was and I told him and he said “my mother wore that fragrance” so I realised I had to either get rid of the man or get rid of the perfume! Scent is a very powerful and emotional thing. I kept the man for a while but at the same time I was approached to make my own signature scent so it was kind of serendipity and I felt motivated to make something that I felt could replace my favourite perfume.
What was your favourite perfume?
My favourite perfume was a perfume called Quelques Fleurs, it’s a very old fashioned obscure fragrance that not many people know. I’d never met anyone that wore the same perfume so it was shocking to me that that my ex-boyfriend’s mother was wearing that.
Do you remember your first fragrance?
My first fragrance was something called Love’s Baby Soft, do you have that here in the UK? It’s a lot of American girls’ first perfume, and also I liked Lou Lou by Cacharel, that was a little bit after, when I graduated to a real perfume. I still think that’s a beautiful scent.
What are your handbag essentials?
I always have a red lipstick in my bag, and I always have a powder compact, I also carry a mini size of my signature perfume, the bottle is really cute, it’s actually my favourite. The bottle is like a little vintage-style amphora with a tassel on it, so I always have that in my bag.
Talk us through your beauty regime and fave products..
I have a lot of beauty products but I don’t have a stylist, I don’t travel with a glam squad, I do my own hair and make-up for events and everything, so I have a pretty big beauty kit because I love make up. I always have at least ten red lipsticks in my beauty kit because I have so many different shades of red that I love. And I have my own line of make up now with Art Deco cosmetics (available in Debenhams), I started with a very small collection and I’m building it up. So most of my make up that I’m using now is from my Art Deco collection.
Hair wise I use these products called Obliphica by HairKop, I used to always use Pantene and I still think Pantene is a really good product, and people would send me these expensive shampoos and things and I would just try it, but when it came down to it, I’m not spending $50 on a bottle of shampoo that didn’t change my life! So I was very faithful to Pantene for a long time and then one of my friends sent me these products called Obliphica and I think they’re kind of expensive but it was the only time that I said OK, I would shell out whatever this cost because I thought it really made a difference.
What do you think the most important thing is when looking after your skin?
I always wash my face first thing in the morning and before I go to bed without fail, I haven’t ever gone to bed with make up on, I think that skincare is really important and I’m notorious when my girlfriends come over and even if we’re up late drinking and they think they’re going to bed with their make up on, i’ll throw a make-up wipe on their face saying ‘you better clean your face off! House rules!’
Do you have favourite products?
I use a MAC cleansing oil, because I wear a lot of eyeliner and a lot of stage make up and this really dissolves all of it when you add water to it, it emulsifies. Also Darphin makes a really nice aromatic cleanser, it’s a cleansing balm, and I love the smell of it.
Do you get any treatments that you could recommend?
I have a good dermatologist who doesn’’t have a bunch of lasers in his office, he’s really about the health of the skin and he said to me, “you know, none of those creams are going to change your life, just find something that you like the texture of and you like the fragrance or whatever, you like the jar, I don’t care, and use that!” And other than that I always use something that has a sunscreen in it during the day, I think sun protection is really important.
What is your dressed down look when you’re at home relaxing?
My dressed-down look is usually simple ballet flats and usually I wear a lot of my vintage clothes during the day, like a full-skirted dress or Capri pants with a simple blouse, I like to be comfortable. Dresses with full skirts alway feel very comfortable to me with a ballet flat.
Where do you shop?
When I want to splurge on something I look to my favourite designers and see who’s doing clothes that have a nostalgic feel, I like to shop in Burberry because they’re often making things that are my style. And then also I love Roland Mouret, that nice figure-hugging look, so generally, I look for which designers are into my style when I want to buy new clothes. And then on the other hand I do a lot of vintage shopping. I have a couple of different favourite stores around Los Angeles that I go to. One of them is called The Way We Wore and then there’s also these vintage fairs that happen twice a year in L.A. and so I go to those, and I like to shop for vintage on eBay too.
