Photograph: Karl Giant
Dirty Martini talks Texans, the Moisture Festival, straight men, and about her first Burlesque show.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re featured in Immodesty Blaize’s documentary “Burlesque Undressed.” What was your reaction when you were informed you’d be included in the project?
Immodesty approached me about participating in her film when I performed in her show the year before at Koko nightclub in London. It was a fabulous show and I love her so I was more than happy to be interviewed for the film at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend the following year. Unfortunately the amazing footage from that show wasn’t able to be used in her documentary and I wasn’t able to perform in the show that all of the wonderful footage was pulled from due to my shoot schedule for the French film “Tournee” which will premiere at Cannes in May, but luckily it was used for my documentary Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque which will screen at the Dallas film festival in April. I’m really thrilled that the footage will be used as it was a very professional shoot and I was devastated that I wasn’t able to perform in her show last May because that was even better looking! I hate to have to pass up any opportunity to work with Immodesty.
Q: You’ll be performing in Dallas on March 20th for the U.S. premier of the aforementioned film. Do you think Dallas is ready for Dirty?
Every city I’ve gone to all over the world has been very warm and receptive to my performance and made me feel extremely welcome and I’ve heard that Texans have big hearts so I’m excited to perform there. I was in Austin a couple of years ago and had a great experience there and loved it so I suspect I will feel right at home.
Q: Do you have any other film projects in the works?
I have two short films out currently touring the film festivals, one a short format documentary by Iban del Campo and a beautiful silent film by Steven Dirkes called the Object. I worked with French actor Mathieu Amalric for a film that will premiere this May in Cannes called Tournee and Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque by Gary Beeber will be having its first screening at the Moisture Festival in Seattle March 29th. I’ll be there with Burlesque Undressed on the 23rd as well. It’s been really fun planning Immodesty’s U.S. release along with my film too.
Q: You were recently voted the top fan favorite in the 21st Century Pinups Burlesque Top 50. How does that make you feel? What was your reaction when you heard the news?
I was very surprised to be voted number one and honored because of the company in the top 20 alone! It must have been a very tight vote indeed. I’m a big fan of Catherine D’Lish and Michelle L’Amour and Immodesty and Julie Atlas Muz and Dita and and and….. so you can only imagine how incredible it is to have such wonderful fans to vote me in there too! I feel very lucky indeed.
Q: The Lagerfeld photos in the V Magazine size issue are absolutely out-of-this-world! In a recent interview you mentioned that you didn’t know it was going to be a plus-size issue when you agreed to do it. Had you known that going into it, would you still have agreed to do the shoot? Do you feel like knowing that beforehand would have altered your perception, preparation or behavior going into it?
Well…. It’s not like you tell Karl Lagerfeld and V Magazine you couldn’t possibly come to Paris and shoot at the House of Chanel! It was an incredible experience and I felt shocked that Steven Gan and Steven Chaiken at V thought of me for the editorial. I suppose the whole thing made more sense when I found out a month later that it would be a magazine devoted to all body types. I think it’s a shame that people only think of it as a plus size issue when there are really all types of women represented. Actually, come to think of it there aren’t all types of women in it. People were complaining that I am obese and some of the other models were as well, but I didn’t see anyone over a size 16 in any of the shoots. Considering that the average size for women in the U.S. is currently a size 14, there seems to be a disconnect in the fashion world. Big surprise there. My goal for what I’m doing in burlesque is to have women with womanly features represented properly in today’s hyper-controlled media. I believe that this is a big step for me and my mission statement!
Q: You’ve mentioned that you seek inspiration in drag queens and burlesque legends of the past. Care to elaborate on this?
When I moved to New York City, I went to drag shows at least once a week. I really loved the spirited and improvisational nature of the performances and the fact that they were edgy and interesting. Burlesque never really died in New York. Kitten Natividad performed at Show World in her own burlesque review in the 80’s, Ann Magnusson hosted a Vaudeville night featuring burlesque themed material and Jackie 60 in the early 90’s kept the spirit alive. Drag Queens in NY like International Chrysis and Candice Cayne kept that sexualized uber glamour alive for us and we should all be praying to them like the goddesses they are! They in turn – along with the Something Weird Video reels of old burlesque that I studied before creating my own burlesque routines – inspired me to be the glamour-crazed performer I am today.
