Dita Von Teese (born Heather Renée Sweet) is an American burlesque dancer, model, costume designer, entrepreneur and occasional actress. She is thought to have helped repopularize burlesque performance, and was formerly married to Marilyn Manson. Von Teese was born in Rochester, Michigan, the middle of three daughters. Her father was a machinist and her mother a manicurist. She is of English, Scottish, Armenian, and German heritage. Dita has stated that one of her grandmothers was half-Armenian and adopted into an Anglo-Saxon American family. Von Teese is known for her fascination with 1940s cinema and classic vintage style. This began at a young age and was fostered by her mother, who would buy clothes for her daughter to dress up. Her mother was a fan of old, Golden Age-era Hollywood films, and from her Von Teese developed a fascination with the actresses of that day, especially Betty Grable.
She was classically trained as a ballet dancer from an early age, and danced solo at age 13 for a local ballet company. Though she originally wanted to be a ballerina, Von Teese states that “by 15, I was as good as I’d ever be.” She was later to incorporate this element into her burlesque shows, where she frequently goes en pointe. The family relocated from Michigan to Orange County, California, when her father’s job moved. Von Teese attended University High School in Irvine, California.
When Von Teese was a teenager, her mother took her to buy her first bra, made from plain white cotton, and gave her a plastic egg containing a pair of wrinkly, flesh-colored tights. Von Teese says she was disappointed, as she had been hoping to receive beautiful lacy garments and stockings, of the type she had glimpsed in her father’s Playboy magazines. This fueled her passion for lingerie. She worked in a lingerie store as a salesgirl when she was 15, eventually as a buyer. Von Teese has been fond of wearing elaborate lingerie such as corsets and basques with fully fashioned stockings ever since. In college, Von Teese studied historic costuming and aspired to work as a stylist for films. She is a trained costume designer, often designing (and copyrighting) her photo shoots herself.
Von Teese got her stage name by adopting the name Dita as a tribute to silent film actress Dita Parlo. For her breakthrough December 2002 Playboy cover, she was required to have a surname, so she chose Von Treese from the phonebook. In the magazine, this was misspelled as Von Teese, which she decided to stick with. Von Teese achieved some level of recognition in the fetish world as a tightlacer. Through the wearing of a corset for many years, she had reduced her waistline to 22 inches (56 cm), and can be laced down as far as 16.5 inches (42 cm).
Von Teese appeared on a number of fetish magazine covers, including Bizarre and Marquis. It was around this time when she appeared on the cover of Midori’s book, The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage. Von Teese was featured in Playboy in 1999, 2001, and 2002, with a cover-featured pictorial in 2002. The German metal band Atrocity chose her as the cover model for their 2008 album, Werk 80 II.
Von Teese is best known for her burlesque routines and is frequently dubbed the “Queen of Burlesque” in the press. Von Teese began performing burlesque in 1992, and, as a proponent of Neo-Burlesque, has helped to popularize its revival. In her own words, she “puts the tease back into striptease” with long, elaborate dance shows with props and characters, often inspired by 1930s and 1940s musicals and films. Some of her more famous dances have involved a carousel horse, a giant powder compact, a filigree heart and a clawfoot bathtub with a working shower head. Her signature show features a giant martini glass. Her feather fan dance, inspired by burlesque dancer Sally Rand, featured the world’s largest feather fans, now on display in Hollywood’s Museum of Sex.
Her burlesque career has included some memorable performances. She once appeared at a benefit for the New York Academy of Art wearing nothing but $5 million worth of diamonds. Additionally, Von Teese became the first guest star at Paris’s Crazy Horse cabaret club with her appearance in October 2006. Also in 2006, Von Teese appeared on an episode of America’s Next Top Model (cycle 7) doing a workshop to teach the contestants about sexiness by means of burlesque dancing and posing. In 2007, Von Teese performed at the adult entertainment event Erotica 07 in London alongside Italian rock band Belladonna.
