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Kinky History: Burlesque at the State Library of Victoria

I recently had the absolute pleasure of debuting a brand new historically inspired burlesque act at the launch event for KINKY HISTORY - The Stories of Our Intimate Lives, Past and Present held at the State Library of Victoria.


Kinky History is a brand new book written by Esmé Louise James. Esmé is a sex historian, author, journalist, and PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, best known as the creator of Kinky History, the TikTok channel discussing the evolution of human sexuality - from scandalous stories from the Ancient World to the saucy secrets of famous figures.

Burlesque performer Evana De Lune poses holding up a book titled "Kinky History"
Evana De Lune at the Kinky History book launch. - Full Bloom Photography

Long before Esmé created kinky history, and before burlesque was my full-time job. We actually worked for the same lingerie brand, selling everything from lingerie to sex toys and doing our best to educate and entertain customers. Back then, she was already a subject matter expert, full of sex facts, bedroom advice, and the ability to talk openly and passionately about these topics. Seeing her work so hard over the years to make her dreams come true and seeing her achieve so much success in her career has been incredible. So when she reached out to me asking if I would like to perform a burlesque act at her book launch at the State Library of Victoria, I literally screamed. After all, what better way to celebrate kinky history than with the tantalising historical art form that is burlesque, performed in Australia's oldest and most visited public library?


It was this combination of factors that made me decide that this event was the perfect opportunity to debut my latest act with my red beaded dress inspired by a missing dress once owned by legendary burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee.

Evana De Lune performing burlesque at the state library of Victoria. She is wearing a red beaded dress, similar to one worn by Burlesque Legend Gypsy Rose Lee.
Evana De Lune in her Gypsy Rose Lee inspired costume.

Gypsy Rose Lee is arguably one of the most famous burlesque performers of all time, and some of her most iconic costume pieces were her beaded dresses - one of which she donned in the 1958 film, Screaming Mimi. She originally had three of these dresses crafted: silver, gold, and red. While the original silver now belongs to Dita Von Teese and the gold resides in a vintage store in Los Angeles, the whereabouts of the red dress still remain shrouded in mystery. Is it sitting in storage somewhere? Does someone own it without knowing its historical significance? Or has it been lost to history?

A colourised screen shot of Gypsy Rose Lee as Joann 'Gypsy' Masters in the 1958 film 'Screaming Mimi'
Gypsy Rose Lee in her iconic silver dress.

It is this mystery and intrigue that initially inspired me to work with my incredible designer Élisabeth Louve not just to recreate, but reimagine my own version of the lost red dress. We started working on this piece back in February 2020, going back and forth on ideas, collecting reference material, and determining what changes we would like to make to modernise the dress. The goal was to retain the silhouette of the original dress whilst adding personal flair and making it suitable for my own performance. The key changes include a front-facing zipper, claw-set rhinestones, and additional beaded embellishments.

A multi panel picture showing the design process of Evana De Lune's Gypsy Rose Lee inspired red dress. From left to right it shows the initial concept drawing, the work in progress photos, and finally Evana on Stage posing in the dress.
The initial concept, the creation process, the first performance.

The final dress took over one year to complete, and the impeccable craftsmanship by Élisabeth Louve is well worth the final cost of around 4000 AUD. It features over 25 meters of glass beaded fringing, approximately 300 hand-beaded strands, 273 hand-sewn claw-set rhinestones, and countless thousands of individually glued rhinestones. The finished dress weighs in at just over 6kg/14lb, which is basically the same weight as the original dresses, as confirmed by The Way We Wore during their feature of the gold dress. And to be honest, 6kg is still quite heavy to wear, but now that I've gotten used to it and had the chance to rehearse and perform in it, it's very easy to move around in (and strip out of).

Evana De Lune performing burlesque at the state library of Victoria. She is performing a stocking peel.
I've always wanted to strip in a library.

The culmination of everything that went into performing this new act has been nothing short of amazing. From all the incredible design work and craftsmanship by Élisabeth Louve, the patience in waiting for the right time to debut it, to Esmé for putting on such an awesome event and inviting me to perform. It's such a privilege to share my love of burlesque as an art form, the history behind it all is what I love most, and it felt so special to bring my own little piece of history to the Kinky History launch event.

Evana De Lune posing on stage after finishing her burlesque performance.
Thank you Esmé for letting me be a part of Kinky History.

I overheard one of the library staff members saying this might have been the most exciting book launch ever, and I'd probably have to agree with them. Esmé has outdone herself with this event and with this incredible book. Make sure you grab your own copy of Kinky History from Pantera Press today(AUS/NZ), or pre-order if you live overseas. I promise you will not be able to put it down.



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