In a world of yoga pants and logo T-shirts, glamour seems to be in increasingly short supply.
Thank heavens Dita Von Teese has enough of it to spread around. The burlesque queen and fashion icon purveys a glitter and grace that recalls the stars of old Hollywood: All red lips, cinched waists and ladylike poise—even when she’s stripping to her scanties. Beyond burlesque, Von Teese has walked runways for Vivienne Westwood and Jean-Paul Gaultier, starred in videos for bands from Green Day to Die Antwoord and has been featured in both Vogue and Fetish magazines, among others.
She has further expanded beyond her career as an ecdysiast into the worlds of fashion and publishing, with lingerie/cosmetic lines and two books—her most recent, Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour, offers up a mix of silver-screen fantasy and sensible advice. Von Teese will bring her Art of the Teese show to the House of Blues on July 10, featuring some of her most memorable acts, as well as several other performers. The raven-haired diva spoke to Vegas Seven about evolving routines, developing protégés and being a girl’s girl.
“I have evolved in a lot of ways, and one of those is really just having great admiration for all the different kinds of burlesque out there and for my fellow performers.” — Dita Von Teese
You were a big part of the burlesque revival. How has burlesque changed since then?
When I was 21, I thought that everybody needed to be a certain body shape and everyone needed to be pretty and glamorous. And now … you start realizing that’s not what makes a great burlesque show. There was a big evolution in the last 20 years, for me, with burlesque, and I think it wasn’t really until … I was casting my show [that] I thought some of the best performers were not just pretty little pinup girls. I’m suddenly like: Get performers like Dirty Martini and people who bring the house down.
I have evolved in a lot of ways, and one of those is having great admiration for all the different kinds of burlesque out there and for my fellow performers. … The Crazy Horse [has] the most beautiful dancers. They all have the same body shape. They’re meant to look like beautiful soldiers; they’re meant to look the same. My show, however, is different in that I really set out to find the best burlesque performers from all over the world who represent different facets of burlesque. We look for diversity in beauty, body shape and ethnicity. Those are things that are very important to me, and I think that [they] really resonate with the audience.
What else do you look for when choosing performers for your show?
I look for people who obviously have a strong sense of self. I really love seeing performers who are completely in their own character, their own persona—they’re not being derivative of somebody else. It’s my show, but I want people to walk away not knowing who their favorite was. I love when [audience members] go, “Oh, but I love when Ginger Valentine did this. … Oh, I love when Jett Adore did this.” That’s what I love the most, is when people can’t decide what was their favorite part because it’s all so strong.
Ginger Valentine is performing one of my numbers in the show and wearing one of my costumes. I created [it] in 2000 and it’s a big red, wrought-iron filigree heart that lights up and glows, and she’s just beautiful in that number. … I like watching people do my numbers when they can bring their own character to them and change them—that’s really exciting to me. I don’t want to see anyone imitate me. I’m like, “That’s like a parody of me. I don’t like watching it, it makes me feel weird.” But [I like] watching people use my props and costumes [to] breathe new life [into them] and do it in their own way.
“Betty Grable was always my favorite. … She was this pinup girl, a sex symbol but a girl’s girl. … The kind of girl who you want to hang out with, the kind of girl who’s happy to give advice instead of trying to work against you.” — Dita Von Teese
Are there any other numbers that you’re reviving?
I brought back [an act] that I did as part of the Crazy Horse [show] years ago and I gave it a full makeover with new costumes and with male backup dancers. It’s a striptease parody of Swan Lake, the ballet, but with two stripteasing princes, not princesses. It added a whole new dimension, to have men picking up my stockings and my shorts and taking them away—they’ve got this great butler vibe. They’re super-talented dancers, but now they’ve become great burlesque stars. They’re great guys. One’s from Puerto Rico and one is from Poland … and they look really good with their clothes off.
Who was your original glamour inspiration? Someone you looked up to as a little girl?
Betty Grable was always my favorite. I don’t try to look like her, but there’s a lot that I gathered from her. She was this pinup girl, a sex symbol but a girl’s girl, like the girl next door. Not intimidating or threatening: the kind of girl who you want to hang out with, the kind of girl who’s happy to give advice instead of trying to work against you. So she was the one who I always loved when I was a little girl, and she’s still my favorite. And she made some of the best musicals of all time, all those 1940s Fox musicals. There are a lot of things that I’ve taken from her movies and turned into a striptease. And, of course, you have Gypsy Rose Lee—her career is really something that I always aspired to have, that long career with lots of different [aspects] besides just doing striptease.
You’ve brought your show to Las Vegas a few times. Would you ever think of doing a residency?
I’ve built up this big arsenal of burlesque intellectual property, and I’d love put all of it into one show with other performers doing my acts—I’ve started playing with that already. I’d love to spend a bit more time in Las Vegas. I feel like that would be a natural thing to do. … I’d have to find a room there that would be right for me for an extended stay.
Dita Von Teese’s The Art of the Teese Burlesque Revue
July 10, 7:30 p.m., $50–$100, House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay, houseofblues.com/lasvegas