Traveling light, ‘Queen of Burlesque’ Dita Von Teese begins a conquest of America from the bar at the Mondrian South Beach
At a little before seven the lobby of the Mondrian Hotel was being crisscrossed by restless young women in strapless dresses. Two used their high heels to stamp out bulges in the not really red carpet.
“It’s a Cointreau orange carpet,” one of the women explained to me, the color chosen because the liqueur was the centerpiece of Dita’s new package of “travel essentials.” A bellman’s trolley stood on the carpet, holding a valise in the shape of a hat box. The “door” of the valise was open to reveal a bottle of Cointreau, two glasses, a shaker, and other tools for the itinerant tippler.
A waitress glided past, bearing a tray of cocktails called The Cointreau Sunset Sun. (The Mondrian sits on the Intracoastal and looks across the water toward the towers of downtown). The drink consisted of lemon juice, club soda, mint, slices of strawberry and cucumber and – you guessed it – Cointreau.
A sizable crowd grew around the bar. I was not just the only man wearing a Rooster, I was the only man wearing a tie. In the lounge, another “hatbox” sat atop an assemblage of old suitcases, each stuck with classic luggage labels. The attention to period detail was impressive, though I wished it would have extended to the music: a little Ella and Frank instead of crashing house sounds.
My eyes drifted toward the video that was playing in the lounge. “Dita is famous as a glamorous star,” a man on the screen was saying, “but we wanted to bring out her international traveler side.” Another described Dita’s new product as “basically a minibar in a hatbox.” This was followed by shots of Dita slinking up to a cocktail in the bar of the Hotel Raphaël in Paris.
A little after eight there came a gravitational pull toward the carpet, and the plush, steady lightning of camera flashes. Ms. Von Teese had entered the lobby. She took her place dutifully on the carpet, looking eternally composed yet slightly abashed. She wore a floor-length, form-fitting gown with a metallic sheen. Her shoulder-length raven hair appeared more sculpted than flowing. Her lips, diverting from the evening’s color scheme, were blood red.
After some minutes, she moved to the bellman’s trolley. Then to the bar. The only interaction was between subject and camera. I felt vaguely sorry for her, being treated as an object. Then I remembered that this was her job.
“Do you think she’s beautiful?” I asked one of the weaving waitresses.
“Yes,” the young woman said. “But too skinny.” Then she added: “I’m Latina.”
Dita sat in the lounge for still more photos. When the paparazzi finally beat a retreat I approached and asked if she actually liked doing this.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” she said. “And you get those people who can’t figure out how to work their cellphone cameras.” It would have been refreshing, at this point, just to hear her speak; that she did so frankly made her even more endearing.
“What do you think of the music?” I asked.
“I hate it.” Then she said: “Oh no, you’re going to write that Dita hated her own party!”
Which she didn’t. She accepted the fact that this was Miami.
Which she enjoyed. “I like sitting under a cabana and playing cards with my friends.”
“What card game?”
“So the Queen of Burlesque comes to Miami and plays Uno with friends,” I said, just to make sure I’d gotten it right.
I asked how her French was (she lives part of the year in Paris). She said she wished it were better. “I can say ‘I want.’ ‘I would like.’”
Whatever Dita wants, I got the feeling, Dita gets.
She read Henry Miller and erotic novels. “I like reading about people who are disturbed.” This was more like it from the ex-wife of Marilyn Manson. She said she was currently reading a biography of Isabella Blow, the influential fashion journalist.
As the party went on behind us, I asked how long she can keep this going.
“You know Gypsy Rose Lee?” she asked. “She worked until she died.
“I’ve already conquered France,” she said. “Everyone in France knows who I am. I need to conquer America. People think I just walk on the carpet. They don’t know the shows I create.” Burlesque, she said, was invented in America, and yet today Americans have little appreciation of it. The same is true for jazz, I thought, which I dearly wished we were hearing.
Before leaving her to her fans, I had one more question.
“Do you really think people are going to travel with this kit?”
“No,” Dita said unequivocally. “It’s heavy! I have mine on my bar at home.”