Q: You were inspiration in the neo-burlesque revival, especially in New York. What have you noticed about the changes in the neo-burlesque scene in the past ten years? Any patterns you notice in different parts of the country?
Yes, there are patterns but every place is different. I knew that in London and the UK it would become a big retro craze like Carnaby Street in the 60’s. When I performed in Paris for the first time I knew it would grow there too. I saw the very first new burlesque show in Paris’ Bastille district. Kitten on the Keys and I went to see Kisses Cause Trouble there and arrived too late because we were confused by the 24 hour clock. They ended up repeating the entire show just for us and their fans stayed to watch it again as well. That’s the spirit of New Burlesque- that punk rock DIY feeling! Burlesque will always have its high end shows and its more campy and experimental shows and it’s wonderful that there is room for all that self expression. I feel it’s very important for women to express their sexuality in a free and unencumbered way with no edicts from society or more particularly straight men.
Q: How rewarding is it to know that you are such an inspiration to women of all sizes? You’ve remarked before that “the power of possibility” is the most important result of burlesque’s influence on its female audience. Can you talk more about that power?
I would hope that I inspire ladies not to give up on their own power. I’m happy to be a role model for plus-sized ladies, but more than that I feel like the leader of a powerful revolution for women’s rights. What we do in burlesque in the 21st century is so much more than just glamour and beauty and a rhinestone leg show. I believe it also to be an important expression of female culture. People talk about the Amazonian tribe of myth, and well, I think we have that potential as well. Women are very powerful and taking away our power over our own reproduction and sexual expression is akin to castration. It keeps us down and powerless.
Q. Do you think Karl Lagerfeld knew what he was getting into when you first entered the room for your shoot? Was he able to match your energy and pace when trying to capture your images?
Lagerfeld is a very busy glamour puss! He was shooting his own film that day and my shoot was like a little side diversion. He was exhausted by the time he got to me because his day started at 7am. It’s not easy to be the most glamorous man in the world and have your day start at that hour. Our shoot started at 10pm right after the film wrapped for the day, but he gave me as much as I gave him. I adored him and everyone on that set. They treated me with respect and I had a wonderful time.
Q. You’ve said that there were several Coco Chanel look-alikes milling about the area during your shoot due to a movie being filmed. How crazy was that?
Everyone on set thought it was surreal seeing Jane Schmitt dressed as Chanel later in her life. She was the spitting image of Chanel herself! The film is posted to Youtube (and you can see it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3t_3fIWFlw). I loved the woman who played the Duchess of Windsor, Amanda Harlech; she was someone with an incredible aura. I had never heard of her, but when I met her I knew she was someone I wanted to get to know better. Apparently she is a confidant to Lagerfeld and John Galliano. I just thought she was an amazing person. Jane Schmitt was too and that’s why she was in the photos with me. It wasn’t planned, we just happened to be talking and getting along and Lagerfeld started shooting us. She was a little unsure at first, but I made her feel welcome and told her I wanted her in the photos. I’m glad one of them was chosen for the magazine. I thought it was a fun juxtaposition as I felt Chanel’s spirit pirouetting in her grave while I was posing on her stairwell!
Q. Would you say that in a way your size/shape has been a double-edged sword for you in the industry? I’ve seen remarks from you before that you feel like people always focus on that as opposed to your art/talent being the primary focus as it is with some of your contemporaries.
I do wish that people could not have prejudices, but that’s a tall order. I started performing burlesque routines because I felt that it put my dance training and body type in perspective, but some people can’t go on that journey with me due to their own ideas of what women should be. I hate that should word. I think it’s very dangerous.
Q. What the most fun experience you’ve had since embarking on your burlesque career? What has been your most challenging experience to date?
There are challenges in every career. Mine has been to keep myself motivated to make new work, but luckily I have had life changing experiences seeing what other performers have done within the burlesque medium and it keeps me inspired to make new and different pieces. The best experiences have been traveling and meeting new performers everywhere. The first time I heard backstage chatter about pasties and burlesque costumes with a mid-west accent was a fun and weird experience. Walking into old theaters and feeling the history in those buildings has been amazing too! I’ve met some incredible people because of burlesque, some very famous and some just regular folks and I’m always amazed at people’s generosity and fabulousness!
Dirty Martini will be performing with Perle Noire and the mighty Immodesty Blaize on March 20th at the Lakewood Theater, as well as answering questions about her role in the new film Burlesque Undressed. For more info on the show, please visit our Events page.