Von Teese’s first book (in collaboration with Bronwyn Garrity), which consisted of her opinions on the history of burlesque and fetish, Burlesque and the Art of the Teese / Fetish and the Art of the Teese, was published in 2006 by HarperCollins (and in New York by Regan Books). Vanity Fair called her a “Burlesque Superheroine”.
Von Teese participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 2009 in Moscow, Russia, as part of the stage performance for the German entry “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang”. The act placed 20th out of 25 participants in the final round of the contest. Later, she said her cleavage was censored during the show because it was too voluptuous.
Von Teese has performed in adult and mainstream films. In her early years, she appeared in fetish-related, soft-core pornographic movies, such as Romancing Sara, Matter of Trust, in which she is billed as Heather Sweet, and also in two Andrew Blake hard-core fetish films, Pin Ups 2 and Decadence. In recent years, she has appeared in more mainstream features, such as the 2005 short film, The Death of Salvador Dali, written by Delaney Bishop, which won best screenplay and best cinematography at SXSW, Raindance Film Festival, and Mill Valley Film Festival, and won Best Actress at Beverly Hills Film Festival. She starred in the feature film Saint Francis in 2007. In addition, she has appeared in a number of music videos, including the video for the Green Day song “Redundant,” the video for “Zip Gun Bop” by swing band Royal Crown Revue, Agent Provocateur’s video for their cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control,” and (performing her martini-glass burlesque routine) the video for “Mobscene” by Marilyn Manson. She was featured in a striptease/burlesque act in George Michael’s live tour 2008, for the song “Feelin’ Good”. She also appeared in the music video “Up in the Air” by Thirty Seconds to Mars in 2013. She stated in 2007, “I don’t understand why women feel the need to go into acting as soon as they become famous … But I suppose if the part were aesthetically correct, then maybe I could consider it.” In January 2011, Von Teese guest-starred in the CBS police procedural drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in which her friend Eric Szmanda stars, in the episode “A Kiss Before Frying”. She played Rita von Squeeze, a femme fatale version of herself, who seduces Szmanda’s character Greg Sanders in a plot inspired by film noir.
Von Teese has appeared on a number of best-dressed lists and frequents the front row of fashion shows, particularly Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Marc Jacobs, labels she is often seen wearing. Speaking of her love of Gaultier, Von Teese has said, “Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, and Vivienne Westwood were the first designers that really made an impact on me. Jean Paul has a lot of the same obsessions that I do, like corsetry, ballet-peach satin and silks, black silk velvet, bullet bras and girdles. When I was a teenager, I would look for 1930s peach satin lingerie pieces to try to get his look for less, because there was no way I could afford his things back then. It was a dream come true to meet him and become friends with him. I met him the first time when I was doing my first fashion pictorial, which was for Flaunt magazine, and it was a huge story of me wearing the most important pieces from his haute couture archives, and that was a dream!”
She has also done catwalk work. During Los Angeles Fashion Week for spring 2004, she modeled for former club kid Richie Rich’s fashion label, Heatherette. In 2005, she appeared in the Autumn/Winter Ready-to-Wear show for Giambattista Valli, a former designer for Ungaro, in Paris. In the 2006 Milan Fashion Week, Von Teese was on the runway, opening for the Moschino diffusion label, Moschino Cheap & Chic, autumn/winter 2006/7 show. In 2007, she appeared twice in the Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture show during the Paris Fashion Week. She has starred in several ad campaigns. She appeared in Vivienne Westwood’s spring/summer 2005 collection adverts and became the face of Australian clothing range “Wheels and Dollbaby” for their 2006/7 Spring/Summer advertising campaign. She was an ambassador/spokesmodel for HIV/AIDS awareness when she was selected (along with Eve, Deborah Harry, and Lisa Marie Presley) for MAC Cosmetics’ Viva Glam VI campaign (a collection of lipsticks and lipgloss where 100% of the proceeds are for worldwide AIDS charities and to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS). Von Teese has appeared in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Elle, and international issues of nearly every fashion magazine. She has campaigned on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and has appeared in their ads. She participated at the PETA’s campaign “Animal Birth Control (ABC).”
