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Dita Von Teese is not just a work of living art; the burlesque superstar has been building a remarkable collection of antiques, art, gloves, lingerie, and taxidermy for 25 years. So, when she invited Racked LA to go shopping with her one-on-one at the Santa Monica Airport Outdoor Antique and Collectible Market, we couldn't wait to get schooled by a pro. Dita's haul: a 1940s zodiac-embroidered handkerchief, a 1950s ballerina-pink negligee, two Black Forest wood-carved shelves, a set of six green Depression glass champagne coupes, a 1930s-40s card table, a box of vintage hostess place setting cards and a 100-year-old German stein ("I'll pour champagne and ice in there," she said with the subtlest spark of mischief.)
To be in Dita's orbit is to feel a bit more glamorous yourself, and even though the petite performer is sweet and soft-spoken, she's much more than meets the cat-eye. Get her going on her antique collection ("I also feel like investing in art is part of my financial profile"), supermodels today ("There are just so many "pretty" girls, but I can't remember their names"), and the atypical icons who defy them (like photographer Ali Mahdavi, who actually had cosmetic surgery to get a bump in his nose because he loved a strong profile), and then you've got the real Dita: a backbone of steel that belies her famously tiny waist.
Après treasure hunt, the author of Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour (out December 1st; pre-order your copy here), told us more about this undying love for retro style while graciously divulging some of her vintage shopping secrets and favorite finds.
What are you wearing today?
A vintage 1950s black skirt and hat, Marc Jacobs flats, a Fifi Chacnil bodysuit, Miu Miu vintage sunglasses and MAC lipstick in Good Kisser. I'm carrying a 1950s lucite purse with a vintage polka dot scarf.
Tell us an early fashion memory.
I used to watch old movies with my mother. Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable... that's what I wanted to dress like. Then, when I was a teenager, I couldn't afford designer jeans and cool sneakers, so I would look at Vivienne Westwood or John Paul Gaultier and try to get that look at vintage stores.
What is your go-to game place when shopping at antique markets?
I go up and down every aisle, and scan the booths. I turn my nose up if I get up close and find out that an item is a reproduction, because I always think about the resale value. It also helps having a partner [like Stacia Dunnam, her interior decorator who accompanied her that day] who can say "Oh, you need to see this!" and get two pairs of eyes on things.
What are you obsessed with buying lately?
Lingerie to use as reference for my lingerie collection. I'm always looking for robes and loungewear and slips with interesting details. But I never completely knock anything off, because sometimes the shapes need to be modernized. Or sometimes, I'll take the design details from a slip and put it into a bra.
What is your most prized vintage possession?
It's so hard! I have this motif of Victorian-era taxidermy birds mounted on pale blue velvet, inside these heart-shaped glass domes. Every time I move house, they come with me. I never let anyone touch them, because if you break those heart shaped glass domes, you'll never find heart-shaped glass domes again.
What about a clothing item?
I have a Dior 1950s haute couture three-piece suit that I found in San Francisco. It's gray and tweed with a blouse underneath and a garter attached. It even has the real red serial number stamped into it; it's a museum-quality piece. I paid $3,000 for it then and it's now worth around $60,000.
Do you have any favorite vintage vendors?
LA's Connie Parente has the best costume jewelry collection I've ever seen. She would rent jewelry to me for photo shoots, which I actually ended up buying. I wore this 1940's jet-black crystal necklace for the cover of Playboy in 2002. I've never seen anything like it and everyone is always trying to buy it from me. I'll never part with it.
We read that IKEA is your worst nightmare.
I don't like white walls at all. I actually have met guys that I really liked and I would go to their house and it was fully slick, modern and minimalist and I was like, "This relationship will go nowhere." I like being surrounded by interesting things and things of beauty... things I love looking at.
What inspired you to write Your Beauty Mark?
I wanted to write a beauty book about "eccentric glamour"—a phrase coined by [Barneys Creative Ambassador-at-Large] Simon Doonan. There are a lot of beauty books that tell you how to do tasteful makeup, but there are some of us that want to live a life in Technicolor. We love an aqua eye shadow and a coral lip. I wanted to write about glamour that wasn't dependent on how pretty you are. It's more interesting to turn yourself into a Bird of Paradise.
Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour by Dita Von Teese releases on December 1st. Pre-order your copy here.