Inspiration

One of those things that strikes at the most inconvenient of times and is often AWOL when you really need it.

As you venture into making your creative hobby a business, you are forced to start contemplating things like “target markets” and “business aesthetic”. These are both horrific as far as I’m concerned and I’ve largely avoided them in the hope it would, kind of, sort itself out as the business developed. The problem is, if you want your business to develop and end up in the right place, you do have to give these things thought sooner than you’d really want to. As we approach the new year, I am once again mentally reviewing my business, thinking about what aims I have for the coming year, where I want the business to go, what I want to achieve… and I can’t really get away with ignoring the two big elephants in the room named “Target Market” and “Aesthetic” any more.

I’ve had chats with many of my fellow corsetières over this [particularly Jen of Wyte Phantom – Thanks Jen!]. Due to the nature of our business (specifically bespoke I feel) nailing down these things can be hard. When you spend so much of your time working towards breathing life into someone else’s imaginings, it’s hard to pin point what your own aesthetic is; none-the-less, identifying it is crucial if you want to end up making corsets you enjoy making. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where everyone only comes to you for ultra Goth corsets when you’d really much rather be making neon unicorn ones. What you want is people saying “I want a Neon Unicorn corset, I must get one from *insert corset maker name here*!”

This is where you link your aesthetic back to your inspiration. If you’re anything like me, you get your inspiration from pretty much everything (yeah thanks ADD), and if you flick through my sketch book there really doesn’t appear to be much of a coherent thought running through it.

However I have noticed that nature inspires me enough to make a physical item.

This inspiration is not as straight forward as making a corset and sticking some flowers on it (although yeah that too), but all things in nature.

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model/headdress/MUA – Alivya V Free, Photography – Sarah Ann Wright

Trees are a huge thing for me. I’ve always loved them since I was a kiddy walking in my local woods. I find them solid, reassuring, ancient, all seeing, but some times a bit creepy. Never changing but incredibly changeable at the same time. Love a good tree.

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One of my many photos of trees! – New Forest 2011

I am also inspired by the geometry in nature, the parallels, and the symmetrical. Colour combinations that sometimes appear and look amazing, but no one would have seriously thought to put those two colours together.

Animals inspire me – their colours, shapes, and sense of character you can get from them.

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Dan Ransley Photography 2016

Landscapes. . . the sea. . . the night sky. . . cloud formations. . . rain.

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One of my own photos from a trip to Scotland

Right now, my biggest inspiration is the way nature interacts with our man-made world: rain on a window, trees lining a wet road, or nature swallowing an old building. That juxtaposition of the inorganic and the organic. I can think of two pieces I have created where this inspiration is present.

Ice queen – My first ever photoshoot!

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Ice Queen – Model: Lorraine Claridge-Whybrow, Makeup: Glitzy Flamingo, Photography: Simon Whybrow

And my Iceni Corset – made for OCOC15

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Iceni Corset – Model: Gingerface, Photography: InaGlo Photography

Now I wrote a little inspiration post about the Iceni Corset for the OCOC blog [which can be found here if you’re interested]

In both these pieces, the corset and the more flowing chiffon fabrics have been applied to the underlying construction and they enhances the qualities of each component. I LOVE this combination! The solid structure of the corset being swallowed by the softer, more organic feeling fabric. Direct inspiration is from the sea swallowing a breakwater, or snow consuming a sculpture.

I’ve always been wary of verbally identifying my inspiration as a generic “Nature” because that’s neither general nor detailed enough for what I’m trying to get across. It automatically brings up the vision of corsets in nothing but floral prints. That’s not me. I thought perhaps “Organic” but that just puts me in the fruit and veg aisle of the supermarket.

I wouldn’t say I was or wasn’t one thing all the time. I’m not sunshine and fields of flowers all the time, and neither am I dark and brooding all the time… but nature can be both things with spring meadows and a vicious sea storm. I don’t want to narrow myself down to a very specific look and nature is glorious in it’s variety.

I don’t think I neatly fit into a specific clothing or scene “genre”; perhaps, my aesthetic is still a little vague but I think that’s OK for the moment.

