CLAIRE SINCLAIR - PIN UP
Photography and Interview by Scott Santodonato
SMARTY: As a fellow Gemini, how do you think your being a Gemini affects who you are as a performer, as an artist, and as a model?
CLAIRE: (intrigued) Is this really in your notes? Or did you just come up with this? (laughing)
SMARTY: It’s in my notes…
CLAIRE: I’m very much into Astrology. It’s to the point where like I have to obscurely find people’s birthdays and ask to see their driver’s license to look at the picture – but I’m really looking at their birthday. I’m a Gemini – with a Leo rising in a Scorpio moon. So people think I’m a Leo when they meet me. And I feel like I resonate more with the Leo than a Gemini. But I think there’s just so many of our kind in the industry, because Geminis are just like… They’re playful, they’re little kids; they’re very carefree. They do whatever they want and they’re very unfiltered. And I think that’s what’s needed to make someone entertaining. They have to be free-spirited. That’s the drive behind my personality. I think it pretty much describes me to a T.
SMARTY: Do you attribute any of that to your ethnicity?
CLAIRE: I am actually black and Asian, and nobody would think that. (laughing) I’m just fucking! (more laughter) I’m totally not that. I just wanted to see your face. I’m not black and Asian – I’m white as can be. I’m all sorts of different whites. I’m Italian, French, English, Scottish, Irish – every single type of white in the book is what I am. What’s the question?... (chuckles)
SMARTY: (laughing) Ethnicity… Your last name’s Italian, right?
CLAIRE: My real last name is Riccio, and it’s Italian. I don’t have any culture from any of my ethnicities though, because my parents are both from America. My grandparents on my dad’s side were Italian – so whenever I go to New Jersey to visit family – there’s like a big, old Italian feast and stuff. But my culture, basically, because I grew up in East L.A., is Mexican – just because I went to school with a bunch of Hispanics and like, I’m so engulfed in that culture because I grew up in that area. Yeah, I’m not really like Italian when it comes down to it. I mean, I like the food, but I didn’t grow up with the Italian language, food, or any of that.
SMARTY: None of that? You don’t cook Italian?
CLAIRE: I don’t cook crap. I live in a hotel. I’ve lived in the Stratosphere for about two years now. I have no kitchen in there. I have a microwave. I go out to eat all the time, so I get room service and I don’t cook. But one day I’ll learn to cook some stuff.
SMARTY: Is it fun living in a hotel like that?
CLAIRE: I love living in a hotel, like, I love living in the Stratosphere. It’s the most convenient thing in the world – like push “down” (button) and go to work. And I get food, I get room service, I get a maid to clean up my crap. I’d be living in extreme chaos and disgusting nastiness if I didn’t have a maid every day, because I just have piles… When I get done doing a shoot, I’ll throw everything off and I’ll leave it in a pile, and then I’ll go do the next thing. So if there wasn’t someone to keep everything orderly, I don’t know… It would be really nasty probably. I’m so spoiled now. All the headliners that come to town that I’ve talked to, they’re like: “Yeah, I lived at my hotel for about two months, and then I was going bat-shit crazy, and I had to leave and get my own place.” And like, I think I’m past the point of insanity. I’ve always been a little bit like crazy. I’m not getting that from the hotel. In fact, it feels more like ‘home’, like if there’s any place for me to live, it would be in like a transient, like people coming in and out type of place. It feels really natural. I would happily live in the Stratosphere forever if they would let me, (giggling) because it’s so convenient and nice. And like I feel no urge to leave. I’m there.
SMARTY: You need to make that part of your negotiation on your next contract.
CLAIRE: Yeah, on my next negotiation, no matter how long my show runs, I get this place till my dying day. If I’m eighty years old, they’re stuck with me in this room. It’s too nice. It’s right on the Strip, too. I get to do a five-minute drive to everything.
SMARTY: So do you miss living in California? Are you used to Las Vegas yet?
