If you were to look up the word “glamour” in the dictionary, there is a good chance you would find a picture of Dita Von Teese. Never once seen without her signature red lip, Dita has been an icon of femme fatale and has paved the way for a world in which women can be seductive yet uncompromisingly classy. She is the kind of woman we can all appreciate for her ability to be unapologetically who she is. Born Heather Sweet in Rochester, Michigan with blonde locks and a classically trained ballet background, she always knew she would be something more. At 18 her metamorphosis began. She dyed her blonde locks black, began taking off her clothes, and was photographed as a classic pin-up. It wasn’t long before she was on the cover of Playboy and dubbed the Queen of Burlesque. The stage name “Dita” was her tribute to silent film actress Dita Parlo, and it was her first of many Playboy covers that gave her the name “Von Teese.” And thus, an icon was born.
From her famous burlesque shows, designing her own lingerie line with Wonderbra and gracing the covers of Vanity Fair to her infamous relationships with the likes of Marilyn Manson, Dita has always done everything on her own terms. That is what makes her so iconic. In a world where we are so often told who to be she remains Dita, a woman who is so effortlessly comfortable in her own skin. Without her we may not have some of the voluptuous stars that grace our magazine covers now, or classic and timeless beauties that have defined sexual confidence. Dita is and always has been a woman worth watching, a timeless beauty, and whether or not it was her intention, an
innovator in glamour.
May we all take a page out of Dita’s book when we are done day dreaming about her, and begin to live as confident beings who live life on no one’s terms but our own. Put on some red lipstick, a beautiful piece of lingerie, and walk with confidence. Inside every Heather there is a Dita. Let’s all find our Dita.
BASIC: How would you describe your style?
I like dualities. I guess my style is 1950’s glamour girl by day and 1940’s era film noir seductress by night. I like dresses, skirts and capri pants with ballet flats in the afternoon, and at night I like figure hugging silhouettes, dresses with hemlines below the knee, paired with seamed stockings, stiletto pumps and my signature black leather opera gloves. I occasionally wear pants with a high waist and wide legs, a la Marlene Dietrich. I have an unwavering signature style; I look for my signature glamour codes interpreted in new ways, but I don’t follow trends. I always state my biggest fashion influence as the ladies of 1940s fetish artist John Willie. Kind of obscure for most people, but I’ve been obsessed with 1930s and 40s fetish style since the 90s. I love the exaggeration of femininity, I love drama, I love the theatre of dressing, and the character I can create with my clothes.
BASIC: What’s the best beauty advice you’ve ever been given?
“Use sunscreen” ranks up there, along with “don’t smoke” and “take off your makeup before you go to sleep”. But beyond that, which I hope women already know, I learned from several key people, and from personal experience, that being different is what makes you memorable and valuable. In my book, Your Beauty Mark, I shine the spotlight on eccentric beauties and muses, and also artists that hold unusual, distinctive beauty in high regard. I always say that you can be a juicy ripe peach and there will still be someone that doesn’t like peaches, so just be who you are, or who you decide to be.
BASIC: Do you identify as a feminist? Why/why not?
Well, yes, I suppose I became an unlikely feminist. I started creating burlesque shows in the early 90’s and watched the way my fan base shifted dramatically around 2000, and I now have so many female supporters, and I realized that many of them felt inspired to see an alternative type of sensual beauty, far from the unattainable Sports Illustrated model type. I’m a very ordinary dishwater blonde from a
farming town in Michigan, but I used the tools of glamour to turn myself into something I always wanted to be. Growing up I didn’t really have any modern glamour idols I felt I could be like, but when I looked at classic films of the 1930s and 40s I could see a type of beauty that I could actually create, with red lipstick, sculptural hair, and feminine silhouettes. I think that my realization of this for myself resonated with a lot of other women. I perform to audiences of between 1200-3500 people, and more than 80% of them are women. At a burlesque show! I look out into the crowd to a sea of gorgeous gals of all shapes and sizes and ethnicities flaunting their glamorous style. It’s very inspiring to me. I think there’s a new feminist movement happening, ultimately, this is what it is, respecting each others choices. We can find our power from different things; what makes one person feel empowered might make another feel degraded or uncomfortable and we should accept our differences. I don’t go around telling people that I’m a feminist, or that what I do is empowering for women, because it is for some, and for others it is not. But modern burlesque IS a phenomenon, far different from what it was in its Golden Age in the 30s and 40s when it was really a chance for men to see women in stages of undress in real life.
