“People always ask me what my main occupation is. It’s not actress; it’s not model. I guess burlesque dancer is my favorite title because I get the most satisfaction out of that…I guess. And I have the most ambition for creating my shows and performing in them. I think a lot of people probably don’t know that I don’t have a glam squad and that I am self-styled—it’s all me.
I remember really vividly the first time I put a red lipstick on. I was maybe, like, 13? It was the ‘80s. I grew up in Michigan, but from 12 on I grew up in Orange County [California], and everyone was wearing that foil-y pink lipstick—Revlon Pink Foil. I loved that color, but I remember one time putting on a red and thinking, ‘This changes everything. This is all you really need.’ I loved the color it brought to my face that I didn’t already have—and I was blond back then, too. I’m naturally blond; I had really long, blond hair. I looked more like a California girl…a pale one. [Laughs] Growing up, I tried to conform to the more traditional, American look a few times…but it never worked. When I would dress modern, people would tell me that I have such a retro look, and I would tell them that I was trying to wear something new! [Laughs] What I remember most was being made fun of by people on the street for my style and for wearing red lipstick and black eyeliner. I was sixteen when I started doing my cat eye; it was really subtle then. When I was seventeen, eighteen, I really started going for it. I wanted to be the next Bettie Page. I started hanging around more alternative people and drag queens, and I was working in the LA underground scene. And back then, there was no E! True Hollywood Story: Bettie Page; it wasn’t trendy. So I just remember people not having anything to equate with me, you know? People love to point at you and say, ‘You remind me of this.’ I would get a lot of Dracula and Elvira. And when Pulp Fiction came out, people were like, ‘You’re the girl in Pulp Fiction!’ People have a really hard time just looking at you for you; they have to point out what they think you remind them of, which I think is a very strange phenomenon.
When I was a teenager, I worked for Shiseido and Ultima II as a counter manager at a few Robinsons-May stores. I loved that job. I used to come in with no makeup on in the morning, and by the time I left, I was in total drag. I would get bored sometimes and just sit back and do my makeup all day. And at the time, I was wearing my hair in a China-doll bob. One of the reasons I would do my makeup all day is because if I stood out in the aisles for too long, people would think I was a mannequin, because I was so pale, with the red lips and the hair looking like a wig. I would stand there really still, and people would always, like, jump when I moved. [Laughs] I remember, also, I’d always get in big trouble for wearing too high heels. I argued with the management and would say, ‘Who are you to say that my heels are too high. How do you know? I’m super athletic, I’m a dancer, I’m fine in these shoes…’
I loved selling makeup, I hated doing makeovers…but I had a theory: when I was doing people’s makeup I would always—and this always worked for selling—look at them, study how their makeup was done, and I’d do it the exact same way. [Laughs] Hopefully a little better, or change a little something. I discovered early on that people have their ‘drag’… and very few people really, truly want to stray from it. Generally, and I include myself in this, I have my drag and I don’t want to anyone messing with it. I remember when I was little, I was watching the Phil Donahue show or something—that shows how old I am—and they were doing makeovers and they took all these ladies that had been wearing the same makeup for 20 years—you know, the green eye shadow, red lips, bouffant red hairdo, that type of lady. These were ladies who had never had their hair and makeup done any other way. I remember seeing the final makeovers and I was so devastated by how boring they made these women look…and how they looked kind of deflated, kind of disappointed, like they didn’t want to be made-over. Don’t take a lady’s green eye shadow away. I think that there shouldn’t be makeup rules. I love reading beauty stuff, but when they start with the rules about makeup, I get really worked up.
Skin-wise, I have a really good dermatologist who does not shoot Botox and does not have a bunch of lasers—he’s a real skin doctor. He works with mostly pediatric dermatology. My issues with my skin are sensitivity, and generally, I feel like that kind of doctor should just give you good advice in what to look for in products, or what I should be doing every day. I use a light retinol every night—well, not every night because my skin is very sensitive to it. I use a couple different things: I like Darphin products, and I also like Crème de la Mer, mostly because I love the smell, I like the texture, and it never irritates my skin—it never stings when I put it on, ever. That’s the one thing that I keep a jar around of, always. But I still think what’s most important is to go see a good dermatologist who’s not trying to take you for your money, and ask them what you should be looking for in a moisturizer.
