Douglas Little and Dita Von Teese | The Nocturnal Potential, The Lure of the Unknown

Via the 25th Anniversary Issue, Under the Silver Moon

Written by

Matthew Bedard

Photographed by

Albert Sanchez

Styled by

Elfee Duquette

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Dita wears DITA VON TEESE dress, HENRI SILLAM earring, and BIJOUX brooch. Douglas wears UNSIGNED turtleneck.

Douglas Little is something of a cultural enigma. The Los Angeles-based designer puzzingly moves through the universes of fragrance design, installation art, and bespoke experience with profound fluidity, ever-intersecting with stylish spheres of social and sophisticated influence. In 2003, after studying at Syndicat National des Fabricants de Produits Aromatiques in Grasse, France, he founded his namesake brand, D.L. & Co., which expresses in a line of boutique fragrances, mind-blowing candles, and unique product collaborations. The products are as outstanding as attending an event of his design, or witnessing his window display installs on behalf of clients as esteemed as Van Cleef & Arpels or Bergdorf Goodman.

A close friend to Little, Dita Von Teese is the most famous burlesque performer in the world. The entrepreneur and high fashion favorite recently opened a jaw-dropping residency at Horseshoe Las Vegas’ Jubiliee Theatre, which has solicited critical acclaim and re-acquainted the live entertainment capital with an art form phenomenon intrinsic to Vegas’ identity, yet long absent on the Strip. As DVT shares, “It’s always felt with something like burlesque and striptease, there has to be some kind of meaning and love behind it or else it doesn’t matter.

And it’s thriving in this era more than it was in the 1930s and 40s because it’s different—there’s a different kind of meaning behind it.”

As Hollywood-based friends and occasional collaborators, Little and DVT have both borne witness to their aesthetics or persona scale and appropriate, particularly in the digital age. But they’re not so bothered by it—such outcomes are the byproducts of modernity. Staying true to your inspiration, they’ll tell you, remembering your childlike curiosity, are where meaning and longevity are formed. Today, the two discuss their love of bygone eras and movements, the ingredients of fantasy, and why the nighttime, with its cool and patient moon, continues to compel them.

Talent's own shirt.

Dita, how’s Vegas?

Dita: I mean, it’s great. I’m really proud of the show we’ve created. There’s nothing like it in Vegas. I’m in this historic theater where the Rat Pack played. I’m utilizing all of the vintage Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee costumes. When they built this show, the costume budget alone was four million dollars, which is crazy to think that somebody would spend that kind of money on costumes for anything today. I can’t believe that I have this treasure trove at my disposal, and I’m excited that people get to see all of it again, in motion, on stage, instead of in a museum, you know?

Douglas, what comes to mind when Dita remarks about this idea of harkening back to a lost era or time?

Douglas: I think very much that this is why, for whatever reason, our paths have crossed in this life. I don’t know, it may be cliche to say this, but truly, there’s only one DVT, and she’s a very unique individual with a very specific vision, and it’s a vision that is one of bringing back something that is beautiful—it’s glamorous, it’s fantasy, it’s all of those things that we lack so much of right now. Earlier Dita compared the world of fragrance-making to music and I love that. It’s this invisible thing that allows people to jump into a space of fantasy, and of beauty and of glamour, and of being a better version of themselves.

Dita: We have a reverence for the past. And when I think about fragrance, fragrance of the past used to be pretty like animalistic and even funky, and somewhere along the way, it turned into this thing where everyone’s smelling like flower beds or super clean or citrusy or, you know? Both of us love to look at the past and remind people that it was a different time, and probably a little bit more risqué than what you think it was. 

And of course, with performance, with installations, no one is ever the same. Do people come to the performance expecting something?
It’s funny. In the show I have feather headdresses on men as well as showgirls, and some people are upset by that. I thought, ‘What do you want them to wear?’ This is about a fantasy. If you can’t be secure in your masculinity and wear a feathered headdress, then what?

Douglas, how do you think fantasy relates to the idea of one- of-a-kind?

Douglas: Well, I don’t think that one-of-a-kind can exist without fantasy. I think that the two are interlinked. In all of the work that I do with creating visual installations, it’s true high fantasy and it is deeply one-of-a-kind. It’s funny—I look back at my 20s and how much I was trying to like find an agent to work with and someone to represent me and every single one of them would look at my body of work and say, ‘But what is it that you do?’

And I would say to them, ‘Well, I do all of these things.’ And they would say, ‘Yeah, but you know, you just need to pick one.’ I remember that sticking out so clearly and now, you know, 25 years later how proud I am to be able to say that I do fragrance and I do visual installation, I do these things that allow me to be able to create immersive fantasy.

Much of fantasy could be said to be dependent on muses. You’ve mentioned before this idea of ‘courting your muses.’ How do you define courtship in that way?

Douglas: I would say that courtship is a learning process. Long-term courtship is something that’s so incredibly valuable, because you’re creating aspects of longing and desire, and tension. What Dita and I both love so much is this idea of vintage culture and how there is an aspect of restraint, an aspect of elegance that happens that slowly builds that tension.

Dita, many people have cited you as a muse throughout your career. What about your muses? Are they found in your stage show, which is so filled with dynamism and inclusivity?