Whose style do you love?
I like eccentric dressers, I love Tilda Swinton, I think she always looks really chic, every time I see her she looks amazing and I can’t take my eyes off of her, she’s so beautiful, like a sphinx cat , she’s just so gorgeous and has a really distinctive style.
I love reading her interviews, she's such a breath of fresh hair. I also that she owns her own image, good for her, that way nobody can commercialize and make money off her.
No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.--Lupita Nyong'O(Oscar speech 2014)
Making a Mess
^ I agree I love that she owns her look.
Here are a few new pictures of her leaving the Maccabees concert.
I love these flats she's been wearing recently. Any IDs?
Carolyn - Daria - Natalia - Miranda - Valentina - Christy - Kate
Quite rare to see her wearing flats out at night. She looks so lovely. I wish people still got that dressed up to go out to concerts or the theatre.
"It’s up to you to make everyday as perfect as possible.
It’s a question of will and discipline."— Karl Lagerfeld
Love this dress!
"Ain't nobody got time for that!"
Mika meets Dita Von Teese: ‘I’ve had to work hard to stay like this’
The flamboyant singer and the burlesque performer share their thoughts on fetishism, sexuality and pop as the ultimate masquerade
They’re the perfect couple: the internationally famous pop star and the globally notorious burlesque bombshell. Both do flamboyant, but in their own ways. Following a photo shoot at Guardian HQ, Mika is wearing a blue pin-striped suit, sans jacket, with a yellow knitted tie, while Dita Von Teese is, as befits the former Mrs Marilyn Manson, dressed head to toe in black satin and crepe, some of it courtesy of Messrs Galliano and Vuitton, some of it from her wardrobe.
They have just flown in, her from Vienna, where she performed her celebrated martini-glass routine at the opening of the Ritz Carlton, him from Frankfurt, where he has been promoting his new album, The Origin of Love.
“I’ve been bounced around like a bizarre ping pong [ball],” he says – the night before he was in Berlin; tomorrow, he heads to LA for 24 hours. Now all he has got to do is make sure Moo, the golden retriever that he takes everywhere with him, behaves.
“He can be very controversial in interviews,” he warns. “He’s a bit of a Morrissey: he loves to be hated.”
The pair, who have been friends for a while, look as if they are about to go clubbing, even if Mika will not get into Torture Garden dressed like that.
“What do you normally wear on a Saturday – black leather pants?” jokes Von Teese. And before we know it, talk has turned to fetishism, sexual preference and pop as the ultimate masquerade. “Fetishism is not about exposure,” she says. “It’s about the exaggeration of the feminine form.”
Have you ever damaged yourself in the pursuit of perfection?
DVT: “Well, corsetry is a form of body modification.”
Is it painful?
DVT: “I’m not in it for the pain, I’m in it for the perfect hour-glass shape.”
Mika, are you into fashion?
Mika: “Not at all. It doesn’t suit me. I look at Dita and totally appreciate how far she goes to create her version of perfect beauty. But I don’t stomp around wearing a corset like the guy from the Rocky Horror Show.”
Is what you do performance art?
DVT: “I don’t like that term, it’s pretentious. I want to be seen as an entertainer.”
You refer to yourself as a stripper, don’t you?
DVT: “I do, and I love to. It’s sensual, titillating, risque entertainment.”
Mika, are you part of that tradition of showmanship more than you are any rock’n'roll trajectory?
Mika: “No, my trajectory is Harry Nilsson and records like Pandemonium Shadow Show. Opera is where I started.”
So you weren’t born out of Broadway and showtunes?
Mika: “One hundred per cent no. I was born out of classical music. I was kicked out of school when I was 11 and was dyslexic so my mother decided to get me music lessons. She said: ‘My son is so ****ed up. He’s not functioning well.’ She knew school wasn’t going to fix it. A friend of hers taught me to sing and I got really good really quickly. My first gig was at the Royal Opera House, a Strauss opera.”