I wear a ton of SPF. Lately, I’ve been struggling because I started taking dressage lessons a few months ago, and it’s really hard to find a time to ride when the sun’s not too strong. So I’ve been trying to find a good ‘sport’ sunscreen. I think one of the reasons so many people don’t like wearing sunscreen, me included, is because of the texture—I’m always looking for the ones that don’t feel sticky or tacky. I like ones with more of a dry touch; I hate looking shiny. I usually look for sunscreen when I’m in Japan, and I’ve found a couple things. Shiseido has a nice one called Extra Smooth that I really like it, but it’s kind of expensive. I also found this Neutrogena Dry-Touch one. I’ve been meaning to go to the drugstore and scout out what’s new.
I almost always do my own makeup. I won’t for certain big photo shoots, or when I can’t do it myself—when the concept is something other than a red lip and a cat eye. [Laughs] But if it’s my look, it’s quicker if I just do it. I’m actually writing a beauty book, and so I timed how long it takes me: I would say I spend about an hour-and-a-half to get ready for something that’s important, because, of course, I’m texting, or getting water, or changing the music, or getting a cocktail… It’s a ritual, getting ready. Setting my hair in hot rollers takes me 12 minutes; doing my makeup—it depends on where I’m going, like, if I’d doing full-blown, photo shoot makeup—probably takes me 15 to 20 minutes, which is pretty fast. But, don’t forget, I’ve been doing my makeup the same way for 20-something years. I believe in a routine and practicing it—that’s what makes you good at it.
I switch up my process a lot. If I’m going to do a smoky eye, I’ll do the eyes first and foundation after. I like a really intense smoky eye, and it’s hard to keep it off the bottom of your face. But on a normal day, my makeup routine is significantly shorter than that: I put on a little bit of concealer—I love this MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural powder, then a little bit of blush, curl my eyelashes, mascara, red lipstick. Right now, I have a makeup collection with ArtDeco—it’s not available in the US yet, but it will be soon. My perfume, Dita Von Teese, just came out here, though. So I use my products mostly, because I was able to make all my favorite blush colors, lipsticks. If I’m not using mine, I use a lot of the MAC blushes, and the MAC eyelash curler is essential. For mascara, I’m a sucker for packaging—I’m the girl who will buy the gold mascara that’s super long, you know the Le 2 de Guerlain one? It’s a huge metal one that’s double-ended. I’ll get it just for the packaging, but I like it. I pencil my mole in a little, but it’s tattooed now; I had it tattooed when I was 21. I went to a famous rockabilly tattoo parlor down in Orange County, and I actually wanted to have him do it in a heart or a star, and the guy was like, ‘There’s no way I’m putting a heart or a star on your face.’ Thank God he said that. [Laughs] He said he would only do a dot, thankfully.
When it’s not my own red lipstick, I love Lip-Ink. It’s the only indelible lipstick that exists. Its like lip paint that they use in the porn industry—it’s, like, blowjob proof. [Laughs] There’s no other lipstick on the market that does what it does; it’s pretty cool. It’s not the most fun to wear, but it works. I also collect vintage lipstick tubes—I freeze my lipsticks and then transfer them to the vintage cases. It’s tricky to do, but it’s tough to find good, beautiful lipstick cases. I’ll do that with whatever red I’m wearing: YSL Rouge Pur Couture Glossy Stain in Rose Tempura 13, Dior Roulette Red, Dita Von Teese #28, Tarte LipSurgence Lip Luster in Fever ... I have an entire drawer in my vanity for red lipsticks.
