...starting in 1991 with a pair of small pink ostrich feather fans and a handful of Swarovski crystals. Now they have evolved into major crystalline spectacles that sometimes take years to complete. Some shows have costumes and props with over 350,000 hand-sewn crystals—every millimeter of my newest martini glass is covered with Swarovski crystals.
You say that glamour is an art form, and that you’re a fan of the Hollywood makeover, yet you manage to do your look without an entourage. How long do you need to get ready?
I've always done it myself, and although I sometimes have to work with a glam squad on certain photoshoots that require a style different from my signature look, 99% of the time I get a lot of satisfaction from getting myself ready for red-carpet appearances, my shows, press days, etc. When I do full-power glamour I spend an hour on makeup and hair; on a normal day I spend around 10-15 minutes applying just powder, red lipstick, mascara and blush. I like to maintain my independence, so I don't like traveling with an entourage. I’ve just written a step-by-step beauty guide to my brand of glamour, which is being published by Harper Collins next year.
You’re the world’s most celebrated stripper and the queen of burlesque. What’s your secret?
I think it has to do with starting early and capturing the spirit of burlesque my own way. Back then there was no internet, and I couldn't watch other performers because there were so few, so I had to make it up from photos in books and classic films with little burlesque snippets. I think this helped me develop my own style. I also teamed up with Catherine D'Lish, who is highly regarded as a performer and also credited with the revival of neo-burlesque. She also has a lust for extravagance! We set an unprecedented level of show-womanship with elaborate costumes and props. In the early ’90s it was all sequins, then we came along and covered everything in Swarovski crystals! Catherine began sewing intricately beaded French lace overlay onto my corsets dripping with crystal embellishments and Swarovski beads. You can see her influence everywhere now. She extended the basic Sally Rand-style ostrich feather fans in so many directions, for instance, a pair of giant pheasant feather fans that attach to large faux taxidermy birds: I remove their tails and they open up to a pair of feather fans that I dance with. We always say we were either going to be rivals or best friends, so we decided it’s better to team up together, which is nice!
You came from striptease in the ’90s with a mostly male audience to having a lot of female fans. How do you explain this shift, and what has changed for you?
It’s interesting—I really never expected it. I was just doing these shows, and over the years the audience became more female. Women often view it as an inspiration, especially shows like my full-length revue Burlesque: Strip, Strip, Hooray!, which has a diverse selection of performers of many shapes, ages and ethnicities. Many fans see it as a way to feel beautiful and sexy without having to fit into typical modern-day standards of beauty, where the emphasis is on unattainable, slim and so-called ‘healthy-looking’ tanned bodies. Burlesque embraces artifice, fantasy, diversity, and anyone can do it. It's about sensual freedom and the enjoyment of sex and fun in a playful way!
What makes you feel sexy and confident? Give us five tips for feeling sexy.
You feel confident when you do it your own way, rather than following someone else's idea of what’s sexy. I like wearing my hair in waves and I love red lipstick and cat-eyeliner, but there are people who have told me I look younger or prettier without ‘all that stuff’, or that my hair is better in its natural straight state. It's nice to get compliments, but you have to be true to yourself. I personally feel sexy when I’m surrounded by my own style of decor—pretty things, good lighting, scented candles, etc. I also feel sexy when I’m in good shape, I’m eating in a balanced way, and I’m doing some kind of exercise. I love wearing perfume and nice lingerie every day, no matter who will experience it. When we enjoy sensuality it becomes second nature and we no longer have to think about it when we do want to seduce someone!
At fifteen you were already working in a lingerie store. What were the influences behind your own collection? What are your favorite lingerie brands, cuts, and looks?
I have to name my own brand as my favorite, because that's all I wear! My lingerie collection has been in Bloomingdales and Nordstrom for three years now, and online retailers all over the world. Working in a lingerie store is partly what sparked my interest in creating vintage pin-ups. I've always loved lingerie as a symbol of femininity and womanhood, and that describes my collection. Why wait for someone else to see pretty underpinnings? Create everyday moments of beauty and glamour.
Can you share your beauty secrets with us? How can women feel and look more feminine?
When someone tells me they love my look and wish they could do it, I tell them they can. Any woman can create glamour, but it takes practice. If you want to learn how to do a complicated hairstyle, just practice. I don’t create glamour because I want to look nice for special occasions—I want to feel good every day. Now it's a fairly quick routine.
Many of your stage outfits include costumes with Swarovski crystals. What do they add to your look? What are your favorite crystal outfits and the designers that made them?
I started buying Swarovski crystals in the 1990s. Catherine and I would cover the heels of our shoes, and other burlesque dancers would go crazy over them. Then we’d do gloves, and before you knew it we’d have covered every inch of everything, spending all our money on Swarovski crystals. I'd say the most dramatically Swarovski-crystallized costumes are the gown from the Opium Den show, the Cowgirl costume, and the costume I wore onstage when I was Cointreau's Global Brand Ambassador. When people see these under stage lights they sometimes ask if they are ‘plugged in’, meaning electrified!
Can you tell us more about your collaborations with French designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Louboutin?
Christian Louboutin makes bespoke shoes for my shows and is a good friend—usually two designs with different heel heights, because although he likes to give me maximum height, I sometimes need a lower heel for treacherous terrain and unstable dance spaces. I've been in a few of Jean Paul Gaultier's haute couture shows in Paris, and he attends mine, plus I've performed at his parties.
Where and how will you celebrate the upcoming holidays—especially New Year’s Eve?
I’ll be onstage! What could be better than to ring in the New Year while bathing in a giant Swarovski-covered champagne glass?!