Tuesday 8 August 2017

The art and craft of burlesque around the world

Most of us are used to common or garden burlesque - ostrich fans and tassels, a blend of cheekiness and courage, an all round exploration of the worlds of humour and sensuality. And there’s nothing wrong with that - but it’s good to explore some of the more exciting burlesque events taking place internationally.

Broadway Bares

Perhaps one of the most innovative events that takes place every year is Broadway Bares - a burlesque themed fund-raiser that has been running for 27 years. This year’s extravaganza - titled Strip U, raised $1,568,114 and featured 181 of the most exciting dancers (both male and female) who have appeared in New York City. The show was university themed and featured such settings as a frat house and a science lab. Not only is the event a top flight, superbly choreographed extravaganza but the profits go to support Equity Fights AIDS. One of the most rewarding aspects of this kind of event is the way that it brings together young performers with seasoned choreographers to produce the kind of number that’s more reminiscent of Busby Berkeley that the pared back ‘gritty’ burlesque that we see so often at present. Large casts and split second timing makes any burlesque show an adrenaline fuelled ride and it was notable that costuming this year was minimal, possibly to avoid wardrobe malfunctions during the demanding skits.

Notable features of the Broadway Bares process this year include “Feminist Studies” - a performance which began with 1915 sufragettes who stripped to Katy Perry’s Roar and ended by parading massive images of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama - choreography by John Alix. It’s hard to imagine a British equivalent - Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon perhaps?

Also outstanding was a lacrosse themed burlesque choreographed by Charlie Sutton that featured male dancers performing a slick blend of dance, exercise and acrobatics.

Schoolgirl and schoolboy costuming is always popular for obvious reasons, but the less obvious ones include the fact that it’s an easy costume to assemble and to remove, unlike some other, more demanding outfits.

Underwater tease

The Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale has long been host to water themed entertainment but now it has something different - MeduSirena AquaBurlesque. Drawing in part on the Hollywood movies of Esther Williams, it brings old school burlesque principles to underwater dance. Headlined by Marina Anderson the demanding performances require the dancers to return to the surface periodically for air, rather than using air hoses as is done in other underwater shows. But Anderson believes this is crucial to the heritage of the show.

So called ‘Porthole Bars’ were a huge draw in Florida in the 1950s but fell out of favour as the hippy generation rejected the glamorous costuming and complex requirements of burlesque performed underwater. The show is not a classic mermaid theme, which limits the dancers by putting them in fishtail costumes, but a more demanding underwater burlesque that allows for more dynamic movements and considerably more exposure of flesh.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

The Burlesque phenomenon - celebrating performers of colour

Our friends over at Revelist just compiled a list of famous black burlesque dancers and it’s been making us think about our own favourite burlesque performers of colour and why there still seems to be a little less obvious equality than we might wish for in the headline acts of burlesque events.

Back in the 1990s the neo-burlesque movement took the rather staid world of ‘stripping’ by storm, bringing new stories, new acts and a completely new and empowered focus to the world of burlesque.

1.    A few years later we found ourselves watching Chocolat the Extraordinaire onstage and were impressed by her powerful performance and the uncompromising blackness of her performance. Sadly, we haven’t seen her around much recently, although she’s written some excellent articles on the role of colour in UK burlesque.

2.    We also fell in love with Sukki Singapora (whose father is S Indian Singaporean and whose mother is white British) and her irreverent style of burlesque which owed nothing at all to the ‘ladyboys’ genre of Asian burlesque, being instead an incisive performer with a willowy style and a razor-sharp wit. She’s exactly the kind of performer who would delight in a punk rock burlesque dress!

3.    Of course we can’t forget Fancy Chance - who was voted Alternative Miss World and London’s Top Tranny in the same year! With a circus skills background and a penchant for dragging up as Prince, Fancy Chance is one of the funniest, as well as one of the most barrier challenging, performers of recent years. Her latest act combines burlesque with heart-stopping stories of her early life - abandoned on the steps of a South Korean police station, she never knew her mother and has made her home in both the US and the UK. She’s also famous for hanging by her hair!

