Monday, November 22, 2010

A bit of a frill - Burlesque!

Burlesque first came into my consciousness in the mid 90s when Carmen Electra started performing with the Pussycat Dolls, a troupe who performed a lot at Johnny Depp’s club, The Viper room in LA. I’d see pics in the local rags of Carmen all dolled up in amazing outfits dancing with these amazing looking women call the Pussycat Dolls.
I knew that Burlesque had something to do with 18th century circus/vaudeville acts and involved risqué dance and comedy. Infact, the term dates back to the 15 Century when relating to Chaucer’s bawdy Canterbury Tales (that I had to study at Uni!) Pretty much what we’d call ‘toilet humour’, akin to Benny Hill! Double entendres, women with big boobs, dirty jokes & saucy tales, bordering on the vulgar. In the late 19th Century the Moulin Rouge in Paris became part of some Burlesque Troupes throughout Europe and became popular within music halls and the Vaudeville scene.
Burlesque dancers performed alongside other types of acts including musicians, comedians, trained animals, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats and jugglers. Burlesque dancers dressed up in elaborate, over the top outfits and their risqué numbers which involved stripping down to tantalize the audience, but not appear fully nude. Music and lighting is typically saucy and dramatic and props such as fan, feather boas and hats are strategically used as props in the routines. The goal was to tease and titillate, in a showy, artistic manner.
The Great Depression in the US had seen a rise in Burlesque punters who wanted to be entertained, but not have to pay for expensive Broadway shows. Inspired by the Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge in France, Billy Minsky and his brother Abe opened Minsky’s Burlesque in New York which ran from 1912 to 1937, including the celebrated Gypsy Rose lee. Other Burlesque stars continued to emerge – Fanni Brice, Mae West, Josephine Baker, Sally Rand, Blaze Starr and Lili St. Cyr.

Gypsy Rose Lee (19911-1970)
Natalie Wood as Gypsy Rose Lee
Josephine Baker (1906 - 1975)
Sally Rand (1904 - 1979)
Lili St. Cyr (1918 - 1999)

In the late 90’s and the 2000s, Burlesque had a renaissance. This was largely spearheaded and launched into pop culture by the Pussycat Dolls and Miss Dita Von Teese. The Dolls were founded in 1995 in LA by dancer & choreographer, Robin Antin and her friend, actress Christina Applegate.
The Pussycat Dolls appeared in Charlie’s Angels – Full Throttle in 2003 and in the same year, the singing group The Pussycat Dolls was launched.

Dita Von Teese, aka Heather Renée Sweet began life as a blonde from Michigan. She studied ballet, and found a job at a lingerie store, obsessed with the pretty lacy underwear. She became besotted with 50’s pin-up and fetish model Bettie Page, with her glamorous raven black hair and amazing lingerie. In 1990 at age 18, she started stripping but frustrated at the lack of originality and glamour she found, she who dyed her hair raven black and reincarnated herself as Burlesque superstar Dita Von Teese. Her corsets, stockings, suspenders and beehive proved a huge hit with the punters! Stripping segue-wayed into glamour and fetish modelling and in 1992, she became a Burlesque performer. Dita began dating goth rocker Marilyn Manson in 2001 and they married in 2004, Dita is a stunning ultra violet Vivienne Westwood gown. Her beautiful nuptials and appeared in this stunning editorial shot by Steven Klein in American Vogue in 2004.
She became a fashion icon, known for being able to merge looking sexy, classy and stylish without looking cheap and trashy. She is known for her 50’s style aesthetics and is invited to front row at Fashion Weeks throughout the world, Designers adore her, and women are fascinate by her.
Dita Von Teese by Steven Klein, Vogue Italia 2005

Her Martini Glass routine is world famous, and Cameron Diaz performed a tribute to the routine in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.

Dita Von Teese in Agent Provocateur’s Lost Control video,

There is also UK’s answer to Dita, Immodesty Blaize doing her thing. Burlesque seems to be everywhere these days.
Many fashion labels are inspired by Burlesque, most obviously Wheels & Dollbaby, and Agent Provocateur.
Wheels & Dollbaby founder Melanie Greensmith in Australian Harpers Bazaar
My pic Agent Provocateur in Mercer St, Soho, New York

I must say, the Pussycat Dolls lingerie line by La Senza (called Shhh) is very cute!!
The release of the new movie Burlesque will bring a renewed fervor into the fashion world. Can't wait to see this! Christina. Stanley Tucci. CHER! Glamorama!

I already have some of OPI's fabulous movie inspired range – 'Ali’s Big Break', an amazing deep iridescent red.
Personally, I’ve always liked a bit of Burlesque in my fashion from time to time - I've long been a Wheels & Dollbaby fan, whose brand combine 50's, Burlesque and a bit of Rockabilly to create beautiful, sexy clothes that stand out from the pack.
Dita is a fan, and has modeled for them - natch!
But there is a fine line between styley cool Burlesque, and falling into tacky & cheap looking. Or worse - mutton dressed as lamb! Eek. There needs to be, as they say on Project Runway, a level of "taste"! I think the right coverage, and tailoring is key – outfits that fit you like a glove and play up your curves. And I still adhere to the old mantra of showing either boobs or a lot of leg – but not both at the same time! Here are a few simple ways to bring Burlesque into your look:

Red lippie is the best and easiest way to add a bit of Burlesque glam to your look. Fair toned skins suits blue-based lippies like cherry or plum. Warmer, olivey complexions suit more brown or orange based reds like coral, or tomato. Dita champions Ruby Woo lippie by MAC.

A strong eye with black liquid liner and 'flicks' a la Dita is a sexy look. Check out my previous Blog here for tips on liquid liners.
A tight pencil skirt with a flash of a black lace bra under a tailored white shirt brings some of that naughty 50's style Varga girl sensibility into your look. Burlesque is all about naughty. Think Joan from Mad Men or the 'Sexy Secretary' look.

A leopard print accent looks cool - a scarf, bra or a cardy if you are not bold enough to go into a dress or coat!
Frills. And I don't mean shapeless meringue frou frous - more a bit of a frill on a deep neckline tee, shirt, or trim of a pencil skirts. Love the name of this 'Pink Trim Cake Ruffle Scoop Dress).
For more tips, check out Rachel Zoe’s practical advice about bringing a bit of Burlesque to your look!


  1. I remember that Vogue spread with Dita and Marilyn Manson's wedding - it looked so over the top and amazing!

    I'm quite excited to see this burlesque movie! Love musicals, and Cher!!

  2. I know, that purple colour was amazing! And the old gothicy mansion they were in in the shoot, amazing!

  3. I've just installed iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.


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