Dita Von Teeseis the celebrated queen of neo-burlesque. The 44-year-old model from Michigan, born Heather Sweet, has published thrice, walked the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier and launched her own self-named lingerie line.
And then, there's her world-famous strip show — made with old Hollywood glamour, designer wardrobes and sparkling champagne coupes ready for swimming.
And yet Von Teese remains an enigma for some feminists, who wonder if her art of the high-end strip tease is truly liberating, or dressed-up degradation. Still it’s young women who often pack Von Teese’s shows, many emulating her signature retro look and espousing the virtues of the perfect red pout. The “Your Beauty Mark” author is used to these lingering questions about the message she aims to relay to her fans, and her answer is short: She’s always in control.
"I always want burlesque to be a total control situation,” she explains. “I like to exhibit that confidence, and highlight my control of the situation. I want it to be about me, and the audience, and that relationship. The vulnerability and generosity are what make the show good.”
Von Teese will showcase her latest act, “The Art of the Teese” — featuring new and reimagined vignettes from her illustrious career — with a series of performances at New York City’s Gramercy Theatre kicking off Valentine's Day. And from costume development to casting to the lighting direction, Von Teese is a meticulous and thoughtful producer.
Her wardrobe is commissioned from the likes of Zuhair Murad, Catherine d’Lish, Christian Louboutin and Kate Middleton favorite, Jenny Packham. “I love that she’s dressing the royals, and then dressing me at the same time,” she says. Her hair and makeup are always self-done, but that may come as no surprise, as she literally wrote a book on it.
For “The Art of the Teese,” she’ll bring a troupe of male performers, deemed the Vontourage. It’s a first for Von Teese, who has historically cast her shows with women.
“It’s a big risk,” she admits. “I love having stage kittens, beautiful women everywhere. But I’m a 44-year-old woman. I’m mature. I don’t know if I need a show of pin-up girls. I want a show of sensual fantasy. Why shouldn’t I have a guy pick up my shoes when I kick them off? We all know the French maid fantasy — this is my butler fantasy.”
While the male cast may seem contradictory to the sister solidarity Von Teese’s shows are known for, the change is made to showcase a different dynamic between both the audience and the performers.
“It’s not us up there having a good ol’ time by ourselves,” Von Teese assures. “I’d never do that to an audience. The dancers are there serving their purpose. They’re not my boyfriends, or my husband.”
And, make no mistake, they’re not there to objectify her either. Von Teese says the relationship between she and her male performers have been carefully calculated in a way to emphasize her control.
“I have specific rules,” she says. “I never let them take off my clothes —ever. There are boundaries, and that is a thing a man can’t do.”
If you go:
Feb. 14-18 at 7:30 p.m.
127 E. 23rd St.
Sold out, livenation.com
Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
House of Blues Boston
15 Lansdowne St.