CLAIRE: I feel like I’m a dual citizen of Las Vegas and Los Angeles right now, because I’m just back and forth all the time. I’m here for a week, I do the show, and on ‘my weekend’, which is Tuesday and Wednesday, I run to L.A. and I do a bunch of work there. So I get the taste of L.A. practically every week. So I don’t get too homesick, because there are months here where I don’t go home once – and I feel like I’m going insane. Like it’s like Ground Hog Day – where you’re doing the same thing over and over again. You need that little break – even if it’s just once a month, that one day away to make it feel like: “I’m going back home to Vegas!” Like, it’s that refresher.
SMARTY: What’s it like being Las Vegas’ youngest headliner?
CLAIRE: I feel like I won the lottery by being Las Vegas’ youngest headliner. It happened in such an odd way, and I feel extremely blessed and lucky every day that I’m doing it. Even when I’m tired and I have things to do – like I’m shooting today, and then I go back and do the show tonight and whatever… I might be sore or whatever. I’m like: “No! You’re the luckiest little turd in all of Vegas. You are so lucky!” And I just have to remind myself of that no matter what’s going on. And it’s cool! I feel like I definitely won a lottery. It’s like the only way I can put it. It’s a weird feeling, like when I drive by and see a billboard, or see an advertisement – it’s very surreal. It’s almost like disassociated from myself, like I don’t feel like it’s me. It’s like a different person. It’s very strange.
SMARTY: Did you have that in your game plan?
CLAIRE: Yes. It’s weird. Holly Madison is one of my good friends in Vegas, and I was living with her when she was filming her reality show at Planet Hollywood. I was living at Planet Hollywood when I was eighteen years old, and I would go in and watch her show, Peepshow, like every night. I was obsessed with it. And I saw her lifestyle: she’d go and do her show and then she’d like go to a club afterwards. She’d get to sleep in late. And I wanted that so bad. I would always tell her: “You have the dream life. That looks so fun! You do a show every night, and that’s your job?!” And I was just like: “I want that.” And I would hint at her like: “Hey, if you need an understudy, I’m around. I’m living here.” (giggling) But at that point she already had Angel. I wanted that job so badly. And I would always envision it. I was like, “I want to do a show in Vegas. I don’t know how I would do it. I’m not really a dancer. I’m not a singer. I don’t know how I would do a show in Vegas – but I want to do one.” And I kept thinking about it – it was always one of my biggest goals – because I did Crazy Horse Paris, which was at MGM. I did a guest-starring appearance after Dita Von Teese did it, and I loved it! I was living in the hotel, I was doing the show every night, it was like getting a small taste of what doing Peepshow would be like. And I was only a one-week stint, and I was sobbing on the last night of that show. I was just like crying to the cast: “Please make them have me come back. Please let me be a permanent cast member.” I was crying to the director: “I want to come back. This is so sad. They’re teasing me – they only gave me one week.” So they had me back again for another week. And then that was it. I thought: ‘Shit, how am I ever gonna end up back doing a show in Vegas?’ And random: I’m doing a birthday appearance in Vegas and I get invited to Frankie Moreno’s show (the other show at the Stratosphere). And he was asked to produce music for a new show that the Stratosphere was developing, which was to be “Pin Up”. And he just straight-up asked me after his show: “Hey, how would you be interested in headlining a show here at the Stratosphere?” And I didn’t think there was any reality to that – because it was just so random, I thought he was like joking. And I’m like: “Yeah, of course! I would love to do that!” And then he gets in touch with my PR lady, and like a week later, they’re like drafting up temporary contracts, or having me fly out to Stratosphere to talk about different themes for the show and stuff. And it was just like so fast – immediately after meeting Frankie – it was like the show was like getting into production. It was a reality. So that’s how I got the show. I met Frankie, and he offered me the job basically, and then he ran it by the Stratosphere. It was crazy! It was my dream job basically. I went from seeing Holly’s billboard all over town and like wanting that so bad, and then eventually having it become a reality… still is, surreal – to know that that happened. And what’s the merit for it, when I really think about it? It’s just that wanting it so bad. I don’t know, I think I like subconsciously brought it to me, because it was such a strong… I can’t explain it. Whatever it is that you want so badly… that was my main goal – was to do a show. There are so many things, that I get that urge for it, and then I HAVE to make it happen. It’s like I can’t sleep. I’ll think of a billion different ways, like: “How am I gonna do this?” So that was one of them. But I didn’t even really… it’s not like I went out and developed the show. It just kind of got gifted to me, which was awesome.
