The burlesque bombshell was destined to become a beauty and fashion icon since playing dress-ups as a child.
On her inspiration…
My penchant for loud clothes and red lipstick doesn’t come from my mother. We’re very similar, but she’s much more into the natural look than me.
She loves antiques, old houses and old movies, so I grew up surrounded by those things. I remember going to an antique fair when I was very young and my mother bought me a little hat with a veil to play dress-ups.
I think that may have set me on the path to dressing as I do. As a child, my favourite moviestar was Betty Grable. I adored all those Technicolor musicals she was in during World War II.
I was fascinated by the fact she was a sex symbol but also the girl next door. I liked the idea of a sex symbol who wasn’t intimidating to other women.
I admire women who are different, daring and kind of eccentric, such as [late style guru] Isabella Blow. I only met her a few times, but I loved that she was extravagant and that her look wasn’t seeking the approval of others.
[Lingerie designer] Chantal Thomass and [Italian fashion writer] Anna Piaggi also have a really strong personal style.
On making a statement…
I started wearing red lipstick when I was 12.
At first, I wore it in secret, because there’s a stigma about wearing lipstick when you’re a young girl.
But I felt I had found my calling. I thought to myself, I’m going to wear it every day – and I’ve never stopped.
Wearing it came out of growing up without a lot of money. It was like, well, I can’t afford those designer jeans, but I can afford to buy a red lipstick.
It was the same with developing my own style. When I was a child, my parents couldn’t afford to buy me nice clothes; I never had cool new jeans or shoes.
But when I was a teenager, I realised I could afford to go to a flea market or vintage store, so I started to mix vintage things with modern pieces. I’d buy a ’60s dress and alter it myself using my sewing machine.
On her lingerie drawer…
I was a late bloomer. In seventh grade, I had a friend who was an EE [cup size] and I was so envious because I was dying to get a bra.
When I was about 14 and the time finally came, my mother bought me a boring white training bra and I was devastated.
I’d been sneaking into her lingerie drawer for some time and was hanging out for something much more beautiful.
So when I first started working, I saved up all my money to buy a bra of my own choice. I still have the lingerie I first bought as a teenager. I’m sentimental about it.
I love the history of lingerie and the way it evokes femininity, sensuality and mystery. I’ve never equated it with sex or what men want – it’s a great thing women have for themselves. I wear nice underwear because it makes me feel good.
Like most women, I have plenty of insecurities about the way I look. But I’m not going to point out my flaws, because then they’ll be more noticeable.
The world would be a better place if women kept their insecurities to themselves. I say, accept them, live with them. And if you don’t want to accept them, change them – that’s fine, too.
Anyone can be sexy and beautiful, regardless of their shape – that’s one reason I love the idea of glamour. It isn’t something that belongs to someone of a certain age or size.
It’s about creating a mystery that makes people want to know more about you. There’s a difference between sexy and trashy, but you can’t define it.
People have asked me how far I’d go [in a strip tease] before it becomes vulgar, but you can’t judge it that way. I’ve done shows completely naked that are more elegant than the shows by a girl who hardly takes anything off.
I never step outside without wearing lipstick and mascara, and pulling my hair into a chignon. To me, that’s as normal as brushing my teeth and washing my face.
It’s the least you can do to honour yourself, and it’s a courtesy to other people. You don’t want to run into your ex-boyfriend at the store on the day you didn’t feel like getting ready.
I haven’t worn jeans since Halloween last year. They’re like fancy dress for me. When everybody dresses up in outrageous costumes for Halloween parties,
I go as a normal person. I’m not interested in people who are chasing trends and just want to copy other people’s looks. It happens to me a lot.
People come into my life and are like, “I need to dye my hair black, I need to wear red lipstick, I need to have a beauty mark.” But then they move on to the next thing. It’s not authentic.
On being the Queen of Burlesque…
I’ve always been comfortable with nudity and my body. I was a ballet dancer, so I’m used to being in front of mirrors and seeing my body in very few clothes. But I’m not an exhibitionist.
What I do onstage and offstage are completely different. I’m sure there are people who think I shouldn’t be known as the ‘Queen of Burlesque’, but they’re probably just jealous.
I’ve been doing burlesque for 20 years and have worked diligently at it. I never want to give it up. I love working on different projects, such as my new lingerie line, but I don’t want to lose sight of what led me here in the first place.
Touring is a big priority for me. I don’t want to wake up one day and realise I can’t do my show any more because I’m not in shape.
Von Follies by Dita Von Teese will be available in Target stores early February 2012.