BOOK REVIEW – DITA VON TEESE – FETISH AND THE ART OF THE TEESE 2006 Harper Collins
Twin volume to Dita Von Teese’s equally glossy and lavishly illustrated book, BURLESQUE (And The Art Of The Teese). Teese sees fetish art and burlesque as inseparable bedfellows, with the sexiest clothing and props of the dances echoing the garment and apparatus required for fetish aficionados. Both pastimes are totally focussed on sex and sensuality. That is why the two in one books are presented thus. Reach the end of one, flip the book 180 degrees, and turn the book upside down to commence study and enjoyment of the other. They are unlikely to sell as separate volumes. It would be like separating Tom & Jerry, or heads from tails.
While Burlesque is about what the dancer removes, and dares to bear, Fetishism is about what she (or he0 dares to keep on. The corset for example, highlights a figure, but also acts like body armour and a symbol of chastity. It protects that which it exposes to voyeuristic delight. . The ambiguity fuels the tease (or Teese). Fetishism need not be about whips, chains and full-blown BDSM, as some nervous and squeamish people seem to believe. A pair of stilettos, a pair of fishnet stockings, etc, count as fetish wears.
While some men would find the stiletto a turn on in itself, and take the shoes in hand to do with as they please, most would only find the shoe appealing while it is on the foot of a gorgeous woman Teese calls the woman of fetish wear more Fascinatrix than Dominatrix. It’s astonishing that the word Fascinatrix hasn’t caught on yet.
While fetishism is as old as humanity, its modern look owes much to one Marchesa Luisa Casati, a 19th century French Marquis who wore the most decadent and outrageous society outfits she could, being seen draped in live snakes, or accompanied by panthers on occasion. Her look has inspired many artists, during her time and since.
Fetish means ‘A shock to the sensibilities’, and Casati lived to such an aim, and burlesque stars, up to and including Von Teese emulate such an aim. Surprisingly, she sees herself as more of a submissive than a dominatrix, seeing little desire to order men to do her bidding. She likes to feel that she is giving her audience what they desire rather than taking control over them. Not surprisingly, another of her heroes is Leopold Von Sacher Masoch, the man who’s name gave us the word Masochism, just as De Sade gave us sadism. Teese is inspired by the damsel in peril, the 1940’s heroine, strapped to a railway track in need of rescue by the brave hero of the story.
It was images of the gorgeous Bettie Page from the 1950’s posing in fetish wear, and being chased by men in gorilla suits that inspired Teese to reinvent that lost World for a modern audience, and in doing so Burlesque Fetish rose like a phoenix from its former glory to a new and daring flight. As Bettie’s photographers were hauled in on obscenity charges by the puritanical authorities, the first day of the burlesque heroines was winding down. The law demanded that Bettie’s pictures be destroyed, but fortunately, many were hidden and preserved for posterity. Among Bettie’s last poses was the work she did for Playboy magazine, and the same journal made Teese a cover star 40 years later. She had hoped to be called Dita Von Teese, but a typo that may have been deliberate by the editors set her on her own course to Burlesque and Fetish stardom and legend.
Teese finishes her study and autobiography with a look at the foot fetish, a pleasure shared by F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, and Teese finds an empathy and affection for those who dare to indulge and flaunt their passions.
The Fetish? Burlesque books are the best of their kind relating to the world where glamour and sex come together as nowhere else. Teese belongs in any roll call of the names of the goddesses, from Aphrodite, through Bettie Grable, Bettie Page, and Marilyn Monroe. When I se a burlesque show I wonder warmly if the dancers were inspired by this wonderful double book, and in many cases, they undoubtedly were.
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See also my review of the companion volume BURLESQUE
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