4.    And finally, Miss Knock Out Noire, a black performer who may (or may not) hail from Oslo. We’re not quite sure where she hangs her hat but we’re very clear about how she performers - very much a knock-out act with an unashamedly high octane approach to burlesque.

One key feature of many of the performers of colour we celebrate is that they value bespoke burlesque costuming - all too often the standard costume sizing isn’t ideal for everyone which is why we offer a wide range of bespoke costumes like our black lace corset which can be tailored to be a perfect fit for you.

And it seems we’re not alone in exploring the margins of burlesque - Australia news recently profiled a boylesque dancer called Bobbie Sox - a former bricklayer - who reports having gashed his arm with an axe and burnt friction holes in his stage clothes through his highly energetic performances!

Wednesday 12 April 2017

The Burlesque Boutique has been touring the world this month - not in reality, sadly, but at least online.

Aboriginal burlesque

Our first story comes from Canada where a burlesque troupe has been creating many positive conversations since their appearance at the Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver which showcases Aboriginal artists.

At first glance Virago Nation look much like any other burlesque group but they have a very deep mission - to “reclaim indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonisation.” In Canada, where they claim the representations of Aboriginal women’s sexuality are both few and constraining, their work is designed to empower “all people, especially indigenous women” and to bring them “a healthy, fun relationship with their bodies”.  During the Talking Stick Festival in February they not only put on shows, but also participated in a two day ‘pay what you can’ burlesque class. As is so often the case with burlesque, its performers are at the forefront of conversations about identity and power.

Burlesque weddings

A burlesque themed wedding has become so much of a thing that it’s hardly worth mentioning now, unless people have panthers as ushers or swing from a trapeze while making their vows, but just because it’s become mainstream, doesn’t mean it’s always easy for the bride to find what she needs. Once you’ve got your burlesque wedding dress - and we love the way cream taffeta flatters every skin tone - it’s important to be able to follow through your burlesque theme, which is where your choice of entertainment can be crucial to establishing the tone for your celebration. Some clever ideas we’ve seen recently included:

1.    having a Vamp and Tramp box on every table at the reception - when a bell rang, people had a set amount of time to take out the costumes, get into them and get into pose before the roving photographer took a picture that was instantly displayed on a digital screen.
2.    hiring Vice-Cream girls and guys to walk around with trays containing toppings for the vanilla ice-cream that was served for pudding, like the old-fashioned cigarette girls

Whatever you choose to do, it’s that element of dramatic surprise that will give your guests an unforgettable experience. Btw, please don't have panthers for ushers, it’s cruel to big cats and will probably distract your guests from the wedding!

 “Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe” reviews

This documentary is receiving mixed reviews in the USA, with many people seeing it as positive and empowering while others comment on the lack of depth in the interrelationships between the performers. That’s an interesting take, given that Producer/Director Jon Manning claims that his intention was to explore not just why burlesque performance is popular but also why the performance call themselves a tribe. Following eight burlesque performers over seven years, the film aimed to watch them “evolve their craft of tease, and develop relationships with one another”. In the first he’s definitely succeeded but there are questions about how deeply this film digs into the subculture of burlesque and what makes it so important to its performers and its audience.

Thursday 1 December 2016

The Burlesque Boutique’s Christmas gift ideas

The Burlesque Boutique has been exploring some ideas for stocking fillers and we’ve come up with a little list of our favourite burlesque gifts:

Bikes, brunettes and burlesque - the legend of Patti Waggin

We love Patti Waggin (real name Patricia Hartwick) to bits. Born in 1926, she was an athletic and often tomboyish burlesque performer who drew upon her experience of growing up with a gaggle of half-brothers, in particular when she started motorcycle racing at around the age of fourteen! Patti did some of the things that are now used as jokes - for example she actually became a stripper to put herself through college … and did use the money to put herself through college, hence her first stage name ‘The Educated Torso’ - you couldn’t make it up, could you?  She was a huge pin up during the Korean War and appeared in October 1955 issue of Playboy. Three times married, she gave up burlesque in the 1960s to raise a family. Patti was inspirational in other ways too - she answered all her fan letters personally and they were gathered together in a book called Fan Letters to a Stripper which we think makes a great Christmas gift.