In spite of this, Von Teese states that she never uses a stylist. “The one time I hired a stylist, they picked up a pair of my 1940s shoes and said, ‘These would look really cute with jeans.’ I immediately said, ‘You’re out of here.'” She does her own make-up, and dyes her naturally blonde hair black at home. Von Teese’s unique style is “inspired by eccentric women like Luisa Casati, Anna Piaggi, and Isabella Blow.”
She has designed a new lingerie range with Wonderbra. In May 2012, Dita Von Teese launched her makeup collection “Classics” in partnership with the German cosmetic brand Art Deco. Compact powder, blushers, eye styler, eye shadows, mascara and lipstick were produced to recreate the burlesque performer’s retro look.
In 2012, Dita Von Teese launched her own clothing line and underwear line called Von Follies. In 2013, Dita was both model and muse for the ‘Dita’ 3D printed gown designed by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti and 3D printed by Shapeways exactly to fit her body. Constructed of over 3,000 interlocked 3D printed components and over 12,000 Swarovski crystals it is one of the first fully articulated 3D printed garments to take the technology from haute couture to a sensual fabric-like form.
In 2014, Von Teese began working with Myer, an Australian department store, on a lingerie line fronted by Australian model Stefania Ferrario.
Von Teese frequently takes Pilates and dressage lessons. Her house is dedicated to early 20th-century décor, including a complete pink kitchen with vintage appliances. She also has a room dedicated to hats.
Von Teese currently resides in Hollywood, California. She is a collector of vintage china, particularly egg cups and tea sets, and drives a 1939 Packard One Twenty Eight, a 1946 Ford Super De Luxe, a BMW Z4 and a 1965 Jaguar S-Type. She also owned a 1939 Chrysler New Yorker from 1997 to December 2010.
Prior to her marriage to Marilyn Manson, she was romantically linked to vocalist/guitarist Mike Ness of Social Distortion and to actor Peter Sarsgaard. She has also spoken of several same-sex experiences, including a serious relationship with a woman when she was 20. She dated French aristocrat Louis-Marie de Castelbajac from 2009 to 2012. She began dating boyfriend Adam Rajcevich in 2014. Marilyn Manson had been a longtime fan of hers and was a member of her website. They first met when he asked her to dance in one of his music videos and though she was unable to, the two remained in contact. On Manson’s 32nd birthday, in 2001, she arrived with a bottle of absinthe and they became a couple. Manson proposed on March 22, 2004, and gave her a 1930s, 7-carat (1.4 g), European round-cut diamond engagement ring. On November 28, 2005, they were married in a private, non-denominational ceremony at home. A larger ceremony was held on December 3 at Gurteen Castle in Kilsheelan (County Tipperary), Ireland, the home of their friend, Gottfried Helnwein. The wedding was officiated by surrealist film director and comic book writer Alejandro Jodorowsky, was attended by actor Eric Szmanda, Lisa Marie Presley, burlesque star Catherine D’Lish, artist Jessicka, producer Christian Hejnal, and Manson’s band mate Madonna Wayne Gacy and appeared as a feature in the pages of Vogue.
On December 29, 2006, Von Teese filed for divorce from Manson citing “irreconcilable differences”. Von Teese left their house empty-handed on Christmas Eve, and was not able to get in touch with Manson to inform him of her intention to divorce him. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Von Teese stated, “I wasn’t supportive of his partying or his relationship with another girl. As much as I loved him, I wasn’t going to be part of that.” Von Teese also stated that she gave Manson an ultimatum, and said that “it didn’t work. Instead, it made me the enemy.” Von Teese did not seek spousal support and expressed no interest in his assets. The news broke for the public and for Manson on his birthday on January 5, 2007, when he was served the divorce papers (Wikipedia).