Kate’s Petrol Corded Corset

So I was first approached about this commission not by Kate herself but by her partner Jim. He wanted to buy her a custom corset as a gift. Fabulous! I was super keen and we were booking in first consultations within weeks.

However, in retrospect, I think this may have been a little soon for Kate. When I first spoke with her she was very unsure of what she really wanted. We had a long conversation about shape, colour, detail, fabrics and we settled on an initial idea for quite a simple line, demi bust corset in pale blue.

A little while later Kate came back for her first fitting, and it went very well. We had a few small adjustments to make but as they were quite small I suggested we do the second fitting via Skype (she lives in Manchester and I’m based in Surrey, not something I often suggest as I’d much rather do it in person but I was feeling confident). I made the adjustments, added more boning to the mockup and sent it off.

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Initial Sketch, Second mockup, and reworked sketch

We arranged our skype meeting and it fit perfectly. However Kate wasn’t 100% happy. She had decided on a change of colour, which was no problem, but she was struggling to put into words what she wanted to change about the design. In a somewhat unorthodox approach I told her to draw all over the mockup to get it to look the way she wanted.

Well what arrived back with me was very different from what I’d originally envisioned. A lot more cording, hip gores and flossing. OK, not one to turn down a challenge, I decided to start over again. I redrew sketches in more detail using colour coding on bone channel and cording stitching. What resulted was a pattern of cording that was truly wonderful. Kate’s design of the cording over the hip gores was reminiscent of an Art Deco sun ray motif which sat in contrast to what was a very historical looking corset.

Delicate black lace ruffle around the bust and very subtle cording on the bone channels. This felt like a real modern twist to a period corset. I loved the finished item and was sad to post it off!

Sometimes clients don’t always know what they want. But through trial and error, and sometimes some unusual techniques, we get there in the end. And those corsets are often the most stunning.

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Kate’s Petrol Corded Corset, in silk dupion, with petrol silk flossing and detachable silk suspenders

Spring Bride

Coming from a self taught back ground, design work is something I’ve always felt a little intimidated to try. I haven’t got an education in fashion design, or a concept of the “rules” to fall back on. Although I am an avid follower of the work of the couture houses that by no means qualifies me to “have a bash” at it myself… or at least so I’d told myself for quite some time.

I work mostly on commission, where design work is essentially done collaboratively. My clients come to me with design ideas and I bring them to life. Whilst some ideas are very solid and exact, some are a little more fluid, but in each case I am always working to my clients specifications. I like this, I am comfortable with this, and I love nothing more than bringing someone’s idea’s to life… but this does mean that very rarely do I get the chance to show something that is entirely my own idea. On the few occasions when I do its normally to make something for myself, limited to my own figure, the event I am attending, in a limited time frame and with a very limited budget.

At the beginning of 2016 I decided to take a leap. I was desperate to show how amazing corsetry can be when incorporated into a modern and original bridal gown. I wanted to show exactly what a modern corset was capable of. Both versatile and beautiful, not dated, not bland and not restricted to being an undergarment.

Initially I wanted to create a seasonal bridal collection – spring, summer, autumn and winter – and I was going to do it in one go. However life got in the way a little bit. With two bridal commissions, and a prom dress all lined up for the first six months of the year (not to mention, husband and a toddler), I downsized to just one gown. My spring bride, and the concept that had been stuck in my head the longest.

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This design actually started life as an alternative design for my own wedding dress, but then was pushed to the back of my head for a few years when I decided to stick with my original (more Edwardian inspired) idea. It was also going to be embellished with lace rather than flowers, but I swiftly changed my mind. I wanted to create something a bit different, and it seems every other wedding dress is covered in lace (not that there is anything wrong with that you understand!)

Floral, ethereal, feminine yet dramatic – that’s what I was hoping to achieve. But I also wanted it to be practical and versatile. I am a great believer in two piece wedding ensembles. If you are going to spend a significant amount of money on something, why wear it only once? The skirt might not be so practical to wear out of an evening (but hey, why not if it takes your fancy), but I wanted the corset to stand on its own, in a boudoir setting or worn out – dressed up smart with a pencil skirt or even teamed with jeans and blazer (cocktail anyone?)!