Give your partner a gift - a burlesque feather fan

Now you might be surprised at the idea of giving your partner a feather fan as a stocking filler, but seriously, they love it!  There’s something incredibly decadent about feathers and as bedroom toys they are a fantastic aid to erotic behaviour … whether you undertake a little private striptease or use the fan as an accessory for a cocktail party or fancy dress event he or she will come to associate that apparently innocent object with the moments of greatest intimacy and personal pleasure.

What every burlesquer wants for Christmas

And if you’re being asked what you’d like for Christmas, how about a Miss Santa feather dress? Our bespoke corset showgirl dress is made to fit you - and only you - and features a flattering feather bustle. It’s the perfect gift for anybody keen to explore their inner burlesque dancer and makes the basis for a burlesque costume.

Burlesque decor - Christmas with flair!

This year’s top tip for stylish decorating is an all black Christmas tree, which is great as it fits perfectly with the burlesque lifestyle. While 2015’s Christmas theme was all sugar pink and sweetness, 2016 is shaping up to be a more sophisticated Xmas, with jet black decor being harmonised with simpler decorative elements such as plain brown paper gift wrapping tied up with waxed black string. Make some of those presents decor-appropriate such as black g-strings or patent leather pumps and you’ve got a really sexy Advent look going on.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Lady Gaga - the purest modern burlesque star?

It’s a given that many a modern star has roots in burlesque: Christine Aguilera, Dita Von Teese and Courtney love to name but three. Perhaps the most famous, though is Lady Gaga whose amazing costumes are largely corset based. In fact, she’s the only performer we know who has worn not one, but two corsets! Her first outfit for American Horror Story: Hotel, weighed around 20 kilos and required the support of two corsets. When you’re talking about bespoke burlesque costumes, Gaga takes the proverbial biscuit.

And Lady Gaga has never been reticent about how she learned her showmanship - starting work in strip clubs when she was eighteen after she moved out of home and insisted on supporting herself through waitressing, and when she was short of money, stripping. Her immense body confidence has never been in doubt and nor has her wild costuming. Even when she had no money, she opted for black leather and danced to Guns N’Roses. We’re certain she’d adore our Napaleather corset!

In fact she says that dancing was her major income source and her explicit and sometimes controversial videos draw upon the time when she was ‘onstage in a thong, with a fringe hanging over my ass… lighting hairsprays on fire, go-go dancing to Black Sabbath and singing songs about oral sex.’ Okay then, we can see that she’s never been shy.

Lady Gaga Dive Tour

So strong is the role of burlesque in her life that with the release of her latest album, Joanne, she’s given three tiny, intimate and gritty shows that hark back to the small stage, up-close performances she gave to earn enough money to pay her rent. That’s a far cry from her Super Bowl performance but it’s an homage to the role of burlesque that shows she’s unashamed of her background and values what she calls ‘raw Americana’ - a blend of country, pop, funk and more. It’s been an intensely personal launch of an album that commemorates an aunt who died at the age of 19.

Burlesque has always been about stripping, both stripping the body naked but also exposing the raw emotions that society would rather have us hide. Lady Gaga’s gothic language and transgressive imagery is a way to connect her audience to its own hidden darkness.

Burlesque costumes for the modern age

Above all, Lady Gaga is declarative - her costumes speak before she opens her mouth, so from the famous meat dress through to the elegance of her woman warrior gowns, to which we pay our own homage with the Warrior Steampunkcorset, she invites us to respond, pushing buttons for us all so that we can invest in where the song is going to take us. It’s not always a comfortable experience, but that’s exactly what burlesque is all about - the challenge of facing ourselves and taking pleasure in the discoveries we make.