How did you meet?
DVT: “I was a fan, and I felt like every time I met you, you were warm and fun and sweet, not intimidating. I felt like I could be myself around you and not have to be cool. Sometimes I can’t be myself, because I’m just from a small town in Michigan, my hair’s naturally blond – this is all something I made up!”
Mika, there’s a line on your new album that goes: “You’re only ever who you were, as hard as you hit your head against the wall.” Is that you both?
DVT: “Yeah. When people say I look intimidating, it’s hard for me to relate to. I hear that a lot. I don’t know why.”
Do men hit on you all the time? Or are they too scared?
DVT: “People say: ‘Oh, you’re too intimidating, everyone’s afraid to ask you out on a date.’ Which is unfortunate because I’m pretty shy.”
Do people assume you’re having incredible sex all the time?
DVT: “That’s part of the problem, people assuming that. Just because I’m wearing this, it doesn’t mean I’m about to …
… have a wild encounter with a stranger?
DVT: “Right. [Laughs]. After this I’m going back to my hotel room to work on my show.”
Mika: “I was such a big fan of your act. I first heard about you through Marilyn Manson – another good example of theatricality.”
DVT: “We [Manson and Von Teese] were cut from the same cloth. We both changed our entire identity, coloured our hair black, did our own makeup and came up with our own outfits – that’s why it worked so well. We could relate to each other in a very profound way.”
Our fascination with your married life propelled you into the super-league. Was that a bonus or a hindrance?
DVT: “It was both. We were very much in love, which people seem to forget. I didn’t really think much about what it could do for my career. I was just so happy being ‘his girl’. It wasn’t always easy, though. I got death threats! It was intense.”
Did you ever sit at home with Manson and laugh at what we must have imagined you doing, all those epic feats of satanic bacchanal?
DVT: “I can’t say we ever sat around pondering what people thought of us, no. We were pretty outrageous [laughs]. If you opened up the doors it would have been exactly what you’d imagine. It was never mundane.”
Are you, Dita – nee Heather Renee Sweet – and Mika – born Mika Michael Holbrook Penniman, similar in that you’ve both created alter egos?
DVT: “I don’t feel I have an alter ego.”
Mika: “I’ve always been this way. I’ve just had to work quite hard to stay like this.”
On your new album, you’ve said that you wanted to reveal yourself more …
Mika: “I wanted to strip away my complexes. Musically, though, it’s not stripped away at all. I tried to make something quite ambitious, that comes from that golden pop tradition of Fleetwood Mac and the Bee Gees, where melody was at the forefront. Melody is disarming. It’s anarchic!”
Are you both subversive presences in the culture?
Mika: “Do you think I am? I never try to analyse **** like that, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write another song. I know I’m still argued over – the verdict’s still out on me and I hope that it will be till the day I die.”
Are you amazed that in 2012 people are still fascinated by someone’s sexuality?
Mika: “It’s funny. You can’t believe the amount of speculation you get over your private life.”
You recently came out, didn’t you?
Mika: “I did, because I was happy.”
Has it made a difference?
Mika: “No, because the question still comes up in every ****ing interview! Only now it’s like: ‘What are gay stereotypes?’ ‘Are you a gay stereotype?’ It has not ended.”
Did you feel bullied into coming out?
Mika: “No, because I have been bullied and I know what it feels like. You’re being kicked in the stomach, you want to vomit – that’s bullying.”
Are you both taboo-busters?
Mika: “I don’t really know what ‘taboo’ is so that probably means yes.”
DVT: “We’re both sharp dressers.”
Mika: “We have quite a lot of fun getting drunk together.”
Would you be the perfect couple, if things were different?
DVT: “He’s, like, my ideal man.”
Mika: “Oh my god, really? That’s awesome.”
DVT: “I like your haircut, the way you dress – you’re my fantasy man.”
Is Dita your ideal woman?
Mika: “I don’t know how to answer that because I can’t – she’s, like, my ideal sister.”
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