BASIC: What do you think are some of the biggest struggles young women face today?
Ah well, where to start! I think that the pressure of social media makes things difficult in so many ways, from comparing oneself to others. I also I think it’s hard to find one’s own creativity because it’s easy to get wrapped up in what everyone else is doing, or to use less of your own imagination and instead to just take influence from what is already out there, to measure “what works” rather than take your own risks. I think about how my career came about, before the internet, and I really had to use my dreams and fantasies to create. I would read vintage books about burlesque, look at vintage portraits of burlesque stars and try to imagine what they did, and that made it possible for me to do something that didn’t exist in real life. I think social media can also be a huge distraction, and we have to use self-discipline to find a balance.
BASIC: What about older women?
Well, ageism is something I think a lot about lately. One of the
missions of my show Strip, Strip, Hooray! was to celebrate diversity in body shape, ethnicity and beauty and then I started thinking about one of the most prevalent questions I get asked in interviews, usually something like “you are getting older, what will you do when you lose your beauty, how long will you perform striptease?” and it made me start thinking about how strange it is that we have such a hard time with watching women go through all stages of life, while considering their sensuality. The thing is, when I was 20 years old and started posing for pinups and performing burlesque shows, I was SURE I would be past my prime by age 30, and the truth is, I hadn’t even hit my stride yet. I had no idea yet that there was much more to sensuality and sexiness than having a pretty face, a perfect butt, and pretty outfits. Earlier this year I returned to the Crazy Horse Paris stage again after a seven year hiatus, ten years after my first appearance there. I was reluctant, as there I was at 43, and nearly all of the dancers were new girls in their early 20s. But still as I watched the show, the most exciting, crowd pleasing performances came from the older gals, and while I was there, the youngest girls would come to ask me for advice about little things I convey onstage. You can be drop dead gorgeous and super talented, but there’s got to be something else, or it’s flat. Listen, Mae West was the biggest sex symbol of her day, and she didn’t even make her first film until she was 40. There are so many examples of sensual women in their 50s, 60s and beyond, and I hope that more women will tell people to f*ck off when they tell us to “act our age”.
BASIC: How is burlesque empowering for women?
Well, it can be for some. I don’t think it’s anyone’s right to tell another person what should be empowering or degrading. I believe that everything is open to an individual’s interpretation. What I can tell you is that the majority of my audience is female. The men that are there are the partners of the women, and I also have a very large LGBTQ following that comes to my shows.
BASIC: You’ve written books, designed your own lingerie line, and performed all over the world. What can we look for from you next?
I have a new burlesque show that I’m touring with in 2017, The Art of the Teese. In February, I take the show to Chicago, New York, Detroit, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Toronto, and Silver Spring, and will likely announce another tour of the West Coast with this new show too. I also have my gloves collection, my hosiery line, and I’m starting work on a new book to follow up Your Beauty Mark, The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour. I’ve just finished working on my latest lingerie collection, with a relaunch at Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and more retailers at the top of the year. My lingerie is for any woman who wants glamour in everyday life, without sacrificing fit and function.
BASIC: If you could leave one “beauty mark” on the world, what would you leave?
Well, I call myself a Glamour Evangelist…I might be a little over the top with glamour, talking about all the things that it does for me in my life and how it gives me confidence. I love hearing from other women who have been inspired by my book, by my shows and have found ways to create their own beauty mark on the world. It feels good to have had a part in the resurgence of vintage style pinup and classic burlesque, because it’s amazing to see the way it’s affected people that, like me, couldn’t relate to mainstream standards of beauty.
Order Issue 4 HERE
Photographer Viktorija Pashuta @viktorija_pashuta
Art Director Roberta Hall @robertadeehall
Production Aman Segal @aman.segal
Stylist Nicolas Bru @ the.only.agency
Make Up Gregory Arlt for Exclusive Artists Management using MAC
Hair Tony Medina @hisvintagetouch
Video Ana Maria Manso
Photo Assistant Jeremy Ponce
Intern Hima Boinpally @himaboinoally