Catching up with burlesque star and fashion icon Dita Von Teese

With a seductive and sexy nod to the past, modern pin-up and burlesque queen Dita Von Teese has been at the forefront of reviving a once nearly lost art form for two decades.

Bringing back the sense of classic style and glamour of the golden days of Hollywood and meshing it with the tantalizing teasing of the old-time burlesque circuit, Von Teese wraps up a two-night stand at the Fillmore tonight with her Burlesque: Strip, Strip, Hooray! show, a live revue featuring not only her own titillating talents, but a host of other performers as well, including Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish, and Lada Nikolska from the Crazy Horse Paris.

When Von Teese (real name: Heather Sweet) first got interested in retro styles and the bawdy and risqué performances of the past, there was just a small community of performers around the world that she recalls encountering; two decades later, she has watched the scene flourish and rapidly expand.

“It’s been really interesting to see the gradual unfolding of the burlesque revival and how massive it’s become. People are starting to get the message that this is inspiring and empowering [for] women that maybe can’t relate to other modern standards of beauty,” says Von Teese. 

“When I started making these shows, I started styling myself after retro looks because I felt that I couldn’t relate to any Victoria’s Secret models, or Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. That’s part of why I look to icons of the past like Marlene Dietrich, and Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable — I felt that created glamour was something I could maybe capture the spirit of.”

When her tour dates end later this year, Von Teese is looking to take some time off from the road and focus more on other successfully growing parts of her creative output, including makeup, perfume, clothing, and a new line of lingerie, which she will be promoting via an in-store appearance at Bloomingdale’s in San Francisco Tuesday evening.

“It’s important to evolve. I have a 20-year career as a burlesque dancer, and I have to think a lot about my personal evolution. I don’t want to keep doing the same show over and over,” says Von Teese. “I don’t like to claim to be a fashion designer, but I think what I really do is take retro style and find the very ‘best of,’ and find the things that translate to modern times and don’t look like they’re dated or just retro style clothes. I love things that are like classic silhouettes: they stand the test of time and still look elegant and classic and glamorous, but they don’t make you look like you’re in a costume drama.”

And unlike many other performers or stars who are content to simply attach their name to a product, Von Teese chooses to be involved with every aspect of whatever project she is working on at the moment.

“I’m very hands-on, in a sense I am an aesthetic control freak, that’s what I do. With a lot of celebrity lines or celebrity-endorsed products they’ll just sign off, or say, ‘Oh, yeah, that looks good,’ but I’m completely hands-on during the entire process,” she says.

“I base the collection on my vast archive of vintage clothing and lingerie, so there’s a lot of work that goes into that. It’s the same as my burlesque shows. It’s me creating something that I believe in, and that I think is beautiful.”

It’s clear that Von Teese has an ever-growing fan base that appreciates and is inspired by what she does both on-stage and off. She says she’s seeing people of all backgrounds coming to her shows and enjoying themselves.

“I think people are starting to understand it more. It’s been great when people come out and see the show, and to see the diverse audiences,” says Von Teese. “I think that’s why we have such an interesting, eclectic group of people coming to these shows: they’re seeing this attainable way of creating beauty and sensuality.”

“Burlesque: Strip, Strip, Hooray!”

Mon/8, 7:30pm, $45

Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

www.ticketmaster.com

 

Dita Von Teese in-store appearance

Tue/9, 6pm, free

Bloomingdale’s

845 Market, SF

www.dita.net