England Adventures: Oxford Conference of Corsetry (OCOC), Interviews, Factory Tour & More!
At last, after 2 years I’m sharing with you some highlights of my trip to England, and what you can expect at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry if you choose to attend in the future.
There were unfortunately some restrictions placed on what could be photographed or filmed and what couldn’t, and so I filmed very little in 2014 (the first year I attended). In 2015 I filmed a little more, after seeing what other attendees freely filmed / photographed without getting a slap on the wrist – but here’s a nonexhaustive list of limitations (just so you won’t be underwhelmed by the lack of footage in the video above).
- At Jesus College, where conference was held, you’re not allowed to portray it in any way that could be considered an advertisement.
- You’re not allowed to show certain signs or crests or logos in video or photography.
- Regarding the conference itself, I was respectful of attendees who didn’t want to be shown on camera (but when you’re at a conference you’re constantly surrounded by people).
- I would have loved to do a dozen corset reviews or interviews at the conference as well, but I was not allowed to favour the work of any one maker over the others (if I interviewed one, I would have to interview all of them, and there wasn’t enough time to do so).
- You’re was also not allowed to film the models or photographers when they were at work.
- Obviously you’re not allowed to film the workshops in their entirety, as that could be giving away the presenters’ trade secrets.
So what was left that I could film included old architecture and gardens, the backs of people’s heads, tiny snippets of talks, and piles and piles of corsets (of course, the corsets were the whole reason I was there!). I’ve pulled together what I could here, and in this video I’ll also be talking about what I got up to before and after the conference (in both 2014 and 2015).
Corset Pilgrimage, 2014: Oxford, London, Leicestershire, Birmingham, Bath
The location itself felt like I was staying at Hogwarts. I’m not certain if there are any buildings in Canada that are quite as old as those in Oxford, and I felt a combination of reverence and the heebie-jeebies. You could choose whether you wanted to share rooms with a friend or whether you wanted your own place (I recommend bunking with a friend – it’s less expensive as well). When you check in at the college, they assign you your room. Attendees are all scattered around the college, you’re not all in one giant rez.
At the conference there’s always a room with a corset pile on a giant table. Corset makers can bring their corsets and label them and leave them here for the weekend for all other attendees to study and try on (if you allow trying on of your corsets). This room is locked after hours so your belongings are protected. Again, I was not allowed to conduct any interviews or corset reviews at the conference, but I did do a couple of interviews (Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London) after the conference in 2014.
There was also a table set up for Christine Wickham, of Ariadne’s Thread, as it was her crowdfunding that helped me afford to travel to England to the OCOC in the first place. Christine passed away unexpectedly in July 2014, just a few months after the campaign ended, and a month before the Conference of Corsetry. I commissioned Sarah Chrisman to hand-bind a book with blank pages, and anyone could come and write a note to Christine or to her family.
I ended up bringing the book 2 years in a row, and at the conference in 2015, the one and only Mr Pearl signed her book.
On the Saturday night, there is a dinner gala where you can dress up in formal or semiformal wear, and many of the corsetieres wore their own creations.
In 2014, the special guest and keynote speaker was Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden, and how her business had evolved over 25 years.
Some of the classes and workshops in 2014 included:
- Drawing inspiration from architecture and nature, guided by Alison of Crikey Aphrodite
- Couture hand finishing techniques by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse
- Studying antique corsets including the bird’s wing corset, with Jenni of Sparklewren
- Grading different sizes for standard sized collections by Marianne of Pop Antique
- Working with Worbla and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black
Let’s rewind a bit and talk about going to the Symington corset collection in Leicestershire before the 2014 conference. I made plans to meet Lowana of Vanyanis at the airport, and we made an appointment to study some of the antique corsets in their collections. It was simply amazing; we were allowed to touch the corsets with clean bare hands. See the video for many examples of the corsets we studied there.
