Immodesty Blaize: interview
One-time convent school girl Immodesty Blaize has risen to become the UK‘s biggest burlesque star. She talks nipple tassels and burning bras with Time Out
The Ritz’s Rivoli Bar is filled with pre-theatre folk drinking from flutes, pin-stripe suited businessmen with Clark Gable haircuts, and foreign waiters in sharp cream jackets gliding around the small art deco room like they’re on rails. There’s certainly no shortage of gold or diamond jewellery on display, but when 28-year-old Immodesty Blaize teeny tiny-steps her way in wearing a leopard print pencil skirt, all glossy black hair, bright red lips and feline eyes, well, everyone else might as well be wearing pastel shellsuits.
Britain’s most famous burlesque showgirl is struggling just a little, though. Last night saw five invitations she ‘simply couldn’t turn down’, including a launch for ‘The Decadent Handbook’, Boy George’s show at the Pigalle Club and an AIDS benefit night at Koko. Comments that her skin is remarkably alabaster-perfect are parried with the explanation of ‘really clever make-up’. She eyes the glass of Kir imperial – champagne with raspberry – placed in front of her and takes a deep breath: ‘Kill or cure. Watch this space.’
A Home Counties boarding school girl (‘I know, such a cliché’), Immodesty Blaize –then Kelly Fletcher to her classmates – rebelled against the heroin chic fashions of the ’90s. Everyone else at her convent school was wearing Calvin Klein underwear, but as the A-grade vice head, Immodesty was strapping herself intro corsets and cutting her fringe to look like Bettie Page. ‘They thought that I was this weirdo because I liked wearing suspender belts,’ she says. ‘Androgyny didn’t suit me. I like having breasts.’
While others were looking to Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd, Immodesty was attracted to ‘people with a kooky look, Betty Boo or the 70-year old eccentric aunt with the cigarette and red lipstick. My idea of hell is bland.’
Inspired by films such as the 1962 ‘Gypsy’, and glamorous, strong women such as Grace Jones, Immodesty started performing burlesque in London ten years ago. ‘I really was working in a vacuum. Very few people knew what it was, and I had a hard job to convince people that I wasn’t going to do the classic Stringfellows stripper.’ She found herself, more often than not, ‘swinging a nipple tassel’ at performance art nights on Brick Lane and it was at one of these parties that she was spotted, and a starring role in Goldfrapp’s 2003 ‘Train’ video followed. Ditching her day job of producing and directing commercials, Immodesty became a full time burlesque star.
Despite appearing at the first Whoopee Club in 2000, Immodesty is quick to point out that ‘it’s only in the last year or two that it’s been more than just a couple of clubs in London’ who offer stage space for burlesque performers. Last year saw her debut full-scale production, Immodesty Blaize and Walter’s Burlesque at the Arts Theatre, seven shows a week for five months and over some 25,000 through the door. It was not without its perils, though.
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