Sex symbol, style-setter and Swarovski supernova, Dita Von Teese is the mistress of her domain, and she has the stiletto heels to prove it. Fittingly, they once gripped the feet of pinup icon Bettie Page.
“I actually own Bettie Page’s most famous fetish shoes,” Von Teese says of the footwear she bought last year from the estate of famed New York fetish and bondage photographer Irving Klaw. “They had a suitcase full of high heels, and I went through them meticulously and matched up the pair she wore for almost every picture.”
The well-worn, round-toed, 6-inch pumps set her back “a lot of money,” but more than merely an investment (“someday they are going to be worth something, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers”), the shoes represent the life lessons Page offered about the evanescence of fame, staying true to one’s self and knowing when it’s time to hang up the G-string.
The queen of a new generation of artful clothes-droppers, Von Teese will be in Fort Lauderdale April 10-11 to perform the 90-minute revue “Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray!” at Revolution Live, the only Florida dates on her extended national club tour. The show includes four of Von Teese’s signature performances, among them her Swarovski Martini Glass act that reaches its climax with the star bathing in a giant cocktail glass layered with more than 250,000 Swarovski crystals.
The revue, hosted by MC Murray Hill, includes performances by an international lineup of burlesque revivalists, including Dirty Martini, Catherine D'lish, Perle Noire, Selene Luna, Monsieur Romeo, and Lada Nikolska of the Crazy Horse Paris.
Von Teese’s hometown Los Angeles Times said of a 2012 version of the show: “Her attention to detail and embellished glitz onstage is unparalleled, even for pop stars. From the sparkle of each and every Swarovski crystal (hundreds of thousands swathe pretty much every prop and article of clothing in the production) to the sensual lighting that caresses her slender porcelain frame to the vampy music that sets the mood for the procession of themed vignettes — your eye cannot turn away from the utter flawlessness of it all.”
MARTINI GLASS BREAK
It was a variation of the martini number at a Los Angeles party hosted by Carmen Electra that caught the eye of Hugh Hefner, who put Von Teese on the cover of the 2002 holiday issue of Playboy, with a 10-page pictorial inside. Several of the photos included inset images of Bettie Page, who gained fame with her own holiday-themed feature in Playboy in 1955 (shot by Miami photographer Bunny Yeager). The spread transformed Von Teese from cultish stripper to durable mainstream “it” girl.
Some of the images in the Playboy spread were taken by her then-husband, Marilyn Manson, the former South Florida rocker once known as Brian Warner. Von Teese says the two are “really good friends now.”
“We connected on the creation and cultivation of our stage personas. We’re both from the Midwest, and we both created much different aesthetics and characters than what we were born [with],” says Von Teese, born Heather Sweet, who moved from Michigan to California at 12. “So we connected on a really deep level for that. And we still do.”
Despite the efforts of various emissaries over the years, Von Teese never met Page. Through her attorney, Page once invited Von Teese to attend church with her, but Von Teese was performing in Paris when she got the call and had to decline. A year later, Page was dead, and Von Teese calls the missed opportunity “one of the great regrets of my life.”
The two did, however, collaborate in a 1995 radio broadcast hosted by Los Angeles sex therapist Dr. Susan Block, who asked Von Teese, a 23-year-old local stripper and lingerie shopgirl, to be part of the conversation with the reclusive Page, who retired less than five years after her Playboy feature, became a born-again Christian, battled mental illness and resisted attempts to bring her back into the spotlight late in life.
“I remember being very nervous to speak to her,” Von Teese says, recalling a candid discussion about Page’s career. “I remember her talking about how much she loved it, and that she didn’t think that God had any problem with nudity, and that she doesn’t regret her past. And that she wasn’t ever ‘lost.’ She was older when she started taking photos and then she moved, she decided to go somewhere else, and she was just done with that part of her life.”
BYE, BYE G-STRING
Similarly, Von Teese is entering a new phase. This tour will be the last time you’ll see her as you’re used to seeing her.
“This show, this tour … is the last year I’d like to be onstage in a G-string. I want to evolve into something else,” says Von Teese, 41. “I really want to focus on my next phase of life. This will be the last time I’ll be coming through Florida in the show the way I’ve been doing it.”
Her new passion is a lingerie collection that includes two lines: Von Follies and the more upscale Dita Von Teese, available online at Bloomingdale’s and ASOS, as well as in Bloomingdale’s stores in select cities.
“I worked in a lingerie store from when I was 15 to 24, so it’s a lot of the reason why I created shows and pinups, my love of lingerie,” she says. “It’s interesting to come full circle and have my own collection. … It’s such a big part of my life, the design process.”
Von Teese is not lacking for inspiration. Along with Bettie Page’s high heels, she has a large collection of Hollywood glamour, including a gown worn by another heroine, multidimensional striptease legend Gypsy Rose Lee, in a famous 1944 Ralph Steiner photograph, and a costume worn by Natalie Wood in the 1962 musical biopic “Gypsy.”
“Gypsy had a great career offstage, too,” Von Teese says. “She parlayed it into talk shows. She did lots of ads. You know, she was a single mother in the ’50s, that was major, and a striptease star. I think that was one of the reasons she had such great crossover success. She was very clever.”
IF YOU GO
Dita Von Teese performs 7:30 p.m. April 10-11 at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35, $75 VIP, $200 (two-top table), $400 (four-top table). Call 954-449-1025, or go to JoinTheRevolution.net or Ticketmaster.com.