Friday 28 October 2016

Art as burlesque as art … a tour of how burlesque shapes art and vice versa

Burlesque photo portraiture

The work of Nisha Sondhe, a photographer, might not be familiar to you, but her latest portrait series is an intensely personal one. It records here experience of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

What makes the exhibition quite exceptional is the way that Sondhe combines photography and art to create vivid imagery of the experience of chemotherapy and also that her models for this photo series are all burlesque and cabaret performers. Our photo, for example, The Incredible Edible Akynos sitting crosslegged on a kitchen table and illustrates Sondhe’s experience of eating whatever she felt like being about the only positive experience she had during chemotherapy. Painted on heart-shaped pasties and a graphic representation of a pizza slice add a surreal sense to the picture which serve to illuminate the way that chemo changes the senses for the person undergoing it.

Why burlesque performers? It seems their larger-than-life alter egos are ideal for engaging the eye and creating vivid imagery that conveys a real sense of the effects of chemotherapy.

 Burlesque troupe discovers self-acceptance

Then there’s the new burlesque troupe put together by Auralie Wilde, in Iowa. After a decade of hoofing it in burlesque troops in New York, she’s returned to her hometown to explore the role of burlesque not just as entertainment but as performance art. Her performers have all taken a journey of personal discovery to identify a burlesque persona they are ready to offer to an audience and Wilde says while it’s ‘the rebellious nature inherent to the show that draws an audience’ there’s an equally compelling reason for the performers to opt for burlesque which is that they undergo a process of personal investigation that gives them an opportunity to validate their own identity, explore audience engagement in a raw and unequivocal fashion and the antithesis of body-shaming or coercive approaches to appearance, behaviour and sexuality.

It sounds like quite a heavy deal, doesn’t it? But in fact this is the process that every burlesque performer goes through, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. From plus sized dancers to gender-defying costuming, from accepting and inclusive programming, through to affirmative audience feedback, burlesque is seen by almost every performer as a life-enhancing experience, although the early stages of developing personal acceptance can be quite challenging.

What we noticed about both these stories is the confident self-awareness of all the performers mentioned - their direct gaze to camera, their comfortable relationship with the viewer, their carefully curated appearance that neither hides nor controls their personalities but rather offers a change to frame their individuality, these are the things that we often observe in boudoir photographs where people chose their burlesque costume to enhance their sense of self. One of the best sellers we have in this regard is our black velvet pirate coat which isn’t just an ideal clothing choice for burlesque performance but makes the perfect photographic background - offering a confident and elegant outfit for portraiture.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Steampunk events- Gaslight Gathering 2016

This weekend is Gaslight Gathering in San Diego. From its beginning in 2009 this event has been an annual process that has grown and gathered pace. This year’s event is entitled “All the Steamy Things That Go Bump In The Night” and has bestselling novelist Gail Carriger as guest of honour.

What to expect at Gaslight Gathering

First of all, it’s a really huge event - up to a thousand people attend every year between Thursday and Sunday.

Second, this event is famous for its workshops. From this year’s line-up we’ve singled out a really special (and really specialist) Saturday workshop: “The Magic of Alchemy – Colonel Malcolm Weatherby will be presenting the magic of chemical and electrochemical electroplating techniques that you can do at home. This class will demonstrate how to brass plate copper, copper plate and brass plate steel. We will show both direct chemical and electrolysis techniques.” Wow … that’s hardcore steampunk!

Third, costuming is a very big thing here and it’s important to be weather-aware when planning your outfit. California can be hot in October, and for those not used to corsets and heat, this can be a real test of stamina. For that reason we’d recommend dressing as our Victorian forbears did, with separates being the key to success. For example, our Jasmin corset dress can easily be teamed with a simple skirt and a bolero or shrug - this allows you to ring the changes easily. For a couple of hours by the pool you can slip off the skirt and bolero and sit in your corset dress without feeling at all out of place, but for formal photographs you’ll find the three garments together give a complete Victorian vibe, particularly when teamed with a good steampunk hat such as our fetching top hat with rose embellishment.

