More Dita! Dita Von Teese talks about Hugh Hefner, working in a strip club, and her trademark manicure

Click here for part one of this interview.

Tell us about your manicure style, which is one of your signatures.
In 1991-92 I started wearing my nails in this half-moon manicure that’s become very popular now. My mom was the first one that started doing that manicure on me. It’s a hallmark of 1930s style. I remember noticing it on Carmen Miranda and Marlene Dietrich and I was like, I need to have those nails. So I have had my nails painted that way forever.

What else do you remember about working at Captain Cream’s (the former strip club in Lake Forest)?
Really, I was quite dressed when I look back at pictures of myself working at the strip club. I’m wearing a lot of clothes. At the time, there were a lot of blondes. And I was very different. But that’s why I wanted to work there. I thought, Oh, there’s no one here like me. I’m different. I’m the opposite of the blonde Orange County girl. It worked in my favor. This was back when you got a small paycheck. I got a minimum wage paycheck, and then you made tips, of course. I used to get flowers for my birthday, and a cake. I’m lucky that I got to be part of that. I’m still so glad I did that.

I feel like working in strip clubs taught me a lot about what’s interesting on stage. I was working there six, sometimes seven nights a week. I would go onstage five or six times a night. And it was a great training ground. I usually went after work, but I was young—I didn’t need much sleep. (Laughs) I’d work in retail from 9 to 5, then go to the club and dance until midnight.

Tell us a little more about your Playboy connection.
I was in all the newsstand specials for years, and then I was on the cover in 2002.

Could you explain what you mean by newsstand specials.
They were special issues, featuring girls who weren’t Playmates. So you had girls who were more unique. I got paid for appearing in them.

And then you got asked about doing the cover.
Right. And that was something I manipulated, in a way. Hugh Hefner was the one that asked me to be on the cover of Playboy, and then he basically passed it over to other people, right? The people at the magazine. They got in touch and said they wanted to put me in the July issue. And I found out there was already a cover (girl) and I wanted to go for the cover. So I basically made myself unavailable and made sure that Hugh Hefner knew what they were trying to do to me. Because the people that worked there were basically trying to shuffle me in there, put me with other girls. And I was like, no, Hugh Hefner asked me to be on the cover of Playboy. I’m going to be on the cover of the Christmas issue. I was pretty savvy and intent. The Playboy people at one point said to me, “Well, then you’re probably going to risk not being in Playboy at all.” And I went, “Okay, I’m not going to be in Playboy then.” I called their bluff. I wasn’t going to give in. I did not want to be featured inside, in a pictorial. I wanted the cover. Eventually Hugh found out it wasn’t going the way I wanted, and he took over. And I got my December cover.

You’d been thinking about a new beauty book for a long time.
Yes, I’ve worked on it for years. I’ve had fans ask, when is it going to happen? But I’m happy it took awhile. This is a different book than I’d first imagined. I feel at my stage of life now that it’s a more thoughtful book. I feel prouder of the kind of book that it is, and what the message is. Five years ago it would have been just a frivolous beauty book, and now I feel it’s got the substance I wanted it to have. It comes from a different point of view.

You were influenced by a lot of Hollywood stars of the past. What about more modern influences? Anyone from the 1980s or ’90s?
Madonna was a big influence in the ’90s. When she was doing the Blond Ambition tour I was watching her turn retro style on its head. The erotic aspects of it, and the fetishistic aspects of it. Still to this day, when you watch all these pop stars trying to outdo each other, they still can’t arrive to what Madonna did in the ’90s. Madonna can’t even outdo what she (did) in the ’90s. It’s just, it was so magical what she was doing. The live show and the music videos were so epic. They’re all shot on film and they’re so beautiful. She has an eye for detail. She has great people she’s always worked with.

You’ve also managed to do something pretty unique with burlesque. What is it that makes burlesque special?
It’s always historically been about performers crafting their individual acts. You have to be self-made and self-taught. I think that’s really appealing.

For instance, I love Liberace. He wasn’t the best concert performance, but he became the best because of his personality and people wanted to watch him. Mae West did the same kind of thing.

With burlesque, I don’t mind technical flaws. Perfection is not something that makes someone memorable. The prettiest girls are not the best burlesque dancers to watch. They can be boring. The best performers, I think, have to try a little harder to make something happen. I feel the same about myself. I’m not the best dancer and I’m not the prettiest. But I work hard. I’m always creating.

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