SMARTY: So are you a foodie? What’s your favorite food?
CLAIRE: It’s obvious that I’m a foodie – I’m a curvy lady, and like, I eat everything. There’s M&M Soul Food, which is on Charleston. It’s the bomb – it is so good! They have the most delicious chicken. It’s just amazing. The Golden Steer on Sahara is so good, too. It’s like an old 1950’s-style steakhouse, where the Rat Pack ate back in the day. (snapping fingers to think) The Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan is the best buffet, like buffets are usually ghetto, because the food is usually sitting out there all day. This is like fresh, little, tiny mini-plates of food – so good. God, I’m gonna sound like a fat-ass. I’m gonna come here and roll off all the food… Literally every hotel has something bomb. Wolfgang Puck at MGM, Stratosphere’s Top of the World, of course, is bomb. I eat there all the time, so I’m just like spoiled. It’s delicious steakhouse style food. Then Fellini’s, which I eat like every night before the show at the Stratosphere…
SMARTY: (laughing) Every night before the show you eat at Fellini’s?
CLAIRE: I know it sounds really bad. Fellini’s is an Italian restaurant at Stratosphere, but they have a salad with chicken and I eat that.
SMARTY: Everything there is good.
CLAIRE: You’ve had Fellini’s then?
SMARTY: Yeah, of course. I love it.
CLAIRE: It’s so bomb. It’s so good.
SMARTY: Last time I was at the Golden Steer, Bette Midler was there.
CLAIRE: Yeah, there’s always cool people there. That’d be a bomb place to shoot actually, to do an old-school shoot there.
SMARTY: So what was it like shooting with Bunny Yeager?
CLAIRE: Bunny Yeager is an icon. She shot Bettie Page. She shot a trillion pinup models back in the fifties and forties. And that is insane for me – because I was such a huge fan of her work, of Bunny in particular. I had her pictures of Bettie on my binder when I grew up in high school, like literally, the pictures that Bunny Yeager took of Bettie Page. And it’s so weird – she’s still shooting. She’s like 85 years old and she’s still doing her thing. It was like a dream come true. It was really cool.
SMARTY: Did she shoot film or digital?
CLAIRE: She shot digital and film.
SMARTY: So she was still shooting film?
CLAIRE: Yeah, she still shot film, because she wants it to look like that old-school look that she used to get. But she did digital with an assistant. She’s not really savvy with technology, because she’s 85, so she had a helper.
SMARTY: Did you shoot nudes with her?
CLAIRE: Yeah, if you’re shooting with Bunny Yeager, you have to shoot nude, because that’s what she’s iconic for doing is all of her nude work from back in the fifties. So the majority of the stuff we shot was nude, but then we did a couple of 1950’s lingerie pieces, too. That was crazy. I went to Florida on my days off, and I came back, and I had a show like right when I got back from my flight from Florida – it was like a couple hours later, and do the show. That’s what I’ll always do, on my days off, I’ll like fly somewhere, and I’ll have to run back and beat the clock to do the show.
SMARTY: Who were your greatest influences growing up, and who did you aspire to be, as a child growing up?