Fourth, it’s good to be aware that steampunk events vary quite a bit in relation to their costuming guidelines. A basic rule of thumb is that the more public the event (such as  the Eastbourne Steampunk Festival which takes place on the actual promenade) the less stringent any kind of dress code. Gaslight Gathering had a minor wobble in its first year when one of the volunteers who was described  online as a ‘costume nazi’ was heard telling some participants that they ‘hadn’t got it right’ when it came to steampunk outfit creation. Since then, this is an event that has gone out of its way to be accepting of diversity in costuming and appearance so it’s one of the most open and welcoming, regardless of how you dress and what you believe steampunk to be. In addition, it’s become a centre for costuming with an excellent range of stalls and workshops that specialise in helping people create their own steampunk accessories and gadgets.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Burlesque Boutique’s Bespoke Hall of Fame

This month we’re exploring the history of one of the most notable couturiers of living memory - who just happens to also be the one most associated with burlesque - Jean Paul Gaultier.

While most of us know of his long and productive association with Dita Von Teese, Gaultier’s relationship with burlesque dates back further than his relationship with Dita, and seems largely to have begun with her ex-husband Marilyn Manson.

In 2003, when Manson was rumoured to be considering retiring from music (rumours since proven to be untrue) his ninth live tour ‘Grotesk Burlesk’ was largely styled by Gaultier. For nearly a year the tour, which travelled Eurasia, Japan and North America, played out a transgressive version of a classic vaudeville or burlesque show of the 1930s. The elaborate Gaultier costumes had to stand up to set piece performances such as huge dance numbers and live music performances and it was this, as much as anything else, that earned Gaultier a reputation as making superbly fitted, but also highly performing, couture.

Gaultier and burlesque

It’s an odd blend, to be honest. Gaultier has brought burlesque to the forefront of his collections time and again (most notably in 2010 and 2014) and has often created iconic stage costumes with a burlesque theme such as Madonna’s cone bra and Kylie Minogue’s corset-based dresses. But burlesque is rarely the first choice for catwalk shows because it’s a hard sell to the average fashion buyer being (a) unlikely to appeal to the women who buy haute couture (b) a clothing aesthetic that is immediately identifiable, therefore difficult to subvert or play with. This has never stopped Gaultier using burlesque as a primary source for his catwalk shows, and it’s significant that in 2010 at his first show after leaving Herm├Ęs, it was Dita and corsetry that were central to his inspiration. Again in 2014 he chose Dita as his muse and she closed his SS14 show, appearing in a butterfly costume with sensual suspenders and stockings.

Perfume, bondage and film wardrobes

What makes Gaultier so special? It’s not just his love of burlesque as an inspiration, nor his ability to subvert a theme that is, in itself, subversive, the Gaultier vision is one of complex and often playful strong female characters, notably in his wardrobe designs for Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover which brought Helen Mirren to prominence, and Luc Besson's The Fifth Element. Our Cecilia underbust corset is a fine example of the kind of design that Gaultier has made mainstream.

This appeal to strength, along with a keen eye for dramatic detail, is part of what gives Gaultier his evergreen design palette. The final facet of the Gaultier difference is his perennial focus on current events especially fetish, cartoons and music which feed into both his clothing and the perfumes for which he is equally well known.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Eastbourne Steampunk Festival 10-11 September 2016

Described as ‘A Festival of Curiosities and Wonders’, this event has been taking place on Eastbourne Seafront for a couple of years now. It’s been a fairly eventual period, with the Eastbourne Bonfire Society taking over from the original festival organisers for the 2016 event.

