Alison Prato (writer),
Sheryl Nieldsd (photographer)
At first glance, it doesn't appear that modern-day burlesque icon Dita Von Teese has any tattoos. Look closer, and you realize that there is, in fact, one inking on her flawless body: the tiny black dot at the top of her left cheekbone.
"I've always loved tattoos," Von Teese says, lounging in her Los Angeles home wearing a purple 1940s robe. "I love looking at them and I have a big admiration for people with tattoos. I've notoriously dated a lot of men with a lot of ink," she adds, referring to her relationships with Social Distortion singer Mike Ness and Marilyn Manson, her former husband of two years. "I even tattooed my ex-boyfriend, who owned a tattoo shop. When I was a little girl I was obsessed with drawing this stick bunny thing all over the walls. He knew about my stick bunny and let me tattoo that on his entire calf. Bright pink. That was real love."
Born Heather Sweet in 1972, Von Teese has gone from vintage-wearing high school outcast to retro pinup fetish model to one of the world's premier style icons. Her burlesque acts-often imitated but never duplicated-are breathtaking, involving everything from dancing in a signature giant martini glass to a Sally Rand–inspired feather fan dance. The elaborate setups cost her up to $85,000. It's worth it just to, as Von Teese herself says, "put the Teese back into striptease."
NKED: Interesting that even when you're not performing, you're still decked out in vintage wear.
DITA VON TEESE: This is a lifestyle for me, and it always has been. It's not like I get home and suddenly I'm wearing sweatpants or an Adidas tracksuit because no one's looking. It's not a complete switch-around. There's not a Heather Sweet and then a Dita Von Teese. It's all kind of one thing. It's been too long. The lines are blurred.
How did you feel about the passing of Bettie Page, one of your biggest idols?
We've lost yet another great 20th century icon. Without women like Bettie Page, who dared to be different all those decades ago, there would be no pinup or burlesque revival. I'll never forget the first time I saw her unforgettable and unusual pinup image. She had a special way of combining erotic fetishism and pinup playfulness with a little wink of the eye. She certainly inspired me.
Which tattoo shop is responsible for your beauty mark?
It was this really famous tattoo shop in Fullerton, CA, called Classic Tattoo Studio. I was 17. It's where all the rockabillies-Mike Ness and everybody-had their tattoos done.
Was it the first time they'd done that?
Oh yeah. Nobody goes in there asking for a beauty mark. You have to understand that I was pretty eccentric. I was always drawing hearts and stars in that spot. I went in thinking I wanted a star there, but they wouldn't do it. They were like, "We're not putting a star on your face." They were the voice of reason.
Are you glad they talked you out of it?
Yeah! They were so right. In the early '90s I almost got seams up the backs of my legs, but I'm so glad I didn't. Can you imagine how hard it would be to match up the seams with real stockings? It would be a nightmare. It's very popular now. At that time, I was researching everything about the '40s, about how during World War II women would draw seams on. I thought, Wouldn't that be cool? I had them henna tattooed on, but I never went all the way.