At the start of the 18th century in Europe, burlesque acts were stage parodies of classical pieces of opera and theatre. The actors, who were mostly women, used comedy and music sketches to mock conventional artistic performances. Members of high society were outraged by these risqué, often sexually suggestive, shows. American burlesque began appearing around the 19th century, but took off in the early 20th century and consisted largely of short skits involving satire, striptease, comedy and musical theatre. The costumes were big and bold, the sets elaborate and the mood rowdy. In the 1920’s their popularity faded. On Sept. 17, Montreal will be following in the footsteps of cities like Toronto, New York and London with the launch of the first annual Montreal Burlesque Festival.
Andrea Hausmann knows women. For instance, she knows that when you feed a woman champagne and chocolates, hire a team of professionals to style her hair and apply her makeup, and place an endless array of lingerie, cocktail dresses, whips, wigs, furs, masks and costume jewelry before her eyes- she is bound to get in touch with her sultry side.
“If they’re shy on the first or second frame, by the third one they’re not anymore,” said Hausmann.
A professional photographer specializing in burlesque and boudoir portraits, Hausmann says she built her reputation on her ability to make female clients feel comfortable enough to let go of their inhibitions and unleash their inner diva.
“The clients trust me. They know that I’ve done it before and that I’ve seen everything. No one is too fat or too skinny for anything; our goal here is to just to help them feel fantastic in their own body,” said Hausmann.
Pausing to think for a moment, she recalls the time an actress came to her studio because she wanted to become more in tune with her sexuality and to be able to audition for the “sexy” roles.
“It took her some time to open up,” she says, “but before long she had dropped her dress and was screaming “boobs!”
While it’s now business as usual when a woman removes her top during a photo shoot, it wasn’t always the case. When Hausmann was studying photography at Dawson College a few years ago she was planning on a career in fashion photography. When it came time to build her portfolio, she turned to her friends for help. It just so happened that many of them were burlesque performers, and before long their vintage costumes became the main inspiration for her work. Word spread quick and soon ordinary women were hiring her for burlesque and boudoir portraits.
“I would get asked to do lingerie, boudoir, nudes and vintage looks over and over again because that’s what I was good at,” said Hausmann. “I didn’t even have to ask, and women just started stripping for me during photo shoots.”
By graduation, Hausmann had already established a strong client base and found a niche in the photography market.
“I delved in head first. I graduated school and I wanted to open up a studio, so I opened up a studio. You know when you have that gut feeling that it’s going to work out, that’s what I had,” said Hausmann.
Upon walking into the studio your eyes are immediately drawn to the metallic gold wallpaper and retro gold couch that make up the set. Scattered across the room is an assortment of velvet-upholstered chairs, sofa beds and antique tables with crystal lamps and rotary telephones. A stark contrast with Hausmann’s sleek glass desk and Mac desktop computer. In her mid-twenties, and no taller than five feet, the petite photographer gets lost amidst the sea of papers. After showing her new studio manager Jill Keech, how to prepare a final package for a client, Hausmann explains how a typical photo shoot works.
The first step is an in-person or phone consultation to determine the artistic direction.
“Everyone can associate themselves with something, be it a movie or a celebrity.” For instance tomorrow, I have a shoot with an older woman who wants to look like Raquel Welch for her anniversary because her husband loves Raquel Welch,” said Hausmann.
Once the concept is finalized, Hausmann and her studio manager construct the set. Everything from the wallpaper and flooring, to the curtains and furniture are tailored to the customer’s needs. Clients are invited to play in the massive closet and select their costume. With over a dozen boxes filled with lingerie; a closet overflowing with dresses, accessories and props; and shelves lined with jewelry – it’s quite the decision. Finally, they are placed in the hands of a hair and makeup artist who will complete their transformation.
Hausmann says her clients are all ages (typically over 18) and sizes and run the gamete from nurses who wear scrubs all day and want to feel sexy, to tomboys looking to connect with their femininity.On rare occasions a man will pose in an elegant suit for a vintage portrait. Everyone comes for a unique reason.
“It usually starts out as ‘I want to give a gift to my boyfriend,’ but you’d be surprised at how many people break up with their boyfriends the week before, or the day before a shoot,” said Hausmann. “When it comes down to it, it’s all about them and them wanting to feel beautiful.”
But all this pampering comes at a price. A shoot can cost anywhere from $430 to over $1000 depending on the duration, the type of set, hair and makeup and the amount of prints and retouches requested. While business was dead during the spring, Hausmann says all of September is booked, and she already has appointments for October.
Despite her busy schedule she remains very involved in the burlesque community and tries to see a show once a month.
“I love the shows because they’re fun. There are a lot of interactions with the crowd, and the performers are just hootering and hollering. It’s also safe. Women get to express themselves in a creative way and it also accepts women of all sizes and ages,” said Hausmann.
Developing a calendar with burlesque performers, and doing a body art shoot with a contortionist are next on her list.
But for now, Hausmann says she just feels lucky to have a job that she loves and that brings joy to her customers.
“I had a 50-year-old client who got the photo shoot as a gift from her daughter and I was asking: does she want to feel pretty? Cute? Sexy? And she just started to cry and said ‘I just want to feel beautiful.’ She had gotten out of a bad relationship and just wanted to feel glamorous.