When you hear the word “sexy,” what is it you picture? Do you think of a nice figure, a brilliant smile … or do you see a raven- haired, ruby-pouted, tightly laced girl of the pin-up persuasion bathing in a martini glass?

If you answered the latter, you won’t want to miss Cointreau presents Dita Von Teese and special guests at the House of Blues Monday, July 19 and Tuesday, July 20  –– an opening celebration for Tales of the Cocktail. Each night begins at 9 (with a red carpet on Tuesday at 7, and doors opening both nights at 8); to get your tickets, visit www.houseofblues.com or call the House of Blues box office at 504/310-4999.

Recently, Miss Von Teese sat down to chat, via phone from Los Angeles, about this performance, her partnership with Cointreau, her excitement on visiting New Orleans and what it means to be sexy.

On Being Sexy
“I don’t have an alter ego that I put on when I go out there to be sexy,” Von Teese says. “I discovered a long time ago that my best shows –– the ones where I came offstage and I felt good and the audience was amazing and the people who know me were like, ‘That was your best show’ –– were when I was being myself and I was having fun.”

And having fun is one of the reasons that Von Teese has gathered so many fans and followers –– particularly female ones. “My way is about opening up my world to people and inviting you into my world,” she says. “I’m not trying to seduce anyone. I think the sensuality part of it speaks for itself, so I don’t have to focus on it at all, and I focus more on the humorous, the fun and the playful aspects of it rather than trying to be sexy… I let people see the real me in a lot of ways. You see the mistakes, the shyness, the funniness –– all of those things onstage.”

On Beginnings
Born Heather Sweet in West Branch, Mich., Von Teese was fascinated with Technicolor cinema, vintage lingerie and pin-up art from a very young age. Called a “burlesque superheroine” by Vanity Fair, Sweet transformed herself into Dita Von Teese and began performing in 1993. “When I started performing burlesque there was no Internet,” she says, laughing. “There wasn’t any reference for me of any authentic burlesque other than pictures that I saw in vintage men’s magazines or the film Gypsy with Natalie Wood or Ball of Fire with Barbara Stanwyck, and these were all really imaginary versions of what burlesque was.” Von Teese created her own style of burlesque based on what was in her head –– a self-described “glossified version” of burlesque that blended her ballet training, the imagery she liked of classic pin-ups and the classic burlesque she had seen. “The first time I ever did a burlesque show I was coached on the phone by a famous burlesque star, and her advice was very ethereal and dreamy,” she says. “It wasn’t very literal advice.”

On Being Cointreau’s Global Brand Ambassador
Once you become famous for bathing in a giant martini glass, spirit brands come a-knocking. “I just never felt like anyone got it,” she says. “They didn’t really understand why I do what I do.” But when Cointreau approached Von Teese with their “Be Cointreauversial” campaign, finally the –– pardon the pun –– martini glass fit. “[Cointreau] explained to me their way of thinking, which I felt really had a lot to do with the way that I perform my shows,” she says, “which is about the little bit of controversy but not trying to be overly provocative, just living your life the way you want to and enjoying life and not really paying mind to what other people think.” Von Teese says she also likes the history of the brand and finds their approach to cocktails –– and to her –– a very elegant one. “We’ve had a really great partnership, which is going to continue, and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”

On Creating a Cocktail
Part of Von Teese’s partnership with Cointreau involved creating a signature cocktail. To do so, they flew her to Paris to work with their master mixologist. “We discussed perfumes that I like, flavors that I like, colors that I like,” she says, “and one of the things that came up was my love of violets.” They infused a violet liqueur with Cointreau, added fresh ginger, and the Cointreau Teese was born (see recipe below). “It’s a beautiful, elegant, glamorous drink, and people really love it,” she says. Although creating a cocktail sounds like a thoroughly enjoyable experience, Von Teese found one aspect of it rather difficult: “It was fun to make, but I had to have them order in some food because I was practically falling off my barstool trying drinks all morning!”

On New Orleans
Von Teese has performed in New Orleans twice before, once at the very start of her career and again 10 years ago, “The last time I was [in New Orleans] was when I performed with the Shim Sham Revue in the Shim Sham Club [now One Eyed Jacks],” she says. “I haven’t been to New Orleans in so long, and I think it’s a very special place. … I’ve been trying to get my French boyfriend [to New Orleans]; I think he would love it there. I really think that New Orleans is close in a lot of ways to France, and I think it’s such a great city. It’s one of my favorite cities in the U.S. and I’m really excited to come back there to show people what I’ve been doing lately.”

On Her Upcoming Performance
Von Teese’s performance at the House of Blues will be a nightlong debaucherous, funny, intriguing –– and yes, sexy –– event. Not only will Von Teese be performing her famous martini glass act, which she’s excited to bring back to New Orleans in its new evolution, but perhaps a second act and also her new “Opium Den” number, of which Von Teese says she’s most proud. “It took me about four years to create and a fortune, and it’s a big labor of love,” she says. “[These] shows mean a lot to me in different ways. I’m excited to bring these shows [to New Orleans] and show what I do and how maybe it’s changed in the past 17 years.” Her only issue with her performances is trying to get her sets and props on the not-too-large House of Blues stage. “We’re trying to figure out how we can do three and still maintain my integrity by having all of my big sets there. There’s not a lot of storage space there.”

In addition to her acts, Von Teese has gathered four other artists to create an evening of performances. “I just wanted the show to be a very interesting mix of glamour and humor,” she says. “My goal, since I’ve been to a lot of burlesque shows and been in a lot of burlesque variety shows, is always to make every second of it riveting and interesting and with a very high entertainment value. I chose acts that I feel are very unique and interesting.”

These acts will include:

Perle Noire, a New Orleans native: “I saw her performance on a video, and I immediately wanted to have her be a part of the show.”

Duke Lafayette: “One of the acts I’m bringing is this amazing show that I saw this man do in New York. It stuck out in my mind as something unique and in the spirit of burlesque.”

Selene Luna: “She’s been a veteran burlesque performer and is obviously unique in her own way and brings down the house every time.”

Murray Hill will be announcing the show.

Whether you’re looking to be tantalized, amazed or just entertained, you won’t want to miss Cointreau presents Dita Von Teese and special guests at the House of Blues –– who knows when she’ll be back!

For more on Dita Von Teese, visit her Web site, dita.net. For more on Cointreau and “Be Cointreauversial,” visit www.cointreau.com.

Cointreau Teese Recipe
1 1/2 ounces Cointreau

1/2 ounce apple juice

1 ounce Monin violet syrup

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Frost ginger around the rim of the glass.