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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

Lowana of Vanyanis (right) and myself in the car (also with Jenni of Sparklewren in the front seat), all of us excited to head to OCOC 2014!

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.

Autograph for Christine Wickham from Mr Pearl. It reads, “To Dear Christine / Love is the Messge / Love has no time or space. / Mr Pearl”

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.

This antique corset has teeny tiny stitches – about 25 per inch – and it was considered impressive if the corset lasted 12 months before needing replacement!
Corset courtesy of the Symington Museum Collections in Leicester, UK.

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.

Again, if you’d like to see the interviews I did in Engand in 2014, click here for Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London.

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

Joni (Rainbow Curve Corsetry) and myself (Lucy Corsetry) hugging a really, really old tree somewhere near the fields where Harry Potter’s Quidditch games were filmed.

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.
Katie Thomas (right) and myself in the WKD London boutique.

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?

I wore Vollers Veco corset dress to the formal dinner at OCOC 2015, and then visited the Vollers factory after the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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15 Corsetier(e)s I’ll be watching in 2014

As a bit of a more light-hearted post, I’ve decided to expose my personal covet-list. The only rules here are that I can’t have owned a piece from any of these makers in the past, they’re in no particular order, and it’s not necessarily supposed to be interpreted as my list of top 15 favourite corset makers of all time. Some of these I may be saving up for in the future, while others are somewhat pipe dreams to own. Scroll down to see 15 corset makers that I will be following closely in 2014 (no pressure or anything):

Bizarre Design. Photo: Jaap Broeders. Model: unknown

Jeroen Van Der Klis, the brain and skill behind Bizarre Design, engineers some amazing and unique corsets – yet he also has the ability to make even a simple black satin underbust corset look like the most wondrous wardrobe staple you will ever lay eyes upon.

Corsets & More on a client

Scroll through the galleries of Corsets & More for example after example of pure opulence. There is no corset style or design that is too complicated for Doris Müller! She is a master in corsetry, and my favourite discovery of 2013.

Clessidra Couture. Model: Sohui. Photo: Catherine Day Photography

Julia of Clessidra Couture is a bit of a Superwoman. She teaches corset making, she sells corset supplies and kits, she writes books, and somehow she still finds the time to make superb corsetry.

Royal Black Couture & Corsetry. Model: Threnody in Velvet. Photo: Iberian Black Arts

Royal Black can do no wrong. Creation after creation, her designs are increasingly innovative, intricate and awe-inspiring, and there’s no sign of her slowing down!

Anachronism in Action “Lady Loki” corset, on the designer

For years, people scoffed at the proverbial “Basket Weaving 101”. This corset by Anachronism in Action put these naysayers and snobs in their proper place, and completely changed my personal views as to what can be used as embellishment. Not to mention the incredible smooth finish, gorgeous earthy colour and amazing shape.

Ferrer Corsets “Crimson Passion” overbust with cups

Corsets are only made better with cups, and those cupped corsets are only improved by filigree jewelry. Ferrer Corsets offers it all in this fiery piece. My life is complete.

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Sin & Satin ribbon cincher, on the designer

Sin & Satin‘s ribbon cinchers have no side seam, and they’re also embellished with metallic lace. There is nothing to not love, and there are no words for how much I covet a piece like the one on the right.

Pop Antique. Model: Victoria Dagger. Photo: Mask

Temperatures 20° below freezing have me wishing for a cozy, warm knitted sweater corset by Pop Antique – plus, her standard sizes match my custom measurements almost exactly – I feel that it might be fate.

Metallic leather overbust by Atelier Sylphe

Take a historical corset, and a spectacular sculpture that should be in a museum. Put them together, and this doesn’t even do justice compared to the creations of Atelier Sylphe.

Lovesick Corrective Apparel. Model: Jade Vixen. Photo: Christophe Mourthé

Dear Diary, day 1174 without a Lovesick Corset in my possession. They make stunning work, and their studio is an hour away from me – so close, yet so far; my commission inquiries have received no reply so I’m left to pine after their work from afar. Perhaps one day I’ll gather the courage to try again.

Daze of Laur. Model: Laura Rubin. Photo: Jeremy Tavan.