First thing I did? I booked in Alyvia V Free to model and Sarah Ann Wright as my photographer. Two fantastic people who’s work I had admired for such a long time. As a relatively unknown corsetiere I was very nervous about contacting “Professionals” (stupid really as technically I’m a professional too!). Liv’s stature and dark flowing hair felt elfin like to me, but in a strong and powerful kind of way. I just knew she’d give a depth and emphasis to the ethereal gown I was trying to bring to life. Sarah’s photography is just stunning, and really manages to draw nature into her work with such skill. I’m always taking inspiration from the organic so this quality to her work was really important to me. As you can imagine I was beyond thrilled when both said they’d love to be a part of the shoot.

Next on my list was fabric. You’ve got to get that right, and I cannot tell you how much time I spent trawling the internet for inspiration to no avail. I found plenty of fabric that would have been perfect, but embroidered silk dupion at £85 a meter, and no one is paying me for this… no – I couldn’t stretch to that. So armed with a trusty (and very patient) friend, off I went to Goldhawk Road in search of inspiration… and I found it in this gorgeous digital floral print fabric that was, *hurrah*, budget friendly, and so the design spiralled from there. I found a silk dupion to compliment, swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls to embellish, and I was off into my dream land of lilac florals and sparkly things.

This was my first attempt at this type of appliqué, onto a corset, and I essentially took a decoupage approach to the placement. Reinforcing this very liquid fabric with a fusible interfacing then hand cutting out each flower and positioning onto the corset whilst laced onto the stand. I wanted to create depth, and a real organic feel, drawing inspiration from the work of Monet. Adding the chiffon layer softens the harsh structure of the corset but also adds to this Monet feel and gives even further depth. I added some of the crystals and pearls under the chiffon layer to really highlight that, and then more flowers on top along with more crystals and pearls. Yes – that was a lot of hand stitching.

Corset finished and it was onto the skirt. I adore using historical patterns for skirts. I mean who knows better about voluminous skirts than the Victorians right? I used the Truly Victorian 1865 Elliptical Skirt pattern,which has gorgeous folds over the hips and gathering at the back to give you a bit of ‘booty’ volume and a small train. To give it a more modern vibe, I opted to no use hoops to give the skirt volume – but instead created a petticoat, layered in tulle and with horsehair braid (or crin) around the hem. This created the luxurious feel I wanted and the volume without it looking like forced or like a costume. With the silk chiffon layered over the floral fabric it continued with the theme on the corset. I wish more than anything I had remembered to take a video of Liv wearing it on the shoot. Standing amongst the bluebells there was a subtle breeze which made the chiffon layer of the skirt ripple like water.

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All that remained was ‘The Bow’. I’m not quite sure which part of my brain the inspiration for the bow came from, and I doubted myself about the concept for a while, but I’m so glad I went with it because I think it looked amazing. Something truly different to incorporate a detachable train into the ensemble. I was inspired to bring the floral appliqué down the train after attending a wedding a few years ago, where we threw red rose petals as confetti. They settled beautifully on the brides white train and I just had to recreate this look. It also aided to balance the ensemble, picking out the appliqué on the corset. I spent an age positioning each flower to give the impression they had just fallen there. More pearls, and crystals so more hand-stitching.

On shoot day I’d quickly thrown together a pair of tie side knickers to go with the corset for a “boudoir” bridal shoot as well as the full bridal shoot. Liv made a stunning headdress that complimented the gown perfectly. Sarah wrote a lovely little blog post about the shoot itself and you can find that here.

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Alivya V Free wearing Moody Corsetry, photographed by Sarah Ann Wright

This ensemble is now part of my sample collection and I hope to use it at wedding fairs in the future. The images we got from the shoot are stunning and I’ve had a fantastic response so far. I’m really looking forward to creating my next bridal sample piece… whenever that may be!

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