As she launches her vintage inspired lingerie line in Harrods (it's gorgeous, BTW) Dita Von Teese took time out of her schedule to talk about something she's a bit of an expert on: vintage fashion...
Q: What’s the most precious item of vintage in your wardrobe?
A: I have a suit by Christian Dior haute couture from the New Look era. It’s three pieces in tweed and is the kind of thing you see in the museums. with the red serial number stamped on the inside. It’s the real thing made in Paris and silk lined. The blouse has garters - it’s really incredible. It was expensive but I found out later I’d scored. Today it’s worth as much as a Mercedes.
Q: Do you have someone who alters your things?
A: I have one great tailor who can do anything. She’s great. I would really recommend finding someone for yourself if you are serious about vintage because. For almost twenty -five years, I used to go to any old tailor and there are so many things that have been ruined by not being altered properly. The lady I now use is very conscientious about keeping the style right and making some allowance for when your size fluctuates, and you can let it back out.
Q: What’s the best way to work out if something’s good quality?
A: A lot of my vintage dresses from the 40s and 50s are homemade. But with vintage clothes you need to be prepared to put in the maintenance. I’m constantly having things fixed because they’re so old: threads break, zips buckle. There’s upkeep involved for sure and you have to be prepared to restore things to keep the quality at a premium.
Q: Do you think there’s anything that’s better as vintage than modern.
A: I think the ready-to-wear clothes were more glamorous back then, for sure, and the fabrics were so much nicer. Before the era of stretch they had these beautiful fabrics like grosgrain satin and silk fabrics and beautiful prints - quality was much better than it is now.
Q: How do you look after and wash vintage items?
A: I have a really good dry-cleaner. Living in Hollywood, I have access to people that really know how to handle delicate things because of the movie industry. Back then, women used to wear slips or dress guards under their clothes so they didn’t have to clean them so often. I think this makes sense.
Q: Do you ever go into charity shops or just the top vintage shops these days?
A: My favourite event for shopping is twice a year in LA. It’s the Vintage Clothing Expo (http://www.vintageexpo.com) The dealers from all over the country come to sell and it really is the best vintage shopping experience in the world, allunder one roof. It’s fantastic, and the prices are good. I don’t go to charity shops anymore because those people [at Vintage Expo] have already been there to clean those things out.
Q: Do you still get a buzz out of finding a great item?
A: I still love the thrill of the hunt. The reason I started dressing in vintage in the first place was because I couldn’t afford designer clothes so I started to find my own way to get like the look that I would see in fashion magazines and create that look for less. But I still like getting a deal. I get excited about scoring.
A: How do you do vintage on holiday?
Q: I like 50s summer dresses in crisp cotton dress or a skirt paired with a simple T-shirt. There’s a designer called Rachel Palley, who makes these delicious long Grecian style dresses who I love, so between the 50s dresses and the Rachel Palley dresses, that’s my holiday look, mixed in with vintage hats and bags.
A: What would you never buy vintage?
Q: I don’t buy vintage shoes anymore because I’ve ruined so many pairs that were so beautiful; I think they should be left alone. I don’t dress head to toe vintage anymore like I used to. I had a period in my life where I dressed head to toe vintage everything. I would have the hat, the gloves, the shoes, the stockings, the lingerie… even the car was vintage. I was really living in that period. Now I love to mix it up. My style has definitely evolved.
Q: Have you ever worn vintage underwear before?
A: Yes, I have a big collection of it. I first started collecting vintage lingerie when I was about 17-years-old. I started collecting vintage slips and bras, mostly because I was trying to get the look of Jean Paul Gaultier. I always loved the bullet bras that he was doing in the early years so I would buy vintage lingerie to get that look and wear lingerie as outerwear because I didn’t have money to spend on designers. I definitely wore and collected a lot of vintage lingerie and I still do, mostly because I just love it but I don’t really wear it anymore - mostly I use it for reference.
Q: How has underwear changed?
A: It’s very different. I love some of the details [ of the old stuff] like I love button clasps instead of hooks and I love all the boning. In the 1930’s and ‘40’s lingerie was all lined in silk velvet; it’s so nice to have that against your skin. I use velvet in a lot of the straps in my current collection.
Q: You talked about underwear as outerwear. If somebody is a complete novice at doing that, what would you recommend?
A: Bustiers and bras with tuxedo jackets is a great look. Or under something sheer, like a sheer blouse, is a nice way to hint at underwear. Right now I’m wearing a Ulyana Shervinko [floral chiffon] dress with my Maestra bra. With lingerie, I think there’s something about certain shapes that begs to be seen. For me, showing a little peek of beautiful lingerie underneath clothes is a little touch of femininity. It’s symbolic of womanhood and an example of what it means to be a lady.
Q: I guess you were never a tomboy.
A: Never! When people said your child years are the best, that wasn’t the case for me. I could not wait to be a grown woman who could choose her own clothes instead of having them chosen for me. I was fascinated with lingerie from a very young age and used to go into my mother’s drawer and steal things and try them on. I think I really associate lingerie with something that we do that enhances our femininity and creates everyday moments of glamour and beauty. I don’t really think of it as something to seduce with. I don’t have my lingerie for a man even though I know the power of it.
Q: How would you recommend somebody introducing vintage subtly into their wardrobe?
A: I don’t recommend you go full on vintage but I think there are little classic hallmarks that look very modern. Red lipstick is one of those. It still looks very relevant and chic yet is very much of that time.
Q: Would you ever leave the house without a red lip?
A: I think I last left the house without a red lip in an emergency, taking my cat to the vets in the middle of the night. I put it on everyday because I’m just trying to maintain a degree of elegance. It’s about keeping decorum, about good manners.
Q: Last question, we can’t imagine you in tracksuit bottoms…
A: Ha! Me neither.