Note: The following perfume I'm going to discuss is vintage-inspired. Specifically, perfumer Kedra Hart of Opus Oils was inspired to create a perfume for 60s burlesque dancer Satan's Angel, "The Devil's Own Mistress, Queen of the Fire Tassels." (A whole lotta name for a whole lotta woman.) This burlesque queen didn't just twirl tassles on her ta-tas, she first lit them on fire!
A few weeks ago my friend Red Tremmel, a professor and documentary filmmaker, screened his film Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival for a small group of friends. Ten years in the making, Exotic World documents a moment in time when there existed a crazy-beautiful oasis in the Mojave Desert: a goat-farm-turned burlesque museum run by "The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque," the irrepressible Dixie Evans.
Jennie Lee, a former burlesque dancer herself and union organizer for dancers, started Exotic World in the 1980s, wanting it to be both a burlesque museum and a retirement home for dancers. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she asked her friend Dixie to move to Exotic World and take over running the museum. In time, it became a mecca for modern-day burlesque dancers seeking to revive the old-school art.
By turns funny, moving, and inspiring, Exotic World opened my eyes to the subversive possibilities of burlesque. First of all, burlesque is, literally, a performance of a particular kind of femininity (the va-va-va voom variety). It's also a send-up of that femininity, and, you could argue, a commentary on it. In some ways, burlesque dancers are female female-impersonators, exposing the codified dance of normative gender and sexuality. In vintage footage of one of Dixie's burlesque performances, she writhes on a casting couch, managing to incorporate a critique of the ugly side of the Hollywood star-making machine. But burlesque is also just rip-roaring fun, some of the dancers' moves defying the laws of physics. (Queerlesque is a recent version of burlesque, with queer performers using the burlesque idiom to poke fun at gender and have some kitschy fun.)
One of the most fascinating tidbits I discovered from watching Exotic World was that Elvis learned much of his hip-swiveling and thrusting from none other than Hapa goddess and former burlesque dancer Tura Satana (the badass actress of Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! fame who died this year), who incorporated martial arts moves into her erotic dances.
Fascinating that a dance that's supposed to entice men would contain aggressive and self-protective moves, and that it would in turn inspire a male sex symbol who made women swoon. (And it wouldn't be the only act of aggression embedded in these erotic dances. Satan's Angel, the namesake of the perfume I'll be discussing shortly, said that one of the things she loved was to scare her audience by keeping them in suspense about what moves she was going to bust next.) I just love that Elvis went to burlesque shows not just to ogle women — but to learn their moves! (Gotta give the man credit. He knew where to go for inspiration!)
The gender play in Exotic World and the Revival of Burlesque is dizzying and beautiful, and you should definitely go see it when it's released.
Which brings me to Satan's Angel, a perfume inspired by a burlesque dancer who was featured prominently in Exotic World and who got her start dancing in the early 60s in San Francisco. An over-the-top floral created for a woman whose favorite vintage scents were Jungle Gardenia and Miss Balmain, Satan's Angel is a creamy-rich (and I mean rich) confection of white flowers that starts off with the sharp freshness of grapefruit and bergamot followed by a warming, spicy base of labdanum and oakmoss. But its velvety, sensuous florals are the stars of the show: gardenia, narcissus, tuberose, jasmine and Stargazer lily ignite a fire that smolders on the skin. Lovers of minimalist, clean fragrances, stand back. This burlesque beauty is wearing a ton of makeup and her bare, tassled breasts are on fire!
Word on the street is that Dita von Teese's new fragrance is coming out, but Kedra at Opus Oils did it first and paid homage to an original! Check out her post on meeting Satan's Angel and creating her perfume.
Also in Opus Oils' Burlesque series: Tramp, Gypsy, Charm, Kitten, Starlet, and Siren. (Starlet is made of 100% natural oils.) Thanks to Kedra for sending me these samples after I reached out to her!