After the museum, Lowana and I went to Birmingham to the Jewellery quarter and spent a day at Sparklewren’s studio. Marianne of Pop Antique was there too, and Lowana hired Inaglo Photography for a day there. I also had a small turn in front of the camera.
After the 2014 conference, I toured different parts of London and Bath – parts with Lowana and Beata, and parts solo. I was particularly excited to visit the roman baths, because my grandmother visited them in the 70s and loved them so much. I’m named after my grandmother but never met her, and it was of an odd importance to me that I walked the same areas she did when she visited England over 40 years ago.
That was the summary of my whirlwind 2014 England trip! Continue reading to learn what I got up to in 2015.
Corset Pilgrimage, 2015: Oxford, London, Portsmouth
The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015 was structured similarly to the year before. That year I was only in England for about 5 days, so there were fewer opportunities for tourism, and the itinerary was a lot more jam-packed. I arrived just hours before conference festivities began on the Friday, so I went walking in downtown Oxford with some other corsetieres like Sara of Exquisitely Waisted Designs, Karolina Zarzycka with the label of her own name, Dee from Luscious Pearl Designs, and Joni from Rainbow Curve Corsetry, and we checked out some different sites where Harry Potter was filmed. Later that evening all the attendees went to Bill’s for a casual meetup and grub before lectures and workshops started the next day.
This year, I decided to share a dorm with Laurie Tavan, and as we’re both quiet people who completely nerd out on the minutia of corsetry and aren’t afraid to help each other out, she was the perfect roommate for that weekend.
Again on Saturday night, there’s a semiformal dinner, and the keynote speaker for 2015 was Immodesty Blaize, who gave an amazing performance and then gave a beautiful speech afterward.
Workshops and classes in 2015 included:
- 3D printing and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black.
- Pattern matching workshop conducted by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden.
- Question and answer period with Mr Pearl.
- Building your own website and SEO with Fionna Pullen.
- There was also a class on integrating corsetry into other clothing (led by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse) – arguably the class I was most excited about on the itinerary that year – but that particular year, attendees were divided based on skill & experience level, so not all makers were allowed to attend all workshops. This is the one detail that I would change in the future with OCOC; if all attendees pay the same amount to attend the conference, they should all be able to sit the workshops they’re most interested in. Attendees only learned that we were segregated into different classes after we had already paid for our tickets.
After the conclusion of OCOC 2015, I spent two days with Katie Thomas of What Katie Did. She showed me the headquarters in London, where all the amazing lingerie and corsets are stocked for online orders, and showed how their business operates on the back end – from testing samples, to online customer service, to working with celebrity stylists, to order fulfillment. I also learned about the “What Katy Did” books and the history behind the name, and also we took a trip to their boutique on Portobello Green and saw how they ran their shop. I also got to try on a few corsets, and of course Katie and I sat down for an interview! If you’d like to see the whole interview, click the link in the cards, or in the description below.
Katie’s family also took me to Basildon park, a gorgeous estate where they filmed parts of Downton Abbey. I’m so grateful to Katie and her family for housing me for a few days and showing me such hospitality.
After two days with Katie’s family, I took the train south to Portsmouth where the Vollers family kindly put me up for two nights, and allowed me to tour their factory and see how one of the oldest corset companies in the world runs their business and makes their corsets. They have lots of nifty tools machines, which you can see in this detailed video. Naturally, what would a visit be if I didn’t also interview Corina and Ian, the owners of Vollers corsets?
After leaving the Voller family, I went straight to the airport and flew home.
Unfortunately I was not able to make it to the 2017 conference of corsetry, but from the sound of it and all the pictures, it seems like it was their best year yet.
Many thanks to the coordinators and presenters at OCOC, Christine Wickham, Lowana, Jenni, Glo, Beata, Katie, Laurie, the Voller family, and everyone who made my two trips to England as wonderful as they were. The next OCOC meetup is in 2019 and I’m determined to attend again – and hopefully spend a little bit longer time there to take in more of what England has to offer.