THE INSIDER: DITA VON TEESE
The burlesque superstar talks costumes, corsets, and Cointreau.
We'll admit: When Cointreau offered us a chance to interview Dita Von Teese, the whole office jumped. She's just so fascinating - the porcelain skin, the corseted waist, the total conviction in retro sex appeal that also seems so modern.
This story was published on April 22, 2008.
But would she also be fun? NYLON trekked to a suite at the Ritz to find out...
Your real name is Heather Sweet. Who still uses it?
My mom and my sisters. And like, a couple of old boyfriends who still call me Heather, because they think it’s cute. But I think when people on the street do it, it’s almost disrespectful, because I’ve been “Dita” since 1990. If you didn’t know me then, it’s like, why? I feel like it’s the same as calling you by your middle name; it implies intimacy but there’s none there.
You just created a cocktail for Cointreau. Should we add mixologist to your resume? Well, I’m not a very good bartender, but in Paris, the man who makes my corsets, Mr. Pearl, mixes floral extracts into my champagne – rose and violet. I love it, so when I made this cocktail, I knew I wanted to use violets. And I loved the process of making this cocktail, I mean, I drank a LOT.
Will you make another cocktail? It’s hard! We tried some with chili pepper and I was like, oh gosh, that’s harsh. And once, instead of a cocktail with fresh ginger, they gave me powdered ginger. Have you ever had powdered ginger? There was a video camera on me tasting this cocktail, and I was making this face like, 'You’re trying to kill me!' But I love mixing drinks for my friends… they almost know now to come over if they want to drink.
But you didn’t go to bartending school, you went to school for costume design. Well, I have two years of college. I went with the intention of designing clothes, but sewing is so boring; it’s like math to me. I hate it. So instead, I studied historic costumes. I would still love to do that, to style a period movie.
Any period in particular? Whatever I did, I would make it perfect. The thing that really drives me crazy is when you’ll notice the wrong detail in an outfit. Like, the movie takes place in 1948 but the girls are styled like they’re from 1943. And you just know the costume designer was going, “Oh, it’s the forties!” Like, you wore different things in 2002 than you do now! I would go through every page of Vogue to make sure I got it right.
You’ve made burlesque so popular. How do you keep people from stealing your spotlight? I already know that I have a commitment that nobody else has. Of course, I could save a lot of money if I didn’t go full out, I could not wear 75 lbs of Swarovski crystals as a dress when I perform, but I feel like whatever I do, it’s never going to be enough.
75 lbs of crystals? It’s painful! Nobody will understand the suffering that is involved. If people only knew. I started doing this in 1991 and I know that nobody has my commitment. I have a different feeling out of my heart than anybody else has for this. It’s my obsession. Nobody else will be able to say, I wore 350,000 Swarovski crystals… I mean, Liberace still trumps me, but not by much.
Give me some advice. How do I get a boy to like me? Oh honestly, if I only knew!
Seriously?! Seriously, there’s no secret, no matter who you are. You can try and try, but all you can do is know that you’re the smartest and the coolest woman in the whole world, and if he doesn’t see that, then clearly he’s not smart enough for you anyway.
Oooh. Do you like someone? Do you want me to write him a note? Do you think that will help?
[Dita reaches for Faran’s notebook and begins to write a note to her crush…]