Over 20 years ago, a shy Midwestern blonde named Heather Renée Sweet transformed herself into femme fatale burlesque star Dita Von Teese. Since then, Dita’s blue-black hair, red lipstick, cat eye makeup, and tattooed beauty mark have become iconic. And in her new how-to book, Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide To Eccentric Glamour, Von Teese tells the story of her aesthetic evolution; gives step-by-step tips on how to recreate her retro beauty looks; delves into the history of eyeliner, lipstick, and curls; and spotlights other “eccentric beauties,” from makeup artists to modern-day pin-ups to drag queens. “I don’t wear makeup because I’m trying to hide,” she tells me over the phone from her home in L.A., jetlagged after returning from Paris. “I wear it because it makes me feel good and I think it’s fun. I like the idea of creating my own Technicolor movie and living in it every day.” Here, the 43-year-old brainy beauty talks about vintage style, modern gender politics, and reconnecting with her very famous ex.
Your career encompasses burlesque, fashion, and beauty. Why did you decide to focus your book on beauty?
When I first started creating my vintage style in the ’90s, there was no Internet and there hadn’t been any modern beauty books that made sense to me. I wrote the book that I wished I’d had.
In interviews as far back as 2007, you mentioned working on a book about eccentric beauty. Is this that same book?
Yes. It was supposed to be a simple book, but when I started working on it with my collaborator, Rose Apodaca, it became totally different. I evolved as a person. I have more cohesive messages now about glamour. I originally started doing burlesque in strip clubs for men. But as time went on, it turned into this unique, modern, feminist movement where all the people going to a show like mine are women and gays and people who are outcasts. Burlesque celebrates diversity, artifice, and fantasy. It’s a different kind of sensuality than what you’d see in a Sports Illustrated photo shoot. That’s something that I wouldn’t have really been able to write about if I had written this book 10 years ago.
Is your concept of glamour an expression of your feminism?
Well, yeah. I do what I want. Anyone who thinks I do all this to please men is wrong. People tell me I’d look younger if I stopped wearing so much makeup, or if I went blonde. Over the course of my career, both onstage and off, I’ve always done things on my own terms. This is what makes me feel confident and comfortable. The basis for being a feminist is doing what you love on your own terms.
You write in your book that, “adapting your look to please a beau is a cardinal sin.”
I used to have long, blond hair to my waist, and when I first dyed and cut it, my boyfriend freaked out. Like, actual tears. Then I went further and cut it even shorter! Lots of times men in my life would say, “Why do you have to dress like that?” It’s been happening since high school. But there have also been wonderful relationships where I’ve been supported. They encouraged the drama that I like to invoke sometimes, and they know there’s this other side of me where I come home and I love to be bare faced in the house. I love being undone.
Speaking of those relationships, your ex-husband Marilyn Manson blurbed your book. How did that come about?
We’re so similar—we both came from the Midwest, we’re both blond, and we both believe in our personas and have a do-it-yourself attitude. We related a lot for many years and then we didn’t speak for many years. But now we’re friends and I still admire him very much. He taught me a lot. He is such a great talent and he’s definitely glamorous.
Do you think you’ll ever stop performing burlesque?
When I first started in my 20s, I was sure that by the time I was 28 I was going to be too old and nobody would want to look at me anymore. Little did I know that you gain a lot of wit and wisdom with experience. I don’t like to try to predict what I’m going to do. I just want to make sure I’m always evolving and whatever I do is something new and different and worth watching.
By Erika W. Smith
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2016 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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