Shape Shift: How Corsets are Reshaping Within the Fashion Industry
Today’s designers put lasting power in the six-century-old garment, turning vintage notions of dressing into modern day expressions.
Photography courtesy of Kristin Mallison.
Kristin Mallison looks at vintage tapestries and old floral upholstery and sees the potential to craft a corset. But there isn’t much that Mallison’s corsets and your grandmother’s baroque couch cushions have in common. The latter, for one, is dated and far from the world we are trying to build.
And so is the notion behind this historical garment. Corsets have long been used as a tool to alter women’s silhouettes, which not only gravely affected their health in restricting the blood flow to internal organs, but allowed for 16th century, Westernized views of women and body image to squeak by for over 600 years. Nothing too heavy, right?
There’s plenty of ways to grab this once oppressive garment by its very waist-cinching bones and flip it inside out. And that’s exactly what Mallison’s eponymous label does. The Brooklyn-based corset craftswoman transforms two passé elements into a playful and freeing vision.
In an interview with Vogue last March, Mallison shared: “I don’t think there is anything more feminine than a corset or these historical silhouettes, and I want to interpret them in a modern, more playful way that is not at all constricting.” She has created a vision of fantastical fashion, sampling romantic gardens and renaissance-era artworks and stitching them onto all kinds of bodices.
Mallison isn’t the only one lacing up, though; a fashion moment like this is nearly always influenced by, and wedged in, several different dimensions of pop culture. According to a Lyst report released earlier this year, Google searches for corsets have increased by over 100 per cent in just the first four weeks of Bridgerton’s December 2020 Netflix release, which has surely pumped up the demand and hype on Kristin Mallison corsets and beyond.
The resurgence is also present in collections by big name designers. Leading the way this summer is Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Corset-covered rib cages in pastel hues mixed in with edgy black lace pieces highlight the femininity of the garment, while Dion Lee’s current offerings pose to a more androgynous audience. The Australian designer evinces muted and minimalistic with a selection of unisex corsets, from a 100 per cent cotton corset-like tank to a structured, denim number.
Photography courtesy of Dion Lee.
No doubt a nod to the late 1900s and extravagant, experimental dressing, Vivienne Westwood sprinkled hints of corsets in her latest punk-keen collection. This style is expected for Westwood, however, who got her start in fashion through designing corsets and selling them at Malcom McLaren’s Kings Road store Sex in the ‘70s. The indefatigable revolutionist later reimagined it for the high fashion realm in which she had established her place in. The corset has been on a circular cycle for decades, coming and going with the ebb and flow of trends.
Photo courtesy of Vivienne Westwood via Vogue.com.
Fast forward to today and Billie Eilish basically shut down the internet with her latest Vogue cover, where the 19-year-old dons a custom Gucci corset as a way to express that she’s in control of how she presents herself to the world. Throughout the editorial, she switches between over half a dozen more corsets by the likes of Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, Mugler, Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Burberry. For years, corsets have been used to restrict a woman; today, they hold power. I might be bold enough to suggest freedom.
Mallison’s corsets are saturated with not just any power, but staying power. The circularity of her material and the nature of her textiles emphasizes this. Consider the fact that vintage tapestries and upholstery are made to last anywhere in the three- to five-decade ballpark. Hence the durability of your aforementioned grandma’s couch. Mallison’s corsets are going to stay in your closet for some time.
We’ll never know of the stories behind each fabric used and the secrets from their first life, but that accords them extra charm. And Mallison’s creative mastery has developed even further, recently peeking into the past life of real life performance. The latest addition to her collection is the Pink Satin corset. Old, discarded pointe shoes that have been burnt out from too much dancing (fact: a ballerina can go through around 100-120 pointe shoes in a single season) are dismantled and patched together. Remarkable.
Now with textiles that have travelled from Renaissance to baroque to rococo to Beethoven, there’s no predicting where Mallison’s needle and thread will go next. But for now, these upcycled gems sit on their own tier in the style game, and are sold online through the home site, on Annie’s Ibiza and IRL at Café Forgot in New York City.
Looking to add a corset to your wardrobe? Here are some fashionable humans serving our favourite corset moments, and how to get the look yourself.