The art of seduction is a wily thing—many attempt it, but few master it. Dita Von Teese falls in the latter category… but perhaps “master” is an understatement. Declared everything from the queen of burlesque to a burlesque “superheroine,” Von Teese is an icon in the world of seduction through performance and is celebrated as much for her routines (who else could make writhing in a champagne glass look so alluring?) as for her signature beauty look: black liner, pale skin, and red lipstick—always, always red lipstick.
Hot off the launch of her latest book—Your Beauty Mark ($49), a lavish guide filled with Von Teese’s own makeup, hair, and exercise secrets—the queen of seduction sat down with us to talk everything from her first lipstick memory to what she calls “normal-girl” makeup. What we discovered was a woman who knows how to harness the power of makeup but stands just as confidently without it (which will only happen if you catch her on vacation).
From long-lasting lipstick tips to skincare secrets, keep scrolling to get to know Dita Von Teese!
You're launching a limited-edition red lipstick with MAC—congrats! Do you remember the first time you ever put on red lipstick?
Von Teese: Yes. There’s a picture of that day in my book that I found miraculously. It was the ’80s, and I think I was maybe 13 or so. Not only had I gotten my hands on a tube of Revlon Cherries in the Snow, but I also had my mother’s hot rollers and I had done myself up and took a Polaroid photo of myself. I remember it was magic-hour light, too. It was a golden light, and I was standing in front of this antique buffet that my mother had and I remember feeling like, I’m always wearing this red lipstick. There’s nothing that’s going to stop me. I felt powerful, confident, and glamorous; I had something in common with my idols of beauty and glamour. I was very excited about my newfound little savior, this lipstick.
We have to ask—what’s your secret to making your lipstick last all day?
Von Teese: One important thing is to have a really good base. Doing your foundation and powder first is a great place to start. You want the lipstick to go onto a matte surface so it can really hold onto the lips. I always use a lip liner in a shade of red—I line the lips and fill them in completely. Then, I put the lipstick on over that. I really like a nice pigmented, rich lip. I think the lip liner really helps the lipstick hold on and also gives it that nice depth that you see in makeup ads. Also, if you can’t afford a more expensive, highly pigmented lipstick, it helps give that look. That’s the difference between a $30 lipstick and $2 lipstick, but using lip liner is a great way around that. A matte formula lasts long and is easier for a novice to wear. I think the most important thing is to know that red lipstick is high maintenance; it takes discipline that I personally enjoy. It’s like, you can’t just run amuck. It gives you a little bit of self-imposed discipline—that isn’t a bad thing. Wearing lipstick can help keep you from mowing into a cheeseburger.
You’re a beauty icon to so many. Tell us about your icons.
Von Teese: When I was a little girl, my mother liked to watch old movies, so I had a lot of experiences with seeing women of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s on screen. I remember seeing World War II–era Technicolor musicals and seeing stars like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth in full-blown color. It was really exciting for me when I was little. It was like watching a cartoon, with the vibrant lips and rouge cheeks and curled hair. Bright colors really stayed with me and developed my obsession with that era of glamour. I kind of gave myself my own Hollywood-style makeover. I never strayed from it.
What about another one of your signatures—your black eyeliner?
Von Teese: Eyeliner is trickier, but practice makes perfect. I personally love gel eyeliner applied with a brush; there are also pen liners that have very soft tips, or harder tips. You really have to play with the different things and see what’s easiest for you. Here’s an easy trick: You should look down the mirror at a tilt so you can see the top of your eye when applying liner. I’m always surprised not everyone knows that. I really try to explain all the details in my book and not assume that everyone knows everything. I also see girls all the time who seem to be better at doing my look than I am! So, I wanted the book to be interesting to people who have mastered that look, too.
No-makeup makeup is trending right now. What’s your take on it?
Von Teese: I’ve done that look for Halloween. All that bronzer and highlighter… It doesn’t come off easily on your washcloth! When I do my “normal-girl” makeup look, I have a brown mess in the sink afterward, whereas my mess is all black and red. It’s prettier. I think everyone has what they like. The thing that bothers me is when people are like, you’re wearing so much makeup. I’m like, b*tch, you’re wearing just as much makeup as me! I don’t know anything about contouring and highlighting. I love makeup—I think people should wear as much makeup as they want to wear and make it fun.
You’ve spoken before about believing in a makeup “uniform.” Can you elaborate on that? What does makeup mean to you?
Von Teese: I think it’s great to have a signature, whatever that may be. It doesn’t have to be what mine is. I’ve always been very fascinated by women who have a signature look. I don’t think you have to change with the trends. I think you can develop a really great look and refine and perfect it and become world class at creating that look. I feel very strongly about finding what that is for you and developing that. It can be whatever you want it to be.
How did your own beauty look evolve into what it is today?
Von Teese: I first started playing with hair and makeup in high school, when I went beyond the red lip. I had blond hair, then I dyed it red, burgundy, then black; I played with different haircuts and styles. Since then, I’ve been wearing my hair and makeup the exact way for the past 15 years. It’s an evolution, really—it’s not a departure. There’s not any one person that I created a look from. It was little pieces of things that I was influenced by in the last 20 years. It was things I learned from makeup artists and things I’ve taught them too; I definitely use a glam squad when I need one, but I do my own about 98% the time.
Let’s move onto your poreless skin. What's your secret?
Von Teese: I go to a dermatologist who is not a Hollywood dermatologist; he actually specializes in pediatric dermatology. He doesn’t have an office full of Botox. He’s about the health of the skin. I think that’s the biggest difference. He told me before, with skin like mine, there are no miracles in jars. You should choose a moisturizer that works for your skin that gives you the kind of experience you enjoy. If you have any real skin problems, you should really see a dermatologist. Don’t go to a dermatologist who has his own product line, though. Go to someone who gives you solid advice and addresses your issues, instead of talking you into doing excessive lasers and things.
How do you feel when you don’t wear makeup? Do you feel more or less powerful?
Von Teese: I feel pretty good when I don’t wear makeup. I love going around the house without makeup. Whenever I go on a tropical holiday, for instance, day one, I’m always like, I’m going to wear no makeup and just wear sunscreen. And then within six hours, I’m like, maybe I’ll put on a little blush… Maybe I’ll put lipstick. Day two, I’m full-on vibrant and neon. I love color; I think it’s fun. I always miss my lipstick, even when I’m not going to wear makeup for a little while. I do find anytime where I’m laid up in bed sick or have no reason to wear makeup that I can lose some of my technique. But I don’t wear a full face of makeup every day. My normal day is sweep of face powder and a swipe of red lipstick—or fuchsia and orange.
Is there ever a situation where you would go lipstick-free?
Von Teese: No, I can’t think of one. There are no public photos of me without lipstick. I think there may be one from 15 years ago. I haven’t gone out of the house lipstick-free by choice in a really long time. Even if no one is going to see me except people I’m close to, I just feel like putting on lipstick, the same way I see brushing my teeth and brushing my hair. I like having that splash of color on my face. I don’t need to wear eyeliner or mascara, even. Just lipstick.
And finally, your figure it otherworldly. What’s your favorite form of exercise? Least favorite?
Von Teese: My least favorite would be running. I don’t like sports. I remember being mortified ever having to play any type of sport in high school. My favorite is Pilates. I like yoga and ballet. And I also like swimming, as long as the pool is heated. I just moved into a new house with a pool, but it doesn’t have a heater. I need to save my money for a pool heater.
You can snatch up a copy of Von Teese’s new book, Your Beauty Mark, on Amazon.