I check Daze of Laur‘s website regularly – if not to see updates of her creations, then to read the little Easter Eggs on Laurie’s constantly changing “title” in the header! (She also studied life sciences in uni and I kinda want to be her friend.)

Clair de Lune overbust by Angela Friedman

Angela Friedman. Make it a household name. Because a well-supporting, properly-fitting overbust corset is not a want, it’s a need.  Just look at that pattern drafting, it’s magical.

Waisted Couture overbust. Model: Miss Mosh.

Even the simplest underbust corsets from Waisted Couture have an incredibly smooth finish with a neat nipped-in waistline. According to a fan and client, her training corsets are also nearly indestructible. I’m more than willing to put this to the test.

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Wilde Hunt Platinum leather bridal overbust corset

Before Wilde Hunt, I had never known that such dreamy, ethereal and romantic pieces could be fashioned from hardy leather. This piece has left me wondering if it’s possible to throw a wedding without actually getting married, just so I can wear something this spectacular.

Dita von Teese for Mr. Pearl

Mr. Pearl. Because no list of coveted corsets is complete without Mr. Pearl. Owning a piece from him is the ultimate pipe dream of this list. He is elusive, rarely spotted in public, and doesn’t leave a trace as to where he has been except for a few polished photos and the appearance of the occasional breathtakingly magnificent piece of art. I can imagine that centuries from now, stories of Mr. Pearl will be spread around the world as he’s promoted to the status of a magical, mythological figure.

Which corset makers will you be watching in 2014? Let me know in a comment!

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Where to Buy Corsets for Men

 

Fakir Musafar as “The Perfect Gentleman”, 1959 This photo has inspired many other gentlemen to consider waist training. Click through to learn more about Fakir.

I’m pleased to announce that a new Guided Gallery is now up! Gentlemen wear corsets too, but sometimes it can be difficult to find a corset that both cinches the waist and maintains a stereotypically masculine silhouette. In the new gallery, Corsets for Men, you’ll find nearly 40 makers who cater to this specifically.

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Where to buy Corsets that correct posture/ corsets with shoulder straps

Note that this post is a copy of the same one under the “Research Corset Brands –> Guided Galleries” menu. It is part of a collection of articles to help corset enthusiasts shop more wisely.

Your typical run-of-the-mill underbust corset does a good job of correcting lumbar posture (making you stand tall from your lower back), but some individuals still find that they slouch from the shoulders, which regular underbusts don’t directly fix. So, which corsets are best to correct your whole posture and help you sit tall?

Some overbust corsets extend high enough on the body that they can help correct posture in the thoracic vertebrae, but what if you don’t like conventional overbusts, or you just want some variety in your corset collection? The answer possibly lies in a high-backed corset with shoulder straps. There are many corsets that come with straps, but the type of straps matter greatly if you’re looking to correct hunched shoulders.

Avoid halter straps if you have a slouching problem.

If you have a habit of slouching, avoid halter straps on your corsets because if the straps are too short or tied too tightly, the material pulling on the back of your neck will exacerbate a forward-head position and possibly encourage your shoulders to follow, making your posture worse. What would work better is a waistcoat-style corset which has a high supportive back extending up between the shoulder blades, and individual shoulder straps that help pull the shoulders back and open up the chest.

Underbust Waistcoat Corsets

Miss Katie waistcoat corset, £325
Miss Katie waistcoat corset, £325 on FairyGothMother

Miss Katie, a UK designer, has created this waistcoat underbust corset for £325 (or about $530). This standard-sized taffeta corset is laced nearly up to the neck, and the shoulder straps look to be made of ribbon and can be tied looser or tighter based on your preference.

Ties That Bynde custom daily wear corset with shoulder trainers

Ties that Bynde is a Michigan-based corsetiere who just recently debuted this training corset. Custom-fit and made from spot broche coutil, this corset is strong enough to be worn daily. The shoulders straps attach to the corset using ribbon and grommets, which are slightly adjustable.

