The Nation: Up Close with Dita Von Teese

The Nation: Up Close with Dita Von Teese
by Manta Klangboonkrong
December 14, 2012

The burlesque dancer peels off her pasties for a French liqueur brand

Cointreau’s global ambassador, the burlesque artist Dita Von Teese, was in Bangkok last month, though only a privileged few were able to witness firsthand her flawless man-made beauty and her signature cocktail glass performance.

Born Heather Sweet in a small farming town in the midwestern US state of Michigan, Von Teese rose to fame with her neo-burlesque routines that involve a lot of jewellery and feather fans, very little clothing and as much teasing as stripping. Known also for her obsession with 1940s cinema and her classic, retro style, Von Teese is said to maintain her image of ivory skin, jet-black hair and bright red lipstick even when shopping for groceries!

As one of the few globally known neo-burlesque artists, Von Teese is credited for re-popularising the art in her own style and has performed all over the world to phenomenal acclaim. And while she spends frequent vacations in Thailand, Von Teese performed “in the glass” here for the first time at the exclusive “One Night in Bangkok” party at the Peninsula Bangkok.

The surprisingly shy and soft-spoken Von Teese chatted with us before the show.

How did you become Cointreau’s brand ambassador?

In fact, I was approached by spirit brands because I’m famous for bathing in a giant cocktail glass and they all saw this as a really interesting tie-in. But Cointreau had this really elegant, glamorous campaign that we could do together, like creating new shows and travel bars, which we’ve done every holiday season. They’re a heritage French brand and I think they understand what I do. They have this tagline “Be Cointreauversial”, and I feel that their idea of being controversial is similar to what I do.

You’ve been with the brand for five years now.

Yes, it’s about history, It’s how I feel about history and what I do, which is reviving and modernising my history, and they’ve done the same thing with their brand. Also, they enjoy creating cocktails and something pleasurable and enjoying life, while my shows are all about creating fantasy, pleasure, and a playful sense of humour. It’s about enjoying life, too.

Do you contribute to the brand’s projects?

Oh yes, I have a lot to do with it. There are three cocktails that we created together. They give me a lot of input about the brand, and I put my brand stamp and style on all the projects. The shows for the brands are all my creation, inspired by the Cointreau history. We try to create a signature for both me and Cointreau.

Of all the three cocktails, which one do you like best?

I like the Margadita because it’s simple to make. The Cointreau Tea is a little bit more complicated. Margarita is also my favourite cocktail, which Cointreau first created in the ’40s. So I’m excited to have a special version for me. It’s a cocktail with spicy chipotle pepper and rose essence; it’s very nice.

What’s the most controversial thing you’ve ever done?

I don’t think I can share that with you here! I think what I do is still considered controversial to some people, and I like that because I’m trying to change people’s minds about what striptease is, and show them that something controversial can be elegant and beautiful – even legitimate in a way. Some people still think it’s risque, though

Have you succeeded in changing people’s perceptions?

I believe so. Everyone that’s seen my shows understands what burlesque is, and that striptease can be elegant. It’s hard for those who haven’t seen my shows to understand.

Do you often get approached by people with the wrong intentions?

I think I kind of give off a certain demeanour or something that doesn’t really open myself to that kind of thing. I’m not intimidated by certain kinds of people. That’s one thing I really like about my look, and I don’t generally get approached like that. But every now and then there might be someone who has too much to drink, but I usually just walk away.

What would you describe as the occupational hazard of your chosen career?

Probably when I pull the pasties off – the nipple tassels. It’s my least favourite thing about my job; it’s not very comfortable. But I recently discovered a new kind of tape that I can use instead of the glue. It definitely changed my life. Besides that I don’t really have any (occupational hazard), but there might be a new one tomorrow.

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