“I wish I were bisexual. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could just love whoever you meet?”
Original article by Chrissy Iley Published: 14 February 2016 on The Sunday Times
Dita Von Teese greets me at her house, a mock-Tudor cottage in the Hollywood Hills. She is surprisingly composed — and rather perky — for someone who has just arrived back from a two-week stint at the Crazy Horse, the erotic cabaret venue in Paris.
The interior of her home is exactly what you’d expect from the world’s most famous burlesque star. It’s a playhouse with lots of feathery things — a stuffed peacock, a black swan and a white one wearing a little diamanté crown — as well as a stuffed tiger and a leopard welcome mat.
Dita is wearing her lounge outfit of black capri pants, form-hugging vintage sweater and black ballet pumps. Her alabaster legs complement a white velvet complexion; her look is completed by black, glossy hair and her trademark crimson lips. She’s softly spoken; shy, even — or is she just checking me out?
We met, briefly, at the photoshoot the previous day, for which she was plumped up and corseted. When I took a picture of her on my phone, she told me off. But that’s forgotten now: we’re here to talk about her latest project, a limited-edition vinyl album called Soundtrack for Seduction. The first side is the retro Von Teese; the music she uses in her burlesque shows when she bathes in a giant martini glass. Side two is moody, modern electronic music. She sings on some of the tracks. Her voice — think Peggy Lee on ice — is purring and sweet.
Sweet is actually her real name. Heather Sweet was born in Rochester, Michigan, with mousy-blonde hair. These days, you can’t tell where Heather ends and Dita begins — part of her power is the dichotomy of encompassing traditional values in a bad-girl body.
As I slump into her velvet sofa, she sits perfectly upright with the posture of a ballerina. Only her eyes move while she talks. “I like the word ‘seduction’,” she says of Soundtrack for Seduction. “People think seduction is going after someone and deciding you’re going to make them yours — but to me, the way to properly seduce someone is to be living on your own terms, to make your world a place others want to be invited to.”
Has she always been like this — super-confident, waiting for men to come to her? “Well, no… I’m a 43-year-old woman, it takes time to arrive at that.”
Indeed it did. It took years of working in lingerie shops and as a stripper before she discovered her own sexy and pulled Dita out of the Heather. And it took a flamboyant marriage to the goth-rocker Marilyn Manson and a subsequent divorce to break her heart and set her on a new learning curve. They exchanged vows in a castle in Ireland in December 2005, after being together for five years. In December 2006, she filed for divorce.
I find it intriguing that a woman who basically strips for a living is actually a feminist
A burlesque artist and a rocker may be the kind of people you’d expect to have an open relationship, but Von Teese and Manson did not. She doesn’t specify what went wrong, but has said in the past that she didn’t support his “party” lifestyle.
“I still believe in marriage. I’m a very traditional person,” she insists. She is now in a full-time relationship with a creative visual designer at Disney called Adam. They share their home with Aleister — a devon rex cat with a curly, poodle-like coat, who has 60,000 followers of his own on Instagram.
She goes on to talk about the song A Guy What Takes His Time, originally a Mae West song, which she performs on the album. Is that what she likes — guys who take their time? “Obviously,” she says. “I hate fast movers. And I love that moment when you get to the point when you really know someone, and they know you, and you can spend hours and hours… That’s when you can really get involved in the details of love-making, not just the ‘Ahhh-ahhh’. I think fast is fake.”
Dita Von Teese reclines in a giant martini — a staple of her burlesque routine. “I’m paid to sit inside a glass!” she says. Her debut album, Soundtrack for Seduction, is released todayDita Von Teese reclines in a giant martini — a staple of her burlesque routine. “I’m paid to sit inside a glass!” she says. Her debut album, Soundtrack for Seduction, is released today (Rex)
Really? “The longer you spend, the better the payoff is at the end.” Some women, I tell her, prefer multiple orgasms and not just one pay-off. She tries not to look shocked. “I hope you get to move with the fast movers and I get to meet the slow movers. Slow and meticulous.” Is Adam slow and meticulous? “Yes. He’s from Chicago. He’s not interested in showbiz. We’ve been together two years and he’s slow and steady.”
Does she think she’ll get married again? “I think about the pros and cons of marriage all the time. I have a list. The pros are: I love ceremony, ritual, promises, symbols. I don’t like the business and financial sides of things, or divorce. I don’t want to do that again.