Scoundrelle’s Keep Sabine underbust, starts at $340

Scoundrelle’s Keep of St. Paul, Minnesota specializes in Steampunk style corsets, and their Sabine underbust corset features neat a multi-adjustable shoulder harness. The entire harness attaches to the underbust corset using adjustable belt/buckles, and can be entirely detached from the corset if desired (so you can wear the corset as a simple underbust at times). The four belts in back adjust to the height of your shoulders, while the two straps in front can be tightened to coax the shoulders back, or loosened for your comfort. The laces in back can also be adjusted depending on the breadth of your shoulders. They also make an overbust version called Aubrey and both of these corsets come in your choice of colours.

Totally Waisted! Corsets waistcoat corset, $650

Totally Waisted! Corsets is a Toronto-based business that creates a variety of couture corsets from traditional Victorian styles to modern corseted wedding gowns. Kate has experience in drafting posture-corrective garments and her corsets are capable of giving impressive waist reductions while looking relatively natural. This gorgeous made-to-measure corset features straps adjustable using ribbon laces, and it includes lace accents, painstakingly tidy contrast stitching and beautiful flossing.

High-backed underbust corset by Daze of Laur

Let’s take a moment to admire the colourful work of Daze of Laur. Laurie’s high-backed underbust corsets feature shoulder straps adjustable with ribbons and can be made with a neutral posture or can be incorporated into a more S-bend style corset. Although she is not currently accepting commissions, do check back periodically as her creations are not to be missed.

Overbust Waistcoat Corsets

The Bad Button overbust waistcoat corset with integrated straps and collar

The Bad Button Bespoke Corsets has designed a beautiful overbust waistcoat corset that doesn’t have lacing right up to the neck as in the previous mentioned designs, but this corset works by adding structure and support over the upper chest, back, and over the shoulders. The shoulder straps are not really adjustable (and so must be carefully fitted), but for women with heavy busts, the extra support in front can remove strain the shoulders by lifting and supporting the bust from below.

House of Canney Duelist's Steampunk Corset vest, starts at $265
House of Canney Duelist’s Steampunk Corset vest, starts at $265

The House of Canney has an awesome selection of waistcoat and vest-like corsets for both men and women. This Duelist’s Corset is made-to-measure and features a unique offset busk, collar that can be worn up or down, and Anthony’s trademark “keyhole” lacing design (which would be amazing for those who like a little ventilation in back!).

Dark Garden Beau Brummel Waistcoat Corset, $1195

Dark Garden Corsetry offers some incredibly beautiful custom designs, whether it’s a modified simple underbust to integrate shoulder straps, or whether it’s a waistcoat corset (seen above) for full coverage. They have styles for both men and women, to suit every taste, and can be made to be more posture-corrective or more lenient with posture.

Corsets with Criss-Cross Straps

Contour Corsets Redresseur style corset with locking shoulder straps

It’s no secret that Contour Corsets is one of my favourite designers; Fran’s engineering is incredible. In this unique piece, you’re looking at the back of the corset (the laces are underneath the flap, so the back is smooth under clothing) and the wide shoulder straps criss-cross in the back to help pull the shoulders back and correct posture. The straps here are adjustable using grommets and little locks, although other Contour styles utilize simple buckles without locks. Even without shoulder straps, Fran can make a simple underbust corset more or less posture-corrective (using patterning and rigidity of bones/fabric) depending on the client’s preferences.

Electra Designs custom high-back underbust shoulder straps

Electra Designs is another favourite corsetiere who displays considerable ingenuity. Alexis explained that the custom-fit corset seen above was for a client with notable physical asymmetry. Masterful positioning of the piping masks scoliosis very well in a piece like this. She uses special flexible lacing bones that maintains a neutral posture and hugs the curve of the lower spine, while the criss-cross shoulder straps help to correct upper-spinal posture and is adjusted using buckles in the front. The same way that “reverse bunny ear” lacing can give more leverage while lacing down, so corsets with criss-cross straps have the leverage to gently squeeze the scapula together more easily, and straighten thoracic spine posture and open the chest. 

*Please note that I have not personally tried every corset brand in this list, nor do I necessarily endorse every company in these guided galleries. This is for informational purposes only, and not meant to replace the advice of a medical physician. If you have posture issues or have any health concerns, please talk to your doctor, orthopedic technician or chiropractor before using a corset to correct your posture (or for any other reason).