Interview by Alison Boleyn. Photo by John Phillips.
As a child, she dreamt of checking in to a glamorous mansion. Now the burlesque dancer likes nothing more than a “cuddly” log cabin.
Growing up in Michigan, what was your typical childhood holiday?
My mother was a fan of old movies so we used to go to this beautiful island [Mackinac] in the north to see the gorgeous Grand Hotel, which is said to have the longest porch in the world. It was decorated by Dorothy Draper’s company – she was a creator of Hollywood Regency style – and it’s like stepping back in time. There are no cars of any kind, not even golf carts. People come over on a ferry and are picked up in a horse-drawn carriage. The horses have black plumes on their heads. Can you imagine a little girl seeing that? I had to be a part of it. But we weren’t ever allowed to go in. We didn’t have a lot of money. We’d stay on the mainland in a Motel 6-type place and I would stare longingly at the Grand Hotel. So when I was an adult and finally had a little money, I took my mother and my sisters there and we stayed in the Esther Williams Suite. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Nowadays, do you prefer resort or rustic?
I’d say rustic. My boyfriend and I love log cabins so much that I bought one in Lake Arrowhead, about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles. I’m making a cuddly little hideaway; I put a 1940s jukebox in there and a Chesterfield sofa and a Victorian bed. I recently brought in my 1930s dinette set. I like to be in “time capsules” and they don’t have to be fancy. I’ve been trying to find a time-capsule Hawaiian vacation package.
When you travel, do you wander the streets or check maps?
I like a map and a plan. The first thing I do is find out where all the vintage and antique stores are; the outskirts of a city can be good. I then like to challenge my tour manager to pack up my treasures: “I need you to find a place in the semi truck for this taxidermied flamingo I found in Seattle.” Of course, I love a bargain but what I love more is the memory attached to it. I’ll always connect this beautiful Victorian feather craft I’m looking at right now with a trip to Philadelphia.
Are you a heavy packer?
I am. My assistant wrote on my packing list: “There’s no prize for packing lightly.” She knows.
Is there a destination that you keep returning to?
Paris. I got a little tired of living there but now that I don’t, it’s become magical to me again.
Why did you tire of Paris?
In Los Angeles, I live in a 1920s Tudor house with my own little private forest and swimming pool out back. There are lots of houses like that in California. And even though I had a beautiful 17th-century apartment in Paris, it’s still apartment living and you still have neighbours who complain about high heels clicking on the hardwood or music being played too loud on a Tuesday.
Have you ever been on a road trip?
I’m a big fan of the road trip – with the right person, of course – driving up to Big Sur or Lake Tahoe.
How important is the right car?
I collect vintage cars but I would not take them on a road trip. There’s something glamorous about saying, “Let’s get in this ’50s car and drive to Vegas,” but the fact is, your chances of getting there without breaking down are probably about half. I’m not willing to do it.
When you enter a hotel room, what’s the first thing you do?
Turn down the air conditioning – it’s always too cold for me. And, after reading some article, I’ve started sanitising the remote controls and the phones. I’m not a germophobe but there’s nothing worse than doing a big burlesque show when you’re feeling terrible.
What do you like to find in the minibar?
I like it to be empty so I can put my leftovers in there. I’m very conscious of what things cost.
On your travels, is there a dining experience that particularly stands out?
Being entertained by geisha at a traditional dinner in Kyoto with people who were real patrons of geisha. The protocol you have to follow is fascinating and I was interested in their gestures and the way they communicated without words. Their demeanour and stillness have a soothing, calming effect on you.
Have you had a really memorable encounter in a foreign city – a person you can’t forget or a conversation perhaps?
Well, I’ve had a lot of dalliances in Paris. But I can’t say that French men are these amazing lovers because they’ve been a thorn in my side more than once in my life. I think it’s just the excitement of landing in Paris and the beauty of the city and those epic antique hotel rooms. My favourites are Hotel Raphael and Maison Souquet, a former bordello that’s so beautifully decorated and luxurious and the perfect place for a romantic trip. I can’t think of any other city that has that, you know. The second you arrive, you feel it.
SEE ALSO: Kym Ellery's Guide to Paris