The Canadian cosmetics company MAC has chosen some flamboyant performers as spokespeople for its Viva Glam campaign to fight HIV/AIDS, including Lady Gaga and RuPaul. But one of its most memorable fundraiser gala performances was offered by former spokesperson and queen of new burlesque Dita Von Teese.
"I wanted to ride a giant bucking and spinning red lipstick," she says.
Dita had a mechanical bull fitted with a big, red, glittery, missile-like lipstick shell and hired some bull riders to teach her how to ride it.
"For me, one of the most important things in burlesque is infusing it with humor. And I love sexual cliches. I love (images of) exaggerated extremes of women," she says.
Dita liked the act so much, she bought her own mechanical bull, padded it with pink velvet and added rhinestone-covered bull horns. She'll ride it Tuesday night, dressed in pink chaps and custom-made Christian Louboutin cowboy boots covered in Swarovski crystals. The Burlesque: Strip Strip Hurray! showcase also features her martini glass act, which she debuted in New Orleans in 2001, a possible reprise of the opium den act she performed here last year. It also includes acts by new burlesque dancers Dirty Martini, Selene Luna, Medianoche, Monsieur Romeo and Lada from Paris' Crazy Horse cabaret.
Dita splits time between homes in Paris and Los Angeles, and lately she has been spending more time in France, where she's performed at Crazy Horse. Dita says she is doing her Strip Strip Hurray! show (which debuted in Los Angeles and is on a three-date tour of New Orleans and Texas) to stay in touch with her American fans.
Her celebrity status seems to be on the rise even without live shows. She stirred up minor controversy when she appeared on the crime series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in January. Appearing as a teacher who moonlights as a burlesque performer, she insisted that it be clear she doesn't just dance on a stage but also removes clothing.
"I didn't want a Hollywood, commercialized, sanitized version of burlesque," she says. "I said, 'You have to show me unhooking my bra. You don't have to show anything beyond that, but at least that.'"
CBS digitally covered up some of her body, and Dita quoted network discussion of "offensive cleavage" while she noted the show is full of crime and violence.
The show aired, and Dita reinforced her risque aura. She's skilled at having her cheesecake and eating it too. Pop-singer Katy Perry appeared on the cover of June's Vanity Fair styled in a way that was immediately pegged as Dita's look. Dita says she wasn't interested in getting caught up in other people's attempts to provoke a media "girl fight." But what does she think of the photo?
"Wow, it's crazy," she says. "The photo of me was taken on the street in London on a Wednesday afternoon. It's pretty cool that it's standing next to a photo shoot by Annie Liebovitz for the cover of Vanity Fair."