This past Sunday, I got to meet burlesque superstar Dita Von Teese.
I wasn’t alone, of course. Dita was doing a meet and greet at Dark Garden Unique Corsetry to promote her Von Follies lingerie line as well as her perfumes, both of which are exclusively available within San Francisco at Dark Garden. Dark Garden has been Dita’s “go-to corsetmaker for the past 15 years,” and I’ve been working there for five years, so it’s slightly surprising that this is the first time I’ve met her. I occasionally glimpse one of her orders floating through production, and we have at least five signed prints/posters/Playboy covers casually displayed around the shop.
It feels especially odd contrasted with the random facts and anecdotes about her I’ve heard in passing from Autumn, the owner of Dark Garden. Nothing indiscreet or gossipy, yet somehow all these mundane glimpses made her seem even more a mythical figure, with nothing concrete to anchor them. I’ve tried on corsets in our archive that were originally Dita prototypes. She and I use the same text tone on our iPhones, apparently. There was a particular nutritional book (diet is such an ugly word) on our kitchen table that she follows to maintain her health and figure (which may have been mentioned as a subtle, polite reference to my own cheese and carbohydrate based diet…). Here a tale about her cats (pun intended), there an amusing text exchange with Autumn read out loud, as friends do…. Yet I’ve never seen her perform or met her in person, until Sunday.
Before Dita herself even arrived, her fans turned out in force to pick up a piece of the collection or a bottle of perfume and be eligible for a signed print and photo with Dita. Something about her fan base is particularly heartwarming. Perhaps I was just responding to how wonderfully well-dressed the crowd was. Several local burlesque performers were in attendance; some had met Dita before; a few had a copy of her book to be signed. One girl, described by Dita’s entourage as “Dita family,” discreetly wore a shibari dress in Dita’s honor, which made trying on bras a bit tricky for her. The fans were also uniquely well-behaved through our crowds and various queues, and it was really lovely to see the warmth of affection they felt for and from Dita.
As for us, the shop staff? We tried to follow a dress code for what felt like the first time in Dark Garden history, donning all black to differentiate ourselves a bit from the clientele. I wore the same Von Follies dress that Dita arrived in, “Her Sexcellency,” and I wasn’t sure if it was awkward or awesome. Probably awesome. Several of us wore bright red lips and winged liner in her honor, and we all wore corsets and forgot to eat until the end of the day. Owing to our beautiful and beautifully compliant crowd, we ran ahead of schedule enough to allow all the staff as well as our three lovely live models a chance at a signed print and a picture with Dita. I was dumbstruck when I met her and barely able to make eye contact, having reached my mental capacity after deciding my print should be signed to “Victoria Dagger” rather than Marianne. I don’t generally think of myself as being a starstruck person, but I am naturally quite shy so interacting with a stranger who is also famous and/or someone I respect and admire tends to numb my usually verbose tongue.
So what’s Dita like? Well, I certainly spent more time observing her from the sidelines than I did interacting with her. She looks exactly like her pictures. I was particularly struck by her delicate little ankles. Her hair fell and framed her ageless face in a perfectly smooth vintage style, which fills me with even greater envy now that I know it only takes her an hour or so to get dolled up for events (aka, how long it takes most of us just to get ready for work). But I don’t want to sound too sycophantic here — I was also relieved to see her exhibiting normal mannerisms, showing a subtle hint more nerves with the parade of fans and friendly warmth when talking to Autumn. She entered the shop quietly, without much fanfare, though a ripple of excitement followed. She was “on” for the event, but not so much so that she seemed overly-rehearsed, fake or too smooth or posed like a mannequin. She came off as a real human being who loves glamour, takes very good care of herself and is both talented and passionate. Everything Dita has and is has been worked for and is authentic.
Are you a Dita fan? Have you met Dita before? Perhaps you were at the event on Sunday — I know I’ve met a few Lingerie Addict readers at Dark Garden before! I’d love to hear your experiences with Dita in the comments below.