A quickie with Dita Von Teese

Drag contestants on Logo’s reality competition series RuPaul’s Drag Race may emulate female archetypes and icons, but if you want to know what girls are really made of, ask Drag Race guest judge (in tonight’s episode) Dita Von Teese.

The international burlesque star and longtime supporter of LGBT rights will be guest-judging the wigs, the walk and the "where’d-he-put-it?" on tonight’s show. Von Teese knows that sometimes, the sexiest thing you can do is leave a little to the imagination. Or, in the case of those photos with Playmate Alley Baggett, not.

AfterEllen.com: What do you think makes a good drag queen versus a great drag queen?
Dita Von Teese:
Well, I think that attention to detail is one of the things that make a great drag queen… The queens that have a very good understanding of what’s currently chic and can pull off a fierce look always impress me.

I also think that star quality and charisma are very, very important. I also love queens that are very masculine when the drag is off. My drag pals have to be gentlemanly when they’re out of drag with me.

AE: How are drag performers and burlesque performers similar? How are the different?
Oh, a lot I think! I definitely have my own “drag,” and transformation and illusion are key elements of my own shows.

Burlesque performers and drag queens are both self-taught and self made, so you have the element of artistry, ambition and that will to succeed that doesn’t occur in every aspect of entertainment, especially now in the era of glam squads for celebrities. Oh, and lots of burlesque shows in the 30s and 40s had female impersonators, so there is that connection too.

AE: What did you look for as a judge for RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I was looking for someone that I thought could hold a candle to the great RuPaul! It’s more than who’s just the best dancer or lip-syncer… it’s about the aura of the person, the beauty and the way the performance of a great drag queen makes you feel. Sometimes it’s just that “je ne sais quoi” and that’s the way it is. You can’t even define it. That’s the beauty of it. It’s magic, it’s star quality.

AE: Lesbians and bisexual women have very diverse ideas about what "femininity" means. How do you define it?
For me, “femininity” is about being as feminine as possible, and exaggerating the attributes of the feminine… But I also think that what is truly sexy is diversity and individuality, and that it should be different for everyone, that is the beauty of the world, we all have different ideas of what is beautiful.

Photo credit: Chris Hatcher / PR Photos


AE: Do you think the drag queen paradigm for illusion can be translated to drag king? Have you seen a drag king show?
Oh yes, of course! My favorite is Murray Hill. I’m not sure he cares for the “drag king" label, but anyway, he is AMAZING… Scores with the ladies like mad too! I actually did used to do a little drag king- type burlesque show in the early 90s where I would transform onstage from “male” to female… I should consider bringing that one back one day.

I’ve always loved women in menswear, I have to say. I went through a period in my life where I was always slicking my hair back and wearing tuxedos and three piece suits, a la [Marlene] Dietrich.

AE: Images from your Sapphic photo shoot from 1999 were posted paparazzi website (SplashNews). Are you upset that that they weren’t used in a more artistic manner? What was the original purpose of the shoot?
That was just a little shoot I had an idea for that was strictly meant as member’s area content for my website www.dita.net in the late 90s. I was just upset that the pics were used without my permission all over the place, because that wasn’t the deal. But anyway, I think they are cool photos, so I don’t mind if anyone sees them. It’s the principle of it that annoys me, but that’s the way things go.


Dita Von Teese with Playmate Alley Baggett


AE: Your love of the 40s era is legendary. Do you wish you were born then? Why does it appeal to you so?
I suppose I might have liked being able to dress extravagantly every day like they did back then without the snarky “is there a costume party somewhere?” comments I have been hearing since 1990 when I started dressing retro. But I think there are a lot of great things about the present time. I like modern conveniences like computers, Blackberry, DVD players. And I like electro music!

RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Monday nights at 9/8c on Logo.