INTERVIEW : DITA VON TEESE
International burlesque guru Dita Von Teese debuted a fully articulated 3D-printed gown designed by Michael Schmidt — longtime Ace friend and creator of wardrobes for luminaries like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Deborah Harry and Madonna — in collaboration with Francis Bitonti and Shapeways at our F/W Fashion Week celebrations in New York City this spring. We caught up with the femme fatale to end all femme fatales to talk body modification, the bionic future and her influencers.
You’ve starred in an episode of CSI and done a turn as a judge RuPaul’s Drag Race, as did Beth Ditto. What does it feel like to come from an ‘underground’ background into the mainstream?
Well, it wasn’t an overnight thing. I have a career that spans twenty years. I spent plenty of time in the underground. I feel glad to have the kind of recognition I have now and to have the opportunity to take what I do to different levels and reach a broader audience, but at the same time retain the integrity of what I first set out to do — which was to become the greatest living striptease artist since Gypsy Rose Lee — and to do it my way and not have to commercialize it or sanitize it or do what other people told me I should do to make it.
You recently did a photo shoot at the United Artists Theater — a place very near and dear to the hearts of the Ace family as we’re inhabiting and rehabbing the theater as part of our new hotel in Downtown LA.
Oh god, I’m so excited. Yeah, I did that shoot with one of my favorite photographers, Ruven Afanador, and when I walked into that room… I’ve performed in a lot of the old theaters in downtown LA and I had never seen that one, it was just magical. I’m so excited about that place being opened up to the public because a lot of the old theaters there are only opened up for special events and you only get to see the lavish decor of these beautiful theaters once in a while for special occasions. The idea that people can drop in to Ace Hotel and see the beauty of that place is really exciting to me.
It’s exciting for us too, maybe we’ll you see you on stage.
I hope so. I would love to be on that stage. It was my first question — when I heard Ace was going to take it over, I thought, “They better not touch this stage, this stage better remain a stage!” (laughs) So I hope it will.
It’ll be a stage, no doubt about it. Rumor has it you’re a huge fan of Betty Grable. Can you talk some more about your influences from Hollywood’s Golden Era? Is there also a film noir influence on your performance style?
Yes, but Betty Grable was the star of the big Fox Technicolor musicals, and those movies made during WWII to make people forget about their troubles — moments of pure beauty and color and glamour. That’s why I love Betty Grable. I love film noir and black and white films and the emotion that’s conveyed, but I’m probably more influenced by the vivid Technicolor.
You experimented with ‘tightlacing’ earlier in your career. Do you think with technologies like 3D printing the old taboos about body modification are about to be blown away?
Yeah, I think it’s a whole different era… obviously body modification is something that’s interesting to me, I’ve engaged in it in my own way in corsetry and I’ve been following the possibilities of 3D-printed body parts and the like making it possible for us to be bionic. It’s amazing technology and I’m excited that I get to see the beginning of it. Maybe by the time I’m 90 years old I’ll tell my great-grandchildren, (great grandmother voice) “I wore the first 3D-printed dress at the beginning of this sort of thing,” and they’ll probably look at me like I’m crazy, but here we are and history is really being made at Ace Hotel. It’s amazing.
At this point in your career, do you ever get scared with all the lights and eyes on you?
Yes, but one of the things I do is I have a lot of control — especially with my burlesque shows — when I’m up there wearing very little and with a spotlight pointed towards me as I’m nearly nude (laughs), I have a lot of control over the visual and the fantasy that I’m showing to people. So, there’s definitely situations that I feel more vulnerable in. I can be very shy and uncomfortable about different situations but when I’m up there and it’s a fantasy I’ve created I’m not nervous about it all.
Photos by Ruven Afanador at the United Artists Theater in Downtown Los Angeles, home to the new Ace Hotel in LA opening this year.