Actress and Cabaret Star Ute Lemper Reminisces Over Her 30-Year Career

Lemper closed the Max Mara show on Monday, and there is more to come.

Ute Lemper - Lead
Photo: Franziska Krug/Getty Images

In 1988, in Paris, Ute Lemper, the actress and cabaret star, was just beginning her career when she was being compared to the legendary Marlene Dietrich for her appearance, her poise, and her style. Much to her surprise, she was heralded in the press as the “new Marlene,” who famously dressed for the image, not for the boys.

“I was 24, Marlene was 87, and I had won the Molière Award, which is the French Tony Award for my performance, and everyone wrote that in the French newspapers and I was embarrassed,” Lemper says. “So I called her to apologize for the comparison because I knew she was reading all of the papers, and I expressed my admiration, and she called me back.”

That call lasted three hours and had a lasting impact on Lemper, who created a new show last year called “Rendezvous with Marlene.” Her well-known affinity for Dietrich inspired Max Mara to recruit Lemper to appear in its resort collection shown on Monday night in Berlin, which was based largely on the iconic gender-breaking style of Dietrich (and also that of David Bowie). Lemper closed the show along with the American model Carolyn Murphy.

“She was groundbreaking with her style,” Lemper says. “She was the first one, really, advertising masculinity in style. She said, ‘Think like a boss, but act like a lady.’ But she really had an authority and inner strength — I think she was really the first completely emancipated lady who leveled with a sense of humor and a great dignity in a world of men. She was a free-spirit. She was polygamous, she was bisexual, she enjoyed life, and she just broke all the rules.”

Like Dietrich, Lemper has a keen eye for creating a self-image through lighting and clothing, and no one missed the significance of her appearance on Max Mara’s runway — she walked with a beaming smile the entire way.

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