Trixie Little is Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2015, and her winning act at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend sure was a-peel-ing! Want to know what inspired this act? Who made the various components? How long the act and costume took to put together? How hard she trained? What kind of fasteners she used? Look no further. Dive into this revealing, costume-centric article from Viv Clicquot about our Reigning Queen Trixie to learn the answers.
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
So unless you’ve been living in some sort of burlesque-free cave of late, you are surely all aware that our 2015 Reigning Queen of Burlesque, our literal and figurative top-banana of the tassel-twirling set, is the inimitable Trixie Little. (Cue thunderous applause.) I first had the pleasure of chatting with Trixie in less than (ahem) formal circumstances at an unofficial after-after-party the night of her spectacular win. Or, more accurately, the morning after her spectacular win, and in spite of the antics of said party, she still graciously took time out of her demanding schedule for a phone interview with me about her act and that ridiculously-clever costume. She is what I would call a real Mensch.
“Why haven’t I already done this?” Good question. And it’s one Trixie posed to herself upon hanging out in a Nashville old-timey soda fountain shop about five years ago. Yes. FIVE years ago. It was a vintage poster of a banana-clad pin-up gal literally peeling herself out of her bright yellow skin that started the ball rolling. (Bonus points and friendship for life almost guaranteed if anyone can track down this poster and get a copy of it to our Queen Trixie. My words, not hers.)
The imagery of a banana is in and of itself so intrinsically funny, having been referenced as a comedy archetype since the very beginning of burlesque and Vaudeville. Probably long before that even. For a woman married to an Evil Hate Monkey, it must have seemed like a gift from the stars that nobody had yet taken this imagery and turned it into a world class burlesque act. Thank goodness for that. Or we may not have ever witnessed the genius of Trixie‘s act and seen it recognised as the world’s best on the BHoF stage just last month.
“After having competed for the Queen title five times, I wanted to present an act of my work that was so good, the absolute best of me, that there would have been a riot if I didn’t win. I did not want there to be any question of who should win,” says a forthright Trixie. Apart from finding such candour refreshing I just flat out RESPECT how Trixie is willing to admit how much she wanted this title, how hard she worked for it, and how much she actively disliked the feeling of being 2nd Runner Up in two previous competitions. Or the two years that she didn’t place at all. A curtsy to her honesty.
Burlesque draws such a broad spectrum of people who identify as burlesque performers, from hobbyists to professionals. For so many readers of this magazine it would be a goal to simply be accepted to compete. ‘It’s an honour just being nominated.’ But for the Indigos, Trixies, LouLous, Imogens and D’Lites of our community? Different story. And I have such respect for Trixie for acknowledging this fact. She wasn’t performing just for the fun of it. She wanted to win and worked her bloody ass off to achieve this goal. No false modesty from our Reigning Queen. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who loves her for it. Remember that the next time it feels like you’ve been working on an act for too long, this ballsy broad conceived this act FIVE whole years ago. I mean, this is the Olympics of burlesque. With nudity. And less corruption. Or is that FIFA. Whatever. Not a sports fan.
Back to the costume. In the end, the designer of the banana gown ensemble turned out to be Danial Webster out of Seattle, but not before Trixie had contemplated using a local NY designer, and not before she toured this fledgling act through New York’s thriving scene, using a yellow gown that didn’t ‘peel’. Wisely, Trixie wanted to test out the concept of this act before committing the time and expense of developing a world class costume. It was upon watching Lily Verlaine perform her beautiful act at BHoF 2011 that the proverbial bell went off. She knew instantly that whoever had designed Lily’s gown of opening petals was the right person to tackle the banana gown, and Danial accepted the challenge.
A challenge would be an understatement. With Danial based in Seattle and Trixie in New York, this was no small feat. This endeavour required incredible collaboration and communication, from a series of drawings and sketches by Trixie, to ongoing back-and-forths with a frenzy of fittings and sewing by Danial while Trixie attended Burlycon. The entire dress took 1.5 years to pull together as the first element completed. Bra and panties came last.
I should mention that Irena Canova – aka Cheeky Cheetah – of New York made the banana g-string, and added her signature style of rhinestone work to Danial’s ass-unzipping panties and peeling boob-cups (favourite sentence of the day). Of the experience, Trixie says, “Danial is a genius. I absolutely love him. He approached the gown like an engineering problem and I love working with professional designers. It’s a true collaboration.” It would have to be, given that so much of the process was accomplished via email.
The Road to BHoF
Once the banana gown was in its final incarnation, there were still numerous versions of the number as Trixie started performing, adjusting, experimenting and workshopping, including one version performed with a seven feet prop banana in a cabaret act. This next disclosure from Trixie I find fascinating: “I didn’t set the final act until I was accepted to compete at BHoF”. That means that Trixie had just over a month to commit to what would ultimately become her title-winning performance. “I did four rehearsals with Edie Nightcrawler and the biggest challenge was the four minute time limit. I worked out that I needed to do a trick… that something needed to happen every ten seconds. And then I just worked, worked and worked the act.”
Trixie also acknowledges that the actual banana dress is in and of itself a strong character, and that one of the hardest things to do was to get out of her own way, “In spite of the elements I knew I wanted to include in the act, I had to force myself to slooooow down, to give the audience time to savour the gown and just take it in. Also, what you think is an exciting part of your act isn’t necessarily so. I had to really let the dress shine.”
Speaking of shine, that was one of the things I really appreciated about Trixie‘s costume. The dress is made of stretch velvet and is all about colour, shape and silhouette. Upon her entrance, there was no looking at anything else in spite of the fact that the dress was not encrusted top to bottom in crystals. It was any time Trixie revealed what equated to the white fruit of the banana that the high sparkle factor kicked in. The contrast of the matte depth of colour that only velvet can provide against the sparkle of the under-layers is brilliant and actually placed a strong highlight on each of the reveals rather than screaming at the same volume of sparkle from start to finish. That is the finesse of a world-class artist right there.
Before wrapping up, I asked Trixie a couple of final questions.
What type of fasteners did you use on the gown pieces that peeled?
Velcro! In spite of great resistance from Danial. Zippers are too finicky and I don’t have as much faith in other fasteners. It needed to be super quick and easy. This also meant that I had to use non-catchy fabric. My original gloves were satin and they got destroyed. The stretch velvet doesn’t catch.
Have you ever had a costume misfire with the banana act?
No. Not really. But it does get reeeeeallly dirty along the hem, at which point I climb into the bathtub with the whole gown and scrub it clean. It’s quite the sight.
Trixie’s final words of the conversation is something that sticks with me and is valuable for all of us to remember. “What I love about BHoF is watching all the performers bare their souls on stage. It’s not enough to be beautiful and elegant. I want their mind. I want to watch the act and see how their brain works. I want to see a concept that has been redefined, done in a brand new way. An act can be classic and innovative at the same time. My banana act is essentially a classic gown routine that I’ve made into something else.”
Something else! Perfect words to describe our Reigning Queen of Burlesque. She is indeed something else and I’m thrilled to have had this fab chat with her. Here’s hoping you took something away from it as I did.
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