Back to Writing / 4-18-2006

Photo by Christophe Mourthé.

It's no coincidence that burlesque has enjoyed a huge revival over the last decade while at the same time, porcelain pinup model and performer Dita Von Teese has shattered all burlesque boundaries to achieve Super Diva status. No one is more responsible for the return and redefinition of the old-school strip tease than this seductive dancer -- nor is anyone more worthy of being burlesque's pinup poster girl.

"It's about ambition, and the people that have it go places," the spirited Von Teese once said, "while the people that don't complain about people who are successful." There's no question in anybody's mind that she has it! Dita is known in the industry as a smart business woman, and throughout her career, she has maintained meticulous control over her style, photos and website. The result is an expansive, creative, incomparable collection of lingerie, fetish and artistic nude photos in addition to a bio that includes performances for dozens of the world's biggest celebrities. Everyone wants Dita.

The Queen of the Teese graciously made some time to speak with us about her dancing destiny, creative collaborations, flawless style and newly released book.

Sez G: I've read that as a child, you used to emulate the dancers in the MGM Technicolor musicals, which led to dance classes. Was there ever a question or moment of decision whether you would try to make a career out of it, or was it a natural choice from the start?

Dita Von Teese: I did a lot of other things before becoming a burlesque dancer, but they are all somewhat relative to how I came to do what I do now, so I will explain....

When I was 15, I started working in a lingerie store. I did that for several years, and then I worked in the cosmetics department in a large store. At the same time, I was a dancer in the LA rave scene.... I had this very large performance art prop that I was famous for dancing in from 1990 through '93. At the same time, I started working part time as a stripper in a nightclub, so I was juggling these three jobs, and also shooting fetish photos. I started a website around 1992, and I set out to bring some nostalgia and elegance into fetish photography.

I didn't make a "master plan" at age 6 or anything... at that point I wanted to be a ballerina, and I did dance ballet from age 5 till 20, but being a professional was never a reality for me. I think the moment that I actually told myself I was going to "be famous" was when I was 18 and discovered the fetish scene. I wanted to be the most famous fetish pinup since Bettie Page. I remember making a distinctive plan to do that, but the rest has been a pleasant surprise!

Sez G: So as a teenager working in a lingerie store, you began developing your appreciation of the sexy unmentionables that have since become part of your trademark. What are your favorite pieces of lingerie to wear?

Dita Von Teese: Garters and stockings. Even when I was little, like 6 years old, I wanted bras, stockings and garters. I liked the structure of these things, and that's why I became obsessed with corsetry too... I love the satiny look combined with boning and structure. Lingerie is so feminine, more than any other clothing.

Sez G: You're best known for your seductive burlesque live performances, a tempting mix of fantasy, magic and dreams. What kind of emotional preparation do you do before performing, and how do you usually feel after it's over?

Dita Von Teese: Well, when it all goes technically right (the lights, sounds, music and my own work), I feel elated! When something goes wrong, especially technically with the staging, it's frustrating. I always say that I am only as good as my last show! So I always want to get back up and have a stellar performance rather than one that I would say is mediocre. The good thing is that I'm usually the only one to notice the little things that make it not as good as it can be.

But with a live show, you have to expect that sometimes things go awry. I've had difficult times with too many press photographers shooting flash photographs and blinding me, so that's become a big issue at my shows. I did one that was attended by about 40 photographers in London. I couldn't see anything and was dizzy from the flash.

To prepare, I rehearse my newest shows. With shows that I have done for a long time like my martini glass and feather fans, I know the numbers like the back of my hand, so I don't rehearse them anymore.

Before a show I like to take my time getting made up backstage, listening to music, sipping champagne, and maybe visiting with friends in my dressing room.

Sez G: You've been in Playboy dozens of times. How much participation do you have in brainstorming the concept, art direction of the set and the fashion in these shoots? How do these shoots compare to some of the other magazines you've been featured in like Vogue and GQ?

Dita Von Teese: With my Playboy cover, I had absolute control. That was part of the deal! I wasn't offered the cover, only a layout, and I did it with the stipulation that I had complete styling control. The cover had to be earned with a cover worthy shot!

For fashion shoots it depends on the magazine, the caliber of the photographer and so on. I trust the best in the industry to do what they want with me. When I do these shoots, they are pretty aware of my style and I'm still consulted as to whether I like the clothes, the hair, makeup etc.... no one forces anything on me these days!

Sez G: They wisely defer to your exquisite taste. You've also been shooting for years with one of our favorite fashion and fetish photographers, Christophe Mourthé, to produce some beautiful, creative images. What's your relationship like with him and can you walk me through one of your shoots?

Dita Von Teese: We are very good friends. He will tell you, I was the first American model to approach him to photograph me, and after he began shooting me he was barraged by girls from all over who wanted to come to Paris and shoot with him! At first, he was booking his own unknown models and styling them completely. He spoke almost no English when we met. Now we have known each other for a long, long time! We work so well together and have a mutual respect for each other's work and distinctive artistic ideas.

Sez G: Your visions united have produced some of my favorite fetish photographs, hands down! Who are your other favorite photographers to work with? What qualities do you look for in a photographer and how much creative collaboration do you prefer?

Dita Von Teese: I just like great results! Ellen Von Unwerth is really fun to work with, and she brings out a quality in women that no one else does. There are so many others that I really love... Steven Klein, Perou, Lionel Deluy, Michael Thompson... and lots of other big names. However, I have gotten some really great shots from unknown or even amateur photographers. I just care about the end results!

Sez G: You've worked very hard to grow from the relatively unknown fetish model with a little postcard at Glamourcon to become a ubiquitous icon, and a few years ago, you said "I am trying to appeal to the average person. I am trying not to be too fetishy or hard-core."

Now that you're so well known, do you feel any pressure to make your act or photo shoots more mainstream and accessible or is it an opportunity to introduce your solid fan base to the other facets of Dita?

Dita Von Teese: Not at all... the thing is, when I said that, what I meant was that I wanted people to see that fetishism can be elegant and beautiful, and that it can be appealing to the masses. In fact, now more than ever, I feel that I can do things the way I always wanted to! I don't feel any influence or pressure whatsoever. I felt more pressure back then, when people told me I wasn't hard core enough or that my burlesque shows had nothing in common with fetishism, and they would ask me why was I performing at these fetish parties? Now I feel like I have all the freedom in the world to do things the way I always wanted!

Sez G: Some journalists say you've managed to elevate yourself from within the depths of a "seedy industry." How do you respond to that?

Dita Von Teese: I think its a compliment! I am not ashamed of anything I have done, and I find it amusing that I'm not really doing anything differently, they just get it now!

Sez G: Your book Burlesque and the Art of the Teese/Fetish and the Art of the Teese was just released last month. Congratulations! What inspired you to produce this and what can we expect to see in it?

Dita Von Teese: I thought it was high time I make a photo book my way, and put the best of the 25,000 or so photos from my site and fashion magazines into a book! It's a two-sided book, with one side all pinup and burlesque and the other all fetish and dark glamour. The text in it was written to explain a bit about what inspires me, what led me to do what I do, and my interest in historic figures and times.

Thanks, Dita, we can't wait to check it out! To learn more about Dita Von Teese, visit

Special thanks to Christophe Mourthé for his help with this article!
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Dita Von Teese - by Sez G