Dita Von Teese has posed for Playboy and been married to shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, but the brunette beauty is best-known for being the modern-day Queen of Burlesque. Born Heather Sweet in a small town in Michigan, Von Teese traded being an “ordinary girl” for the glitz and glamour of pinup modeling and strip tease, and parlayed her newfound sassy and sexy persona into becoming the face of “new burlesque.”
She brings her show – “Burlesque Strip Strip Hooray” – to Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday and Friday night, and along with it fabulous haute-couture costumes and enough Swarovski crystals to light up the Vegas strip.
Von Teese talked to Miami.com about her crystal fetish, how she chose her stage name and what she finds sexy, and gives some advice to guys who are interested in asking her out.
When was the first time you remember being drawn to burlesque?
In the early ‘90s, I started re-creating vintage-style pinup photos, and during my research, when I started collecting old magazines from the 1930s and ‘40s, I noticed that a lot of the models that posed for the men’s magazines for the era were also burlesque dancers. And burlesque was a spinoff of vaudeville, but the stars of the burlesque revue were strip-tease stars. So you had people like Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand who became household names. If you could imagine a time in America where strip-tease was an acceptable form of entertainment, it was in the 1930s and ‘40s.
What about it appealed to you so much?
Mostly the art of creating glamour. I come from Michigan, a farming town, and I always felt like a very ordinary girl – a blond girl from Michigan. And the idea of creating a character and persona really appealed to me, and I liked something about combining the highly sophisticated and elegant and glamorous with something that’s considered taboo and risqué. I like the idea of bringing those things together, and creating a strip-tease show seemed like something no one else was doing at the time, too.
What can we expect from your show?
I’m performing four of my most lavish numbers, so it’s a night of humor and strip tease at the highest level. And it will be a prominently female audience, which is something I think people are also surprised by, but once you see the show, you really realize why this burlesque movement is so supported by women.
Within your show, you have four vignettes – would you describe each one?
I perform my Martini Glass act, which is something that a lot of people know me for – it’s an evolved version of that act that I’ve been doing for many years. I have another act with a giant, gilded bird cage that’s quite spectacular. And I have another act where I ride a giant mechanical bull with about 300,000 Swarovski crystals on the costume and on the prop.
There’s a lot of spectacle in the show – a lot of different people in fashion and pop music and all avenues of entertainment have come to see the show and they all say they’ve never seen anything like it. I guarantee you’ve never seen a show like this before.
What appeals to you about the Swarovski crystals?
I think it’s the extravagance – the costumes and the Swarovski crystals shine brighter than anything you can imagine with stage lighting on it. And I always wanted to see how it would look with an incredible, like, vulgar amount of crystals onstage – it’s just something that really moves me. A lot of people ask afterwards about the costumes – they say that they just looked electrified, that they were plugged in to the wall. I’m good friends with Jean Paul Gaultier, and when he saw the show, he couldn’t believe that we managed to put that much Swarovski crystal on one outfit. I can’t explain why I love it so much – I just do.
Is that what inspired you to once wear $5 million in diamonds for a show?
I think I’ve worn $10 million in diamonds for one show. At one time, I had 10 different security all flanking the stage – it was pretty exciting. It was an event in New York where they had several different diamond companies come together and see how many things they could put on me at once. But still, the brilliance of the Swarovski has an even more dazzling effect than all those diamonds.
Your stage name is perfect – did it come to you easily?
I didn’t really think about it, because when I came up with the name Dita, I was working in a strip club in 1991 in Orange County, Calif., and when I had to choose a last name I was posing for Playboy magazine in the mid-‘90s. I went quickly to the phone book and I found this name Von Treese, and Playboy actually misheard me and they printed it Von Teese. So it was actually a typo – it wasn’t anything I came up with deliberately. I probably would have done things differently if I had known I was going to be trade-marking it all over the world all these years later.
Actually, Heather Sweet would have worked pretty well, too.
Yeah, I guess that could have worked, but I think it’s good to create a persona, something that is decidedly different than what you’re born with. I love the idea of being somebody that I never was, dying my hair from blond to black and all the tricks of glamour and beauty. Every old star from the 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood – no one used their real name, no matter what, so I kind of liked that position.
How similar is your everyday life to your stage persona?
I think it’s very, very similar – the difference is that I haven’t changed my personality. The real Heather Sweet from Michigan is totally present both onstage and off. I don’t wear jeans or something in my real life – I have a pretty glamorous offstage persona, too, that I have cultivated. But I didn’t give myself, like, a makeover with regard to my character as to what kind of person I am.
I imagine people treat you differently because of this persona?
Yeah, I definitely see that the way I present myself to the world, you don’t see in everyday life. It’s difficult dating and stuff – guys don’t really approach very easily. They’re a little bit afraid.
What would you say to those guys?
Well, I’m an old-fashioned girl, so I’m not aggressive. I would never go up to someone and ask them out or something, so I guess I would say, you should take a chance. I tend to like nice, normal guys, actually.
That brings me to Marilyn Manson.
Well, I’ve been divorced for seven years, so it’s kind of like, OK – do you want to talk about your girlfriend that you had seven years ago? We’re friends now, and it’s fine, but it’s a little bit part of the past.
What is sexy to you that probably is not to most people?
Confidence with a dash of humility is always sexy. Watching somebody be comfortable in their own skin, and people embracing their differences. I’m very bored by traditional “sexy” – I like it when people are eccentric and unique, and they wear their differences like a badge of honor instead of trying to look like everybody else. The cheerleader syndrome I’ve got a problem with – that’s probably what I don’t find sexy. I think women and men with really extreme features and looks are really beautiful. There’s a saying that says someone can’t be beautiful and pretty at the same time. There is no beauty that doesn’t have some kind of strangeness in the proportion. The v
ery simple and the typical are not really what is truly beautiful.