By Belle de Beauvoir

‘The curtains open, the stage is pitch black, but in the darkness there’s a glisten, a glimmer of something to come. 

A dim light comes up to reveal a shimmering female figure, draped across a chaise lounge, the image trembles almost like a mirage. The body is covered in a thousand tiny stones, accentuating every slight movement. She glistens from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. That was the moment I decided I wanted to do burlesque.

The first burlesque show I ever saw was at the infamous Crazy Horse, Paris. Watching, that night in November 2017, I knew that I wanted to be on that stage. I had no idea that six years later, I would be making my West End debut as a fully fledged burlesque performer, with a sold out Edinburgh run, touring the UK with the longest running burlesque show in Europe. 

I didn’t have a lot of money at the beginning, burlesque was a hobby, and as I was learning the ropes, I certainly spent more than I made. I couldn’t afford the most expensive costumes, but I had plenty of time, and so I invested in rhinestones. It’s a well known laughing point amongst burlesque dancers that we are always rhinestoning something or other. A glass of wine and a box set, make sure you set aside a good few hours for the rhythmic glue and stick of embellishing with rhinestones. It is both soothing, incredibly time consuming and addictive. The second you’ve finished with one costume, it’s time to start on another. When my students ask me if there’s enough rhinestones on their costume, I always tell them ‘more is more, no one has ever uttered the words ‘that burlesque dancer is too sparkly’’ 

The beauty of rhinestones is that they can turn the dullest Amazon corset (yes Amazon, it’s a secret, tell no one!) into the most luxurious and detailed couture piece. For me, it’s the embellishments that make the costume. Even with the most expensive piece, a fully custom corset that shapes and moulds your silhouette into that of a femme fatale dream, a couple of rhinestones will make it even more punctuated- it’s the costuming equivalent of painting your face for the back rows. 

I learnt this early on from one of my favourite performers and mentors, regarded internationally as one of the top in the game, who very kindly sold me some of her old costumes when I started out. ‘The base set is Primark’ she smiled conspiratorially, ‘they should call me the Macgyver of Burlesque’ but with the embellishments you couldn’t see anything of the original, she taught me that when you’re starting out, Primark is just fine. Studying these beautiful costumes were how I learnt to embellish. Embroidery, appliqué, sequins and of course, rhinestones. Over the next few weeks, in the lead up to the West End Show, with the wonderful Crystal Parade, I’ll be sharing some of the tricks and tips I’ve learned over the years. 

My style of burlesque is all about creating a moment of fantasy. Giving the audience a fully fledged vision, something straight out of a film, for five to seven minutes. Someone once told me that we are draped in the most beautiful, luxurious, expensive fabrics in the world, but what people cheer for is what is underneath.

To create that fantasy, we get to wear these incredibly detailed bespoke costumes that elevate, they create a feeling of wonder and rhinestones are literally created to reflect the light, bouncing off every curve of the body, they accent every single movement- a thousand tiny mirrors dressing the performer in an aura of light. And as the burlesque performer carefully removes her bra dripping in crystals, and the audience roar, she smiles, because only she knows that it’s a Primark set.’

Performance costume