Steampunk and subversion

That might need some explanation to those not familiar with the obsessive Sussex fixation with bonfires. So … bonfire societies abound in Sussex, with Lewes Bonfire being the most famous, regularly making it to the national news but Brighton comes close, with ‘Burning the Clocks’, an illuminated street parade that has been in existence since 1994. So for the Eastbourne Bonfire Society to be organising the Steampunk Festival links two forms of subversive activities … and it could be quite conflagratory!

Eastbourne has been famous in the past for Victorian cycling races, tea duelling (seeing how long you can hold your biscuit in a cup of hot tea until it crumbles) and music. Especially music! We’ve been very fond of the Masquerade Ball, which takes place this year on Saturday 10 September at the Winter Gardens, Eastbourne. It’s just £15.00 for a ticket to the ball, which we think is exceptionally good value for money.

Dressing for a steampunk ball

While the weekend is family friendly - especially along the promenade - the ball itself is adults only, partly because it includes Victorian pole-dancing (the mind boggles, maybe we’ll manage to snap some photos!) performance art and a fairground, as well as live music from local bands. The masquerade is, of course, masked, although it’s not obligatory. But if you want to go incognito, we have all the steampunk clothing your dark heart could require. For example: a pair of steampunk goggles makes an ideal mask, being both a classic steampunk accessory and a great way of hiding your identity. Allied to our warrior corset, with its brass finish, it provides a brazenly bold steampunk identity!

Perhaps you prefer a more understated look, in which case it’s totally acceptable to blend modern and steampunk to hybridise your appearance. If you’d prefer the hybrid look, try a pirate coat over a modern dress or a steampunk corset allied to a good pair of jeans. For male steampunks, a Victorian solider, mad scientist or explorer look is a good option, or simply a leather jacket over a frilled shirt with a black eye mask, which is very Colin Firth!

As usual there are a range of stalls from which you can buy steampunk accessories but past year’s have shown us that the selection of goods is quite limited so if you have money to spend on your steampunk style, Eastbourne is not the shopping venue that you might be hoping for. 

Friday 26 August 2016

Planning a girls night out? Take some tips from The Burlesque Boutique

We know that many of our shoppers are buying gorgeous outfits for a special night out. Sometimes it’s a Hen Night and sometimes it’s just a birthday or a do to celebrate a promotion or exam results. Whatever the special occasion, you want an evening to remember and we have some amazing ideas to create the ultimate party night. Of course there are evergreen girly nights out, or in, including pamper nights, movie nights and karaoke, but we also like to share some of the cool ideas that have given us amazing fun and stellar memories. We’ve shared before about going horse or dog racing but the summer is the perfect time to do something even more exciting - get up close and personal with some competitive action!

Head for the sporting section

Seriously, taking your bachelorette party to a ticketed rugby sevens, hockey or volleyball game will be an amazing experience to kick off your evening. There are several reasons to make live sport your focus:

   The guys - well if you’re looking for male companionship, there will be many chaps there, let’s be honest! Assuming the game is being played by men (and we strongly recommend taking in a women’s football match if you can, it will probably blow your mind) there’s the ones on the pitch to admire, then all the ones sitting around you, wondering what half a dozen lovely women are doing in their usually male preserve … doesn’t sound bad, does it?

   The endorphins - the reason people watch sport is they get the same buzz from watching as the players get from playing. That means that you’re likely to get a wonderful natural high from attending any live sporting event.

   The yelling - jumping up and down and cheering on whoever you’ve decided to support is an awesome way to release inhibitions. That means that you’ll have fun and continue that mood as your evening heads to other venues.

   The cost - because smaller live sporting events aren’t that well supported you’ll probably discover that tickets are pretty cheap. Food and drink is usually inexpensive too, and you don’t have to spend a fortune on clothes to get in.

Pulling together the perfect outfit is easy. You want to look good but be able to move freely and you’re best opting for a look that takes you from the stands to the best clubs without difficulty. We’d recommend a rockabilly look - our Cherry Print rockabilly circle dress is the perfect balance of glamour and accessibility. Top it with a simple cardigan for the game and swap that out for an elegant shrug to get into the glitziest venues in town when the game is over.