Dita: Well, it’s funny because I’ve even been trying to figure out ways to abandon the terms ‘inclusive’ and ‘diverse’ because they’ve become adopted by brands who are not. When I launched my lingerie brand for the first time, like 13 years ago, I came right out of the gate with a full range of sizing. I’ve always loved showing people that sensuality and eroticism is not dependent on fitting into a certain stereotype. I think that’s one of the reasons my touring show has always been successful.

I found that when I was casting people, my favorite burlesque performers were people that didn’t fit the pinup girl stereotype. There’s just something about watching people who are different make a different path. My story was that I tried to be a ballet dancer my whole life. I was not good enough at it. And so I started making burlesque shows in the early nineties and it’s kind of like my downfall became my strength. And so I love seeing shows where I can see that someone’s taken what they have and made the maximum of it.

You both have such strong aesthetics. How about the idea of those being appropriated?

Dita: You mean, how does it feel to be on everyone’s mood board? It used to be so nice, like when you would meet someone who pulled out a page of a magazine and had it on the wall, but it’s so different now. Everyone’s using social media as their mood board. And they, you know, I mean, just this morning I had to get shown three places people are using my picture for advertising their club, or copies of my stage props. It’s just like, ‘Oh God, there’s so many ways to do that. You didn’t really have to copy it exactly.’

Sometimes people want advice. ‘How did I get where I am?’ And I think, well, you know, I started doing this in the 90s, and I had to use books and pictures and my imagination to wonder what Lili St. Cyr’s show looked like, because there was no video of it that I could find until later. And I was so glad I didn’t imitate. I had to make it up in my imagination how I thought my performance should go.

Douglas, what are you thoughts on mimicry or social media’s uptake of others’ creativity?

Douglas: I think the key is to stay very clear as to what really inspires you, then I think it’s easy to not become distracted by all of that. As Dita said: we’ve seen so many people do duplications of her show and duplications of her persona and whatnot. But, as I said earlier, there’s only one DVT. And you can’t duplicate it.
With my body of work, it’s been fascinating to see mimicry and to see adoptions of various things that I’ve done being integrated into these massive brands. And it’s very flattering to see that, because I think of the work that I do as being left-field and pretty avant-garde most of the time.

As Dita says, our love is about the exploration of the unknown and about finding these rare treasures, and really allowing them to take us to these new places. And there’s no way that anyone can duplicate that. That is something that is deeply ingrained into both of us as artists and humans and, and we will continue down that path, allowing us to be taken to these amazing places. And allowing that for us to be able to take people who love what we do on that journey with us

Dita: For me, so much of what I do is rooted in childhood obsession. Sometimes I’m in vogue and sometimes I’m not, but you know, for as long as I’ve been doing this, I don’t change the way I dress. I don’t change my hairstyle. It’s like, I don’t have a choice. I’m completely obsessed with certain eras and with what I do. And it’s from the imprints from my childhood. And I think that’s the difference too. You know, Jean Paul Gaultier is obsessed with the bullet bra, and the corset, and the peach satin, and the circle stitching. That’s from his grandmother when he was a little kid. Like, it’s total obsession, and that’s why it’s been a through line in his works since he started. He and I had a conversation about it once. It’s just like these childhood things that you can’t get away from. So sometimes I’m in fashion, sometimes I’m not. I don’t really care.

The theme of the issue with which we’re featuring you is Under the Silver Moon—you know, silver as something that you gift for a 25th anniversary as a material object. But we also like this idea that under a certain moon, anyone can shine. And I think that ties into so much of what you’ve shared today—it’s anyone’s moon to have and to behold—and also this idea of embracing the unknown. This, of course, invokes the nighttime. So, what about the night or the nocturnal experience is magical or unique to you?

Douglas: Nighttime has always held the most fascination for me, because it’s a time when, for most people, things are scary, and unknown. For me, it is the space that I’m the most comfortable in. Whether I rack it up to my astrology or whatnot, I’m very comfortable in this space of the unknown, and this is where I draw my inspiration. Everything that I’ve done has been always surrounded by the night—night-blooming flowers, dark aspects of the garden, sensuality, eroticism. All of these things seem to be much more lush, they seem to be much more plump, they’re much more visceral once the sun goes down. My world is one that is slightly fuzzy. It’s dreamy, it’s ethereal, and it exists and it glows and shines much better after the sun sets.

Dita: I was thinking about Under the Silver Moon and thinking, you know, it’s kind of about putting yourself in your best light. And you can manipulate the light at night. Right? So you can become whatever mythology you want to become. I love the idea of transformation. To me, that’s what glamour is. It’s magic. It’s transformation. I’m a natural blonde from a small farming town in Michigan, so I’ve created this persona and this look—I always love this idea of a Hollywood makeover. I think the nighttime gives you this opportunity to shine the light on yourself, however you want to. Is it a pink spotlight? Is it the silver, the light of the silver moon? Is it candlelight? There’s something that you can play with—the light of fantasy that you want to be seen in. 

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Douglas Little, Dita Von Teese, Flaunt Magazine, Issue 190, The 25th Anniversary Issue, Under the Silver Moon