“I also have a list of the pros and cons about children. I get anxiety about the state of the world — and it’s hard to have a child when you’re working. Sometimes I wish I’d had a child in my twenties, and now I’d have some amazing adult child that I like hanging out with. But that kind of slipped through my fingers.”
The album, she tells me, will come in pink vinyl, and if you want to pay extra, you can have one that she’s kissed with her vintage red lipstick. It comes out today, on Valentine’s Day . Is she a Valentine’s Day kind of person? “I’m not. It’s very much a Hallmark holiday, isn’t it?” she says, disparagingly. “Don’t buy lingerie for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.” Women, she argues, should buy their own lingerie.
I find it intriguing that a woman who basically strips for a living is actually a feminist.
Does she feel beautiful? “No, but I like to put my lipstick on to face the world. I wear it even to the dentist… wipe it off, put it back on. It takes so little time for a lot of payoff.”
Her old friends still call her Heather, as do her relatives. Is she still Heather Sweet? Is the red lipstick all about stepping into Dita? “No. People think I must be a great actress, but I’m not acting. I get my confidence when I get my make-up on. You can still see Heather Sweet on stage if you know what to look for.”
“If you’ve got pink walls you can look amazing naked in every room”
And what should we look for? “A girl saying, ‘This is hilarious, I’m getting paid to ride this mechanical bull and sit inside a champagne glass!’ ”
She discovered burlesque in the early 1990s and sees herself as inextricably linked to the pin-up girls from the 1930s and 1940s, who also worked as burlesque dancers. “I liked that I could create that look and be different to what I was. To me, this was art.”
She created Dita while working in a strip club. “I was also a go-go dancer at rave parties, because my then boyfriend was one of the biggest rave promoters here in LA. I discovered pictures of Bettie Page, so I decided that I wanted to be a retro-fetish star. Then I started doing bondage videos and things like that.”
How did the people around her react to her work? “They were, like, ‘What’s going on?’ My dad was disapproving. But then my dad was disapproving when I worked at a lingerie store.” She insists, however, that her father, a machinist, and her mother, a manicurist, are very proud of her today.
How difficult was it to incorporate bondage and boyfriends? “It was fine. If I started dating someone new and they were jealous of what I did, they simply wouldn’t last long. My love affairs have been for five or six years at a time. I’m a homebody and I like monogamy.”
I also heard she had enjoyed same-sex relationships. “I wouldn’t say many. I experimented. But unfortunately I’d call myself fully heterosexual. I wish I were bisexual.”
Really? “I find bisexuality super-evolved. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could just love whoever you meet, if they just loved you? I think that’s supercool.”
She enjoys the company of other strong women. “I love women who are interesting and talented. I am not intimidated by them at all. The ones you have to worry about are the ones who seem unassuming. The ones you don’t think could steal your man. Those are the ones figuring out how they can.”
Are these conclusions from experience? “Yes!”
Is she intimidated by anyone? “Every time I talk to Madonna I’m super-intimidated. Same with Prince.”
She has to dye her hair black every two weeks to stop the blonde roots showing. “I’d love to be free of it, but if I change my colour now, I’d be considered a traitor [by her fans]. My fantasy is, one day, I’ll be a great silver fox.”
Ageing is not something that worries her. “Lighting is everything. You make a beautiful sacred space and if you have pink walls you can look amazing naked in every room.” She gestures to her own pink walls and I briefly imagine her patrolling naked among the stuffed birds.
Was she always so confident in her body? “I was raised in ballet. I was used to being in front of mirrors with very little clothes on, noticing how I could change how my body looks according to which posture I’m in. I noticed how to pay attention to carriage. You can totally manipulate how your body appears.”
It seems that Von Teese, or Sweet, is pretty good at manipulating not just her body but everything. She has created a whole person. It’s not just performance art, it’s living.
Click here to win one of 25 signed copies of Dita Von Teese’s specially curated and limited edition vinyl, Soundtrack for Seduction.The worlds’ most recognisable burlesque dancer has personally chosen a collection of songs including original and previously unreleased music from her own shows, as well as some of her favourite artists, both old and new
Soundtrack for Seduction is available as a limited edition for £15 plus p&p on 12on12.com/ditavonteese until March 14