CLAIRE: I didn’t have a person that was like an icon growing up, that was like: “I want to be just like this particular person. I want to be just like them.” But my dad deals in memorabilia and art, and he had a bunch of Olivia’s paintings. Olivia is a pinup artist, and he had her paintings all over the house. And it would have the girls like dressed up as a cop, or a nurse, or a genie… and I would always ask him as a little girl: “Is that a real person, like did they paint this based off a real person, or is this just a painting?” He’s like: “No, that’s a model.” And then he would show me, like he’d have a picture, and he’s like: “This is the model. This is that girl in that picture.” I’m like: “That’s amazing! That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna do pinup. I’m gonna be a pinup model,” because I saw those all over the house. And seriously, that was my dream. Every time anyone would ask me what I was gonna do, I would say I wanted to be a pinup model. And now I’m in a show called Pin Up. And all of my shoots have been pinup themed. It’s so weird. And I was a model for Olivia, the same lady who painted the paintings that were on my walls when I was growing up. She’s painted me I think the most, out of everyone in the last like 20 years. That exact thing came to fruition.
SMARTY: So when you first modeled for her, was that the first time that you’d ever modeled nude?
CLAIRE: Yeah, the first time I ever modeled nude was for Olivia and her husband. Her husband does the photos and she paints based off of the photos he takes. Her house was like a funhouse for me. I was eighteen, and she had like these weird huge-heeled props, like high-heels that were, I don’t know… like 10-inch heels, like insane. She had these big burlesque fans from the early 1800’s. She had these big boas. She had props galore all over her house, and I was just running around grabbing them. And we shot for eight hours the first time I shot with her. And she used that material… she’s still using it. She painted something recently from that same shoot from when I was eighteen… We shot nonstop. We shot once more after that, but that’s predominately the shoot that she uses to paint from.
SMARTY: And you just felt natural? You had no issue with being nude, since it was your first nude shoot? It was just liberating and you just went for it?
CLAIRE: Yeah! In fact, I knew from the minute that I shot naked with Olivia that I preferred shooting naked, to shooting with clothing – because before that, prior to my nude shoot, I was shooting for low-scale jean companies, or t-shirt companies, whatever. And I felt like a living rack, like it was more about: “How do the clothes look?” They don’t care about how you feel or the expressions you’re making. It’s like: “Turn this way, we can’t get the logo in it.” And like, for this, it doesn’t matter. You can do whatever you want, and you’re just free, and it’s your body, and there are no rules. Of course, you’re trying to make it look as good as possible, but I don’t know… I didn’t have to worry about what was on me. And I preferred that. I told her that. I was like: “This is so much easier than any other shoot I’ve ever done.” They were such a chill vibe, I didn’t even feel like I was taking pictures. I was like having a conversation with them and they were snapping away… It was really cool.
SMARTY: What’s playing in your iPod Shuffle right now?
CLAIRE: Right now, I’m obsessed with Metronimy. I have very eccentric musical taste. It’s all over the spectrum. I have soundtracks from random movies. But yeah, Metronimy is like nonstop playing. Uh... The Last Shadow Puppets, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Julian Casablancas, CocoRosie… Those are like my current obsessions.
CLAIRE: I got so much shit for saying my fetish back in the day with Playboy. They got really mad at me, but… Okay, I don’t do this anymore for the record, but it’s still a thing. I used to not date anybody without smelling their armpit and making sure that I liked their natural essence. So they couldn’t wear deodorant. I would tell them before a date, too. I’m like: “Don’t wear any deodorant,” and they would always ask why. And I was just like: “Don’t question it, just don’t wear it.” And if they wore it, I’d get mad and then I’d have to go on another date, just to see if it was good. But now I’m really discreet. I found ways to do all my weird little quirks discreetly, so they’re not an instant like: “Who is this weirdo?” Like, I have to kind of smooth it out. Now they just watched it, (on this video) and they’re gonna be like: “Oh, okay… She’s gonna smell my armpit.” (chuckles)
SMARTY: So what do you do?
