A new exhibition celebrating Jean Paul Gaultier opens at the Brooklyn Museum this week. From couture shows in Paris to line-dancing in Texas, Dita Von Teese pays tribute to the legendary designer.
I met Jean Paul Gaultier in 2002 in Paris through my friend photographer Ali Mahdavi and legendary fashion muse Suzanne von Aichinger. When Jean Paul met me, he told me that he had pictures of me from my Playboy December 2002 magazine cover, which showcased all of my burlesque shows. At that time, I was well-known in the burlesque and pin-up world, but I wasn’t being invited to fashion shows, and I certainly wasn’t being dressed in haute couture for red carpets.
Not long after this meeting, Suzanne and Flaunt magazine had an idea for me to do a pictorial of some of the iconic pieces from the Gaultier haute couture archives. I flew to Paris and spent several days in the atelier with Suzanne, who helped me choose all of the looks. It was around that time that Jean Paul said something to the effect of: “Wear anything you want, to any event—even if you want to wear it to the grocery store.” Naturally, I was delighted with this idea, and for every event, there I was, wearing the most extravagant head-to-toe looks from the Jean Paul Gaultier archives. I was overdressed for every event, and I loved it! A famous stylist I knew said to me: “How are you managing to borrow those things? We can’t even pull them for [insert A-list actress here].” I’d heard more than once that Gaultier was one of the most selective of couturiers, preferring to dress women of unique character with strong personalities, diverse beauties… and being part of this select group of women with the golden ticket has always meant something to me.
As a longtime admirer, I could easily be too starstruck with Jean Paul to even speak, but his warmth, charisma, and sense of humor always makes me feel very comfortable. I remember scouring vintage stores in the early 1990s to try to emulate the look of his iconic bullet bras and corsets, so I had a pinch-myself moment when I took him to my favorite vintage store in San Francisco last year! When I spend time with Jean Paul, it feels very relaxed and easy. I was with him when he opened his wonderful exhibition in San Francisco and in Dallas, where we ended up in a roadhouse dive bar for $2 drinks and country line-dancing.
Jean Paul and I have many of the same obsessions with the fetishistically feminine: corsetry, bullet bras, and that luscious, peachy-pink ballet slipper satin that has captured my imagination since my childhood. I love his devotion to his obsessions. With every collection through the years, he reinvents his infatuations in different and exciting ways. I’ve had an unfaltering relationship with my signature beauty style for over 20 years, and so I have a tendency to relate and respect others who are not swayed by what everyone else is doing. Jean Paul presents a thrilling level of opulent beauty on his runway, extremes in both his creations and with the selection of models. I find his selection of diversity in beauty interesting and respectable, and I love the runway cameos made by his favorite women, so it was a dream come true to walk his runway twice. The second time, in 2010, Jean Paul asked me to do a little striptease performance for his show. I was living in Paris at the time, and I had a wonderful time with the master corsetier Mr. Pearl for lots of late night fittings for the corset for the performance. I loved taking Jean Paul’s lead with his unique twist on my classic burlesque acts, which he faithfully attends each time I perform in Paris.
There is one particular dress that I had been so captivated by that I have worn it for two photo shoots, and on four different red carpets. One day, after years of sheepishly asking if I could wear that dress yet again—and after declaring my undying love for this long, black silk velvet “hussar” gown countless times—Jean Paul said I should keep it in my care. It’s my most treasured article of glamour, this dress. Watch for it. I’ll be wearing it again, and again and again—perhaps even to the grocery store.