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Paying homage to the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee

From the moment Gypsy Rose Lee began performing burlesque in the early 1930s, she was

unusually inventive. She would pin her flesh-coloured body suits to articles of clothing that she could whisk off and throw into an orchestra pit or at her ravenous audience. Her breakaway dresses, with their removable panels, were paired with her clever humour and unique wit. She would strut across stages in prefabricated dresses, bridal gowns, black-net skirts and lacy negligees. How she dressed and, more importantly, how she undressed created a fascination and desire that could be felt for generations to come.

Burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee backstage in Memphis, Tenn., 1949.
Burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee in Memphis, Tenn., 1949. George Skadding/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Her enduring legacy has resulted in her finely stitched g-strings selling for thousands of dollars at auctions; other remaining garments have (expensively) made their way into a range of different hands over the decades—from art collectors and museum directors to old lovers and long-time fans. Perhaps the most famous of her garments were her beaded gowns. There are three of Gypsy Rose Lee's beaded gowns in particular—one in silver, gold and red—that have not only been woven into the cultural fabric of burlesque but rather America itself. Helen Rose, the costume designer responsible for Princess Grace of Monaco and Elizabeth Taylor’s dresses, designed the gown in 1958 for Gypsy Rose Lee's film noir, ‘Screaming Mimi’. The beauty of the gown was that it had to be suitable for performance without being understated. Rhinestones were embedded around the bodice, creating a captivating quality, while beaded fringe was stitched to a cotton skirt providing a dynamic shimmery effect that still provided ease of movement due to its light weight construction. These gowns accentuated her curves with their hourglass structure, and when contrasted with her dark hair and creamy skin, effortlessly seduced and taunted the audience.

Gypsy Rose Lee as Joann 'Gypsy' Masters in the 1958 film Screaming Mimi
Gypsy Rose Lee as Joann 'Gypsy' Masters in the 1958 film 'Screaming Mimi'

Over the decades, the art of burlesque slipped from the reppressed minds of a post-war generation. Garter belts and nipple tassels were replaced with microwaves and gender roles, and Gypsy Rose Lee's gowns changed hands and no longer graced the silver screen or sparkled under the bright stage lighting. When legendary figures like Dita von Teese ascended to fame and pioneered the modern scene with the emergence of neo-burlesque in the 90s, the history of burlesque and the women who enchanted and seduced their audiences became all the more fascinating, and an atmosphere of intrigue lingers around Gypsy Rose Lee and her gowns today. Dita purchased the silver gown from an auction a few years ago, while the gold gown was found in a vintage store in Los Angeles, where the owner said she wouldn’t sell it till the right buyer came along. However, the location of the red gown is unknown and has become a myth—much like Gypsy Rose Lee herself. And honestly, I like it that way. It keeps her spirit and the essence of classic burlesque alive.

Dita Von Teese wearing Gypsy Rose Lee's silver and gold gowns and posing for the camera
Dita Von Teese owns the silver gown (Left, Shannon Brooke) / Dita Von Teese tries on the gold gown (Right).

Even though she is long gone, Gypsy Rose Lee continues to inspire me. Her strut and strip style was unconventional, alluring and pushed the boundaries of what a woman could be. It allowed her to connect with the audience in a way that was more than just ‘entertainment’. I think of this every time I get on stage. I think of her and the other enchantresses before me, empowered and uninhibited. I claim my space on that stage, a space of inclusivity, acceptance and self-exploration. And through this, I take you, my audience, on a spectacular journey. A journey that is rich in tradition and intrigue, much like Gypsy Rose Lee and her mysterious red gown. A gown that I have been inspired to reinterpret and reimagine in collaboration with my phenomenal designer, Elisabeth Louvre.

Close up photograph of a red beaded gown
Evana De Lune's red beaded gown crafted by Elisabeth Louvre, pays homage to the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee.

This gown is the culmination of over two years of work and pays homage to the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee, whilst still featuring the modern Evana De Lune style that you all know me for. It features over 25 meters of glass beaded fringing, approximately three hundred hand beaded strands, two hundred and seventy three hand sewn claw-set rhinestones, as well as too many individually glued rhinestones to count. The finished dress weighs in at 6kg (13 Pounds), yet it is surprisingly comfortable and easy to move around in. And whilst I cannot wait for you to see the full piece, I am trying to refrain from sharing too much, as I have something very special in the works for it's debut on stage... Stay tuned xx

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