What happened when Dita Von Teese met Lauren Bacall

Published May 2, 2018

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESPER CARLSEN + DIMITRI SCHEBLANOV

There is probably nobody as shockingly tantalizing as porcelain beauty Dita Von Teese, the moon-faced burlesque dancer who has made a career out of acting as a human swizzle stick in a giant cocktail glass. Now it will be a copper coupe, as Von Teese takes a new, metallic-inspired number on a 20-city nationwide tour in partnership with Absolut Elyx. For this copper-themed act, which she has been chipping away at for months, she will appear in a giant clamshell, dance with a six-foot bubble pearl, and unzip her Swarovski-embossed Jenny Packham costume to rapturous, slack-jawed audiences.

All that may sound dazzling—and it is. For Von Teese, 45, much of her life has been a show. And along the way—she’s been performing since 1992—Von Teese has successfully revived the art pioneered by Sally Rand (to whom she pays tribute in “Dita Von Teese and the Copper Coupe”), Gypsy Rose Lee and Lili St. Cyr. Famously married to (and divorced from) the “God of Fuck” Marilyn Manson, Von Teese has acted as both partner and muse to the singer. She was the inspiration behind his album The Golden Age of Grotesque [2003]. Throughout her career, she has caused scandal (The day after she met Prince Charles, “I was on the cover of all the tabloid magazines in Great Britain”), inspired envy, and collected an impressive list of celebrity friends.

Before she climbs back into the cup for her remaining tour dates, she undressed a few of her favorite celebrity encounters, including the umbrella-dropping moment that became its own meme.

DROPPING HER UMBRELLA: It was a Burberry show. It was a funny show. So I drop my umbrella, I was with Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad, he’s a really close friend of mine. I had borrowed a dress from [Burberry] that I really wanted to wear. It was way too tight. I mean really, really tight. And I had this umbrella because they’re like, “You have to carry that umbrella, it’s amazing.” And I was standing in front of the press line and I dropped the umbrella. I was like, “If I bend over, I’m going to split the back of this dress.” And he was with me and he knew it too. He’s one of the two people that dove for the umbrella.

I would normally pick my umbrella up [myself] but I was like, “Do not even think of bending over.” [laughs] That day also I was sitting next to Harry Styles at the show and I started getting hate mail the day afterwards and I had no idea because I didn’t know who he was at the time or anything, and I was like, “Why are all these teenage girls hating on me right now?” We were sitting next to each other in the show. He was sitting to my right. He was talking to me. [The fans were like], “Who is she trying to move in on my man!” [laughs]

GETTING THE LOOK FROM LAUREN BACALL: I was here in New York, I was sitting with Mr. [Christian] Louboutin. It was a big restaurant. I was eating, we were talking and I suddenly saw Lauren Bacall and I stopped dead, mid-bite. He’s like, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” I couldn’t say anything. He goes, “Oh, you just saw Lauren Bacall.” And I was like, “Yeah.” He already knew she was there. He’s like, “Okay, listen, I know her, she’s going to probably come over and say hello. Do not try to talk to her and introduce yourself, she won’t stand for it. She’s an old movie star and does not like younger women.” I was like, “Okay, I get it.” I wouldn’t anyway, because I’m kind of shy like that. I see her walking towards us, I’m like, “Oh my God.” On her way, Karl Lagerfeld was coming from the other direction and clipped her shoulder and she was like, “Excuse you!” It was crazy. She walked a few more steps, leaned into the table, put her hands on it, made direct eye contact with me, and said, “Excuse me, pardon me for interrupting your dinner.” And then took a big, deep breath and started talking to Christian. But she looked me dead in the eye and asked me to pardon her for excusing the dinner and just that eye contact with one of my idols, one of the last movie stars from that era, was amazing.

TAKING ADVICE FROM MARILYN MANSON: Oh, my ex-husband? [laughs] Well, he gave me a lot of advice, and we had this incredible artist-muse relationship when things were at their zenith. He made a record that was a translation of my burlesque world, so I thought that was a really romantic thing to do. But yeah, he always gave me really good advice. He told me once that journalists were not my friend and make sure that they don’t get too comfortable. [laughs] He did, he’s like, “They’re not your friend. Just remember that always, they’re trying to get you to say something stupid.” we’re in touch now.

After the dust settled, as it does when you have a break-up, sometimes you don’t ever have a reason to speak to somebody again, and sometimes you’re like ah, I like that person as a person, and there’s a reason, just because we’re not together, there’s a reason to stay in touch. Sometimes, with some people, not everyone. But, he still gives me career advice. The most recent was I was gearing up to throw some legal on someone and he was like, “You can’t do that, you’re more famous than them, they just want to be famous. You can’t do that, you’re going to give them what they want.” I was like, “Ah, you’re right!” You know? He totally was like pump the brakes on that, don’t do that, that person’s just going to try to use it in a way that’s not good. He’s like, “They’ll just go away, they’re terrible.” He totally talked me down from the ledge, he’s like, “I saw that burlesque act and it was awful, and everyone was talking over it and people were pointing out that it was somebody mimicking you,” and he was just like, “You don’t ever have to worry about that.” That was as good advice, because that person did just go away. Nobody cares.

DITA VON TEESE AND THE COPPER COUPE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH ABSOLUT ELYX RUNS UNTIL JUNE 28, 2018.