Dita Von Teese has revived the art of showgirl glamour on the Las Vegas Strip with her latest fare: Dita Las Vegas, her residency at the Horseshoe’s Jubilee Theater. It’s a tribute to the heyday when Las Vegas was the destination for glitzy topless cabaret productions. This time around, it gets the Von Teese twist — pasties included.
“I feel like it’s not really a residency, I just wanted to make it the best burlesque show ever,” Von Teese told WWD. “It’s burlesque-meets-showgirl revue in Vegas, and it was always my intention to just make this a great show.”
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Since its debut in October, Von Teese has reignited the former extravagance of the venue’s “Jubilee!” topless act that bowed in 2016 after a 35-year run. When the curtains closed, costumes designed by Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee were kept in storage in the dressing rooms. With Von Teese, they were given an afterlife. “When I had dared to ask about the costumes from ‘Jubilee!’ and what they were doing — and whether I could add them to the show, they said, ‘Yes.’ It was kind of like I hit the glamour jackpot. It’s the ultimate….It feels like this is the Vegas show that goes above and beyond what I’ve done on tour.”
It was a heavy burden to bear — the headpieces weigh around 35 pounds. Meanwhile her cast opens the show in Menefee’s pink and orange feathered looks, of which some of the designs include nearly 2,000 feathers on a single costume.
“The only thing different [about the opening number] was that crystal costume I’m wearing, which was made by Michael Schmidt with all the modern Swarovski crystals, which is way more faceted and gives off a lot of glitz,” she explained. “We stayed faithful to what’s in the show, but made a modern reproduction.”
Something she also kept the same was the “Jubilee!” makeup partner. “MAC Cosmetics sponsored the showgirl makeup, which they always did for the ‘Jubilee!’ as well, so I just wanted to keep true to that tradition of MAC sponsoring the showgirls’ makeup.”
For glam, she enlisted Gregory Arlt, who gave her cast makeup lessons. “I always do my own,” Von Teese said. “It’s part of my process, it is something I love to do. I like to be by myself and get myself together.” Von Teese had Tony Medina design their vintage-inspired hairstyles.
Von Teese placed her bets on longtime creative partners and industry friends, and only had two months to prepare her costumes ahead of the Oct. 26 opening night.
“What was difficult was we started in August — everybody in Europe shuts down in August,” she recalled. “Jenny Packham did not shut down because she is British, and she made some beautiful things for the show.”
Packham transformed Von Teese into a rhinestone cowgirl, complete with a pink bustier and chaps — all embellished with matching Swarovski crystals.
After a call to Alexis Mabille, the designer crafted a sensual chauffer costume for the show’s Liberace-inspired number, where one of her dancers channels the pianist while seated in one of his original cars that she purchased for herself — only now it’s embellished with Swarovski crystals.
“[Mabille] was already in the midst of working on the couture show, and he just kind of slipped it in there, so I was grateful to him for that,” Von Teese said.
“Even getting the shoes done at Louboutin was like a by-the-minute thing, and it’s very precarious because there was very little time. It was like a matter of weeks. It’s a good thing I’ve got friends in high places over there.”
Christian Louboutin, her friend of nearly 30 years, who has designed shoes for her previous shows, created new footwear for the residency. Among the pieces, he remade a pair of cowboy boots that he originally created 18 years ago, complete with Swarovski spurs. Von Teese needed the original design modified because dancing in the five-inch stiletto heels three times a week was too daunting.
“I was with him on vacation in August, and I was begging him, I was like, ‘Please, please, I need you to make me a sensible pair of boots,’ but he’s always questioning it, like, ‘But why? Why do you need it more sensible?’ I like it, trust me, but I don’t want to fall.”
Dancing in heels isn’t the only challenge of the production. The burlesque star’s bedazzled costumes need fast hands for quick changes.
“The glass costume, that’s the most difficult to change into because there’s so many layers since that’s my ultimate striptease,” Von Teese explained. “It’s a lot of work to get all that crystal into the prong sets, because there’s different kinds of crystals. And you have to set them in these prongs settings, and then those have to all be hand sewn on. So it’s big, big work.”
Von Teese collaborated with Catherine D’Lish on the design. In the past they’ve worked together on all of her Swarovski-embellished “stripscape” costumes, as she calls them, since 2000. The brand continues to be a sponsor.
“We always use Swarovski. There was never any question. I didn’t have a relationship with them, but there was never any question that we were using Swarovski for everything.”
The glass costume comes with an unlikely, and unseen, accessory — yellow kitchen gloves. They’re worn over a pair of Swarovski-embellished opera gloves as she scales a staircase, then quickly slips them off before she’s seen.
“I had to crystalize the palms, too, because of everyone below — so we can’t leave the palms bare. I have to climb, I think it’s five flights of stairs, to get up to the disk. And it’s precarious, so I have to wear rubber gloves over the crystal gloves so that I don’t slip.”
She learned to take the precaution the hard way during one of the run-throughs ahead of the show’s opening.
“I did fall down a few stairs and I didn’t have any traction, and I broke a nail, so I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I’m going to wear some gloves.’”
See more photos of Dita Von Teese backstage at the Jubilee theater in Las Vegas.
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