CLAIRE: I do little things like… I don’t know… They always have deodorant on and it sucks. So I have to wait until we’re dating, and then at that point, I’ll just straight-up ask them. I’ll try and get a whiff at certain points. If they’re sweating a lot, I’ll get close and try and smell. I sound like such a creep right now. (laughing) I tell you all my methods of smelling people’s armpits, basically. But I feel like that’s the best way, and it’s proven. If you have any chemistry with someone, you’re attracted to their natural scent, whether it’s their body oil, like the oil they produce from their head, or their perspiration. It’s not: “Ew, that’s gross. Go take a shower.” It’s almost like it’s hitting something in your brain where you’re attracted to them. So it’s like that animalistic thing. So that’s my main, weird ‘fetishy’ thing. I don’t have like a foot fetish or anything like that.
SMARTY: Well, that’s a pretty good one.
CLAIRE: It’s a different one – guess it’s unique.
SMARTY: So what are you looking for in your man?
CLAIRE: Eyebrows… You know what? I can’t date someone who doesn’t have a nice… like, I like really bushy, predominant eyebrows – almost like unibrows, like strong eyebrows.
SMARTY: So that’s what you’re looking for in a man – a unibrow? (laughter)
CLAIRE: Not exactly a unibrow. I’m looking for a strong-browed man. They can’t be like those whimsy ones that fade in. Do you know what I’m talking about?
SMARTY: Yeah, like mine. (laughter) They’re going away.
CLAIRE: Are yours whispies? (laughing) I can’t see them, sorry. No offense.
SMARTY: So if someone hasn’t seen your show yet – describe it to us – and how it’s different from other revues in town.
CLAIRE: Okay… Pin Up takes you throughout the course of a calendar year. So each vignette, each 3-minute number is a different month. October, for instance, it’s the song, “I Put A Spell On You”, and I’m in a witch outfit. So for October, it’s a witch-like Halloweeny thing. We have a live band, and we have a singer. It’s very reminiscent of like what used to be an old-school burlesque show, what you’d see. There’s not really anything with a live band and a singer for the burlesque shows right now. A lot of them have tracks where they have pre-recorded songs that are new songs. Our songs are vintage songs as well, like we have a Frank Sinatra song, we have “Sleepwalk”, which is that guitar (singing guitar melody and air-strumming: “Neer-neer”) (laughing) This is just fake chords that I made up. But yeah, I think that it’s very much different than everything else that’s on the Strip, because it’s trying to bring back what an old-school vintage show would be like. If you were going to go and watch a show in 1955, and it was really risqué, and it was a late-night show – this is kind of what it would be on the order of. We go down to pasties – but the word ‘vulgar’ is so far away from what this show is. It’s not conservative, but it’s classy. It’s trying to stay organic to the 1950’s. And it has a modern flair to it. It’s not like legitimate old-school, but I think that’s what differentiates us from any other show on the Strip. It has a completely different vibe. And what they’re trying to do with that showroom, as well, like our other headliner, Frankie Moreno, he’s like a throwback Frank Sinatra singer. And that’s kind of the vibe, a really ‘throwback-y’ style type show.
SMARTY: Last question. You’re stranded in a jungle, and you had to be on that show, Naked and Afraid. Know what that is?
CLAIRE: Yeah, I’ve seen that show.
SMARTY: What would be your tool you’d bring, and who would you want to be stranded there with?
CLAIRE: I would be with Joaquin Phoenix via 2005, not now. Could I make him go back in time?
SMARTY: Yeah, of course.
CLAIRE: Alright – 2005 Joaquin Phoenix, and I would bring with me… God, what do I want to bring with Joaquin? God, I don’t even care about surviving. I’m just gonna be there with him. Oh, God. (looking over to assistant for advice) What should I bring for Joaquin? I’m not gonna bring a knife, that’s too plain. I’m gonna bring a nice… No, I can’t bring a sex toy for Joaquin, it has to be survival. You know what? I don’t know… Joaquin’s gonna make me a survivor though. He’s gonna bring the tool that’s gonna help us, and I’m not gonna do shit. I’m just gonna watch him and go: “That’s my man!” He’s gonna do all the work. Yeah, that would be nice though. I would love to be on that show with him. It’s so funny, they just strip you down and like: “There you go – go and survive.” That’s an interesting Gemini question that you prepared. I liked it.