OPINION: Berlin Burlesque

Designer Gemma Moss describes her life creating costumes for the Burlesque scene in Berlin.

“Some years ago, when I moved to Berlin and its active burlesque scene, I, like many designers do when starting out, worked at a small burlesque themed party where everyone was a fresh, new talent.

The woman who was running the show was also a performer, and I remember she came to me telling me that she could not find any double sided sticky tape to attach her nipple tassels to her nipples, so she used super glue instead. I told her she would have quite a job removing them after the show, but she really did not seem to care…she went on stage anyway and during her piece, I believe she was quite drunk, she climbed onto one of the tables in the audience and within two minutes of being up there, fell off.

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We had to rush her to hospital, not only because she had broken a bone or two, but also to have her super-glued nipple tassels removed. From then on, I have always carried around double-sided sticky tape in the bottom of my bag so that this kind of situation can never happen again, and dancers can have the correct adhesive for their pasties.

Since then, I have been working my way up through the scene and working with some truly fabulous artists. The Berlin burlesque scene is growing and many years ago, back in the 1920s to early 1930s, its Cabaret scene really thrived. We have all seen and adore the film Cabaret, which is loosely based on the novel ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ by Christopher Isherwood. The film, Cabaret, is set in Berlin’s notorious Kit Kat Club. We still have the Kit Kat Club in Berlin. However, today it is a fetish club and the venue has changed since the days when cabaret first made its appearance in the Berlin club scene.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, cabaret was banned, forcing many clubs to close and the artists to flee in exile to other countries. After World War 2 ended in 1945, cabaret slowly started to make a comeback in Germany. Nowadays, we have many parties in Berlin where cabaret and burlesque is adored; parties such as Boheme Sauvage, which is a 1920s theme with strict dress code and showcasing beautiful burlesque dancers from around the globe. Other parties include La Fete Fatale, and The Wintergarten hosts many fabulous performances and acts.

Currently, I’m working on a costume for a burlesque performer known as Lady Lou. She is a dancer from New Zealand, but she lives in Berlin, travelling around performing her art. I am creating a corset of rich, exquisite fabrics and colours. Soon I will be working on her ostrich feathered bustle, all for her next act. Burlesque dancers tend to spend a lot of money on their costume, to have it absolutely perfect, especially when it comes to applying rhinestones, as each has to be applied one at a time to the costume. It’s a very time consuming process. And it’s always best to use good quality fabrics.

The performance is very important and the costume is equally so; both need to be perfect. Burlesque is about the art of seduction and the tease: every item of clothing that is removed has to be practiced and performed to perfection. It’s an art of titillation, tempting and teasing the viewer. However, with Burlesque, the viewer will never see the nipples or a lady’s private parts. These are always covered by some fabulous nipple pasties or G-string, as there is no need to reveal all. Not being able to see everything allows your imagination to wander.

What came to my attention recently is Hollywood’s idea of burlesque. The film Burlesque came out earlier this year, but to me this film has nothing to do with the real art of burlesque. It is more like a very glamorous music video with nice costumes. There is little about the strip tease, which is essentially what burlesque is all about. Lady Lou teaches the art of strip tease at the Berlin studio called Schönheitztanz. She said to me that many girls have seen the film Burlesque and when they actually attend the classes to learn how to burlesque dance properly, they are very surprised at how different it is.

According to Dita von Teese, (in my eyes the leading lady in modern day burlesque), the little must-haves in a burlesque dancer’s wardrobe are:

• Sparkling pasties
• Scintillating G-string
• Stockings and suspender belt
• Feathers, fox stole, or a similarly glamorous and luxurious item
• Shoes that can be easily removed
• Opera-length gloves

For those of you who do not know of Dita von Teese, she is a Burlesque performer and fetish model from America and is really fascinated with classic vintage fashions and films. She is known as ‘the Queen of Burlesque’ by the press and her performances and costumes are absolutely sensational.

I love my field of work and I get to work with some really fabulous people in the business. The best thing for me is that the costumes can be really over the top and extravagant. I love costumes with glittering rhinestones and I love it when I see my corsets being used by the performer, done in such a delicate, provocative and exciting way. It really gives me goose bumps when I see my creations come to life on stage.

My plan and dream is to travel to different countries, helping burlesque dancers from all over the world, creating their desired costumes. This month, I will be working with artists performing at La Fete Fetale in Berlin. In May, I am showcasing a collection or designs at Berliner Nacht in Stockholm, Sweden. I would love to make it over to New York City, this year, to try and get involved on the burlesque scene there and keep seeing my work come to life time and time again.”



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