For eyeliner, I like a gel in a pot that you use a brush to apply, like MAC Blacktrack Fluidline. I think the trick to the cat eye is practicing it over and over—when I don’t do my eyeliner for a week or because I’m on holiday or whatever, it becomes difficult again. But my trick is looking at it from all angles, really looking at it with a mirror, from all angles. And as I look at it, I clock where I need to add more. That’s the only way you can really tell. Usually I find I keep drawing both sides until they look even, which is why sometimes I have a small cat eye, and other times it’s huge, it’s major. [Laughs] It’s always a bit of a happy accident. I’ll do false lashes for shoots, but I love Latisse, I totally believe in it.
I prefer an oil-based makeup remover, like the MAC Cleanse Off Oil—it’s one that emulsifies with water and basically melts away the makeup. I like things like that. I wash my makeup off every night—I can honestly say that I have never, ever in my life gone to bed with makeup on. Sure, it’s kind of a funny or strange thing to have to do, the first time you spend a night with a guy. But, I mean, usually—hopefully—at that point they’ve seen me without some makeup or eyeliner. When they start getting close to me, I usually have just mascara and lipstick on. I also always keep makeup wipes around, and if my friends think that they’re going to fall asleep on my couch, drunk, I’ll go and drop makeup wipes on their face and be like, ‘Girl, you are not sleeping with your makeup on!’ [Laughs]
I color my own hair, too. I hate beauty salons. I just hate them. I hate them because I hate making appointments for something else, another appointment, and I hate spending the money. I like to have my hair freshly dyed every two weeks without fail, and I like to color on my own time while I’m multitasking. Plus, black hair is easy; if you do streaks and highlights it’s different. I’ve been coloring it black since 1992—I don’t really change the formula; it’s always blue-black. I use Garnier 100% Color, and right now, I squeeze a little bit of blue from another brand into it, but I don’t think I’ve found the magic color yet. I’m always trying to get it bluer. In terms of hair maintenance, I never like expensive hair products, but I just got this line and it’s totally changed my life. It’s called Obliphica; it’s made here in the States. I discovered it when I was just grabbing some new shampoos and conditioners. I’ve tried everything, all the expensive lines where it costs a thousand dollars a bottle, but this stuff is amazing.
Confidence is the important thing with beauty, mostly. It’s really about doing what you believe is beautiful. I feel most beautiful when I have my red lips on and when I have my cat eyeliner on and my hair curled—that’s what I feel good in, even though lots of people will see me with straight hair and no makeup on, and they’ll say I look so much younger. I don’t really care, though. I don’t care if they think I look prettier without the makeup and hair—it’s about what makes you feel good about yourself. I like having makeup on; I like the discipline it requires. For example, I can’t just dive into a cheeseburger; I’ll have some nice grilled chicken…or a salad. Although salad is hard to eat with lipstick on, too. [Laughs] But there’s a discipline involved…you can’t touch your face with your hands as often, which is good, because you won’t get sick as often. It’s like wearing high heels: there’s a ladylike discipline involved with wearing high heels or a corset…or pencil skirts. Suddenly you have to change the way you are in the world, and I think makeup and hair are a little like that.
In my book, I’ll have all kinds of things in it that you just don’t do around guys—like how I do my hair if a guy’s watching, how to make the process glamorous, so it doesn’t look crazy. I won’t go around with the hot rollers and all the clips in front of a guy that I’m dating, so, I know how to curl my hair with a curling iron, and use duckbill clips so it looks nice when I’m doing it. Or, I would never let a guy see me while I’m dyeing my hair—except for my ex-husband, who used to see me dye my hair because I would dye his hair, too. We would have black hair-dyeing parties. [Laughs] That was the only exception. But there are certain things to be discreet about during the seduction process. Men like to watch you get ready, but I kind of tailor things a little bit for when they’re watching. My beauty book is going to be totally different from what’s out there. I’m going to tell you that you have to pluck the nipple hairs off your nipples before a date—I’m here to tell you that. [Laughs]”
—as told to ITG
Dita Von Teese, wearing a Dolce & Gabbana lace dress, photographed by Emily Weiss in Los Angeles in August, 2012.