The UK has the west coast of the US to thank for this current revival, specifically a club called Velvet Hammer where burlesque was introduced circa 2000 for the first time since the 1960’s. The neo burlesque thrill swiftly travelled to London, and by 2002 it became part of the already burgeoning retro sub culture.
Today, burlesque has become a word we use in our every day language to describe fashion styles, music and even films but what is burlesque in it’s essence? After all my years immersed in this burlesque world, my simple answer is ‘saucy cabaret’! Innuendo, the flash of flesh, parody and classic erotic dancing all encompass the fun and frivolous world of burlesque and like all new trends born of the past, burlesque is always evolving and mutating into new and exciting forms of entertainment.
I became involved in the world of burlesque back in the early days of 2003 while still working as a fashion journalist. The Whoopee Club burst onto the London club scene and was key to forming the revival we enjoy today. Held in a series of different venues including The Cobden Club, Kensel Rise and The Atlantic Bar in Piccadilly, The Whoopee Club introduced burlesque entertainment to a mix of elite trend setters and helped launch global stars like Immodesty Blaize, Paloma Faith, Bishi, Shinghai of the Noisettes and Alternative Miss World winner and star of the feature film ‘The British Guide to Showing Off’, Fancy Chance.
I was lucky enough to visit some of these pioneering shows and as a young fashion reporter, the glitz and glamour of the emerging burlesque world immediately eclipsed my reality, to such an extent that I began producing my own cabaret show called The Tassel Club, which is still running in London today.
From 2002 The Whoopee Club and Flash Monkey were the main thriving burlesque club nights in London, with occasional events from Stranger Than Paradise and various events run in Soho’s infamous Madame Jo Jo’s. In 2006 a glorious new concept for London’s club scene began when a vintage inspired supper club called The Pigalle Club opened its doors. Owned by Vince Power of Mean Fiddler fame, this was the first vintage inspired club to be styled specifically for luxury burlesque cabaret. The Tassel Club hosted the launch night and chose the still relatively unknown burlesque star Miss Immodesty Blaize as the grand finale. The rest, as they say, is history!
By this time, burlesque was no means exclusive to London, In the same year, in Birmingham, a young Irish singer named Imelda May began performing alongside the world famous Palookaville Burlesque Orchestra in The Candy Box Burlesque Club. Club Noir began in Scotland and many more clubs began to appear throughout the country that year, including the birth of Wam Bam in Café de Paris.
Today the UK is producing many world class stars, all following in the gloriously glamorous footsteps of the UK’s inarguable premier burlesque star Immodesty Blaize. Current classic burlesque stars dominating Europe’s clubs are Marilyn Monroe look alike Miss Banbury Cross, Rita Hayworth style pin up Miss Sophia St Villier and Brighton’s own Miss Cherry Shakewell who’s authentic burlesque curves secured her a place in the recent Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes movie. Singer and burlesque star Miss Polly Rae from The Hurly Burly Show has also been plunged into the spotlight and starred in her own West End show produced by Kylie Minogue’s manager William Baker. Alternative Miss World winner Fancy Chance is the undisputed queen of alternative burlesque, recreating her epic vintage circus inspired 'Hair Suspension Striptease' performance piece to amazed audiences around the world.
Of course, watching burlesque is all very well but lots of us are keen to release our inner burlesque diva and give it a go ourselves! Burlesque Baby.com is one of the UK s first burlesque academy set up to teach the art of striptease to hundreds of women (and a modest amount of men!) throughout the country. Learning to strut your stuff in a burlesque class is not for everyone though, so maybe you fancy developing your saucy sketching skills at Dr Sketchy’s Anti Art School. They host fun evenings in various venues through the country.
Lingerie shops like Agent Provocateur, Coco de Mer, What Katie Did, Playful Promises and Kiss me Deadly all dedicate entire collections to the burlesque pinup style allowing performers and fans alike to create and develop their own style of boudoir burlesque. British fashion phenomenon Vivien Of Holloway has become one of the biggest producers of reproduction vintage dresses in the world always featuring UK burlesque stars in their modelling campaigns.
So many burlesque inspired beauty parlours like The Powder Rooms and Benefit Cosmetics, Pimps and Pinups and Its Something Hell’s offer the perfect burlesque pin up styles. Add into the mix the many style guides, (Style me Vintage and Corsets by Velda Lauder) films and books published (including some big selling bonk busters from the queen of burlesque herself Immodesty Blaize) and its fair to say the British burlesque effect is going global!
Ways to get your burlesque style on! Buy a bespoke corset from Velda Lauder, Fairy Goth Mother/Lola and Lush or the House of Harlot
Burlesque Afternoon tea - Weekend Afternoon tea(se) in Volupte Lounge, Afternoon Tease Saturdays in Cellar Door, Covent Garden
Current burlesque cabaret shows in London include Bete Noir, Thursdays in Madame Jo Jos, The Tassel Club, currently held in Hoxton Hall, La Reve and Wam Bam Club weekly in Café de Paris. The Hurly Burly Show (on Tour) and The Dolly Mixtures at Madame Jo Jo’.