Who would have thought that a burlesque star known for stripping down to her pasties and preening in an oversized martini glass – with a giant olive-shaped sponge, no less –would become the au courant darling of the fashion set? Dita Von Teese commands a coveted front-row seat at all of the must-see runway shows, a spot on international best-dressed lists and stars as one of M.A.C’s newest Viva Glam spokespersons. And, to top it off, she’s married to shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who shares an equal talent for headline-grabbing lipstick. Von Teese stands in stark contrast in a sea of bleached-blond twiglet “it” babes. Her ladylike retro style contradicts her act, routines where she’s straddling a carousel horse or emerging from a giant jeweled powder compact. Her champagne-glass number has been a hot ticket for audiences that have included the Paris fashion elite at Louis Vuitton’s Spring ’06 runway show after-party. It’s been a wild ride for this ambitious, self-professed “freckly blonde from Michigan,” who grew up named Heather Sweet. While she was reserved and appeared almost fragile at FLARE’s Los Angeles cover shoot, Von Teese is warm, self-deprecating and funny. And make no mistake, she’s fully in charge of her meteoric rise in a business that chews up starlets as fast as they’re dished up. Von Teese’s interest in the feathered and sequined showgirl world came early with her childhood passion for old movies. Her first job, at 15, was as a clerk in an Orange County, Calif., lingerie boutique. She started stripping three years later, after venturing into a fetish store in search of a Victorian-style corset. There, she discovered magazines with pictures of Bettie Page, a 1950s pin-up model, and “a lightbulb went off in my head,” she says. “I thought that I should do that.” What did her parents think? “My father had a hard time with it, but I really didn’t care,” she says. “I was very independent from a young age. No one could tell me what to do.”
Wool tweed jacket, matching skirt and scarf, Thomas Wylde. Hat, Stephen Jones
Dad eventually came around when Von Teese scored the cover of Playboy in 2002. “It’s the Hollywood Walk of Fame for female bodies,” she says. And it was Playboy that launched Von Teese on her path to becoming a household name today, the modern queen of burlesque. “It doesn’t bother me if people think stripping is risqué or if they think it is not morally right. This is what I do and you can never take into account what other people think,” she says. “I never get nervous about the nudity factor and I don’t ever remember a time when I was embarrassed about my body.” From her opulent stage costumes (her latest featuring $12,000 US worth of Swarovski crystals) to her amethyst Vivienne Westwood wedding gown (which was featured in Vogue), Von Teese is adored by fashionistas and paparazzi alike for her knockout style. Her signature vintage-inspired look is worlds away from the current Hollywood penchant for tarty ensembles spoon-fed by a stylist. You’ll never see her in a pair of designer jeans with a sparkly camisole and strappy sandals. “To me, sexy is when there is some mystery,” she says. Ironic when she strips for a living, no? “Everyone has seen me without my clothes on,” she counters. “When I am out in the world, I don’t wear my skirts above my knee. I don’t feel the need to hike my cleavage up to my neck. “I want to be overdressed wherever I go,” she says of recent red-carpet appearances, including the Cannes film festival. “When everyone else is wearing cocktail dresses, I want to be wearing a ball gown.” It’s the same philosophy Von Teese and her best friend and costume designer, Catherine D’Lish, take with her stage outfits. Her inspiration? Liberace. Of course.
Silk organza gown, Elie Saab. Earrings and ring (on right hand), de Grisogono
Unconventional beauties such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Diana Vreeland and her aunt Opal, a childhood vision with flaming red hair and rhinestone jewelry, are her beauty icons. “I was always interested in artificial beauty and the idea of attaining beauty instead of being born with it.” She insists she was “the ugly duckling” middle sister. “I decided I was going to use hair, makeup and clothes to make me into something special.” While she loves her “glam squad”—hairstylist Danilo and makeup artist Kathy Jeung (also on Gwen Stefani’s speed dial) were both on FLARE’s cover set—she’s just as happy to do it herself, including colouring her own hair black with Revlon High Dimension Haircolor. “I know what I want to wear and I know how to put it together. I like the ritual of getting ready, being in front of the vanity, putting on my makeup and doing my hair.”
Read the full article (including how Dita met husband Marilyn Manson) in the November 2006 issue of FLARE – on stands now!