If you’re familiar with the Australian corsetry, you may have heard of Emma’s Corsets. Emma Capponi is a young corsetiere who makes both off the rack and bespoke corsets, and she has been kind enough to answer some questions. Please read on to learn about this talented woman…
How did you get into the world of corsetry?
I made my first corset when I was a teenager, so I feel like I grew up in the world of corsetry. I have always been interested in clothing and underwear, and how we use it to shape our self-perception and identity, so it wasn’t a great leap for me to start making them.
What are your biggest influences when it comes to designing corsets?
Well to start with I am a massive costume history nerd. I find the history of dress, underwear, and how we present ourselves fascinating – especially within a wider social context. My designs all start from a historical base, but from there my inspiration can come from anywhere. I think it is very important for all creative people to be interested in things outside their field, otherwise it is too easy to keep looking inward and doing the same things you have done before, or doing what everyone else is doing. For me personally I find architecture and corsetry a fascinating mix, and I draw a lot of inspiration from various art and social movements throughout history.
If you could choose anyone to wear your corsets, who would you choose and why?
One of my favourite things about corsets is that because they are not part of mainstream fashion, people from all walks of life wear them. I don’t think I could ever choose just one person. The joy I see people getting from corsetry spans body shape, age, class, race, gender, and sexuality, and that is very rare these days.
Do you have a favourite bespoke corset you’ve made?
I have a few actually! My Pearls Corset will always hold a place in my heart, and the weirdest one I’ve ever made (weird in a good way) was the Muscles Corset.
But, the one that stands out for me was a peach cupped corset I made for a bride last year. It was complicated because it was a cupped corset for a plus sized bust* and the engineering alone cost me more sleepless nights than any corset before! Luckily, I had a client who believed in me, and let me do pretty much what I wanted with the design. After many fittings, the end result was completely worth it. My client looked and felt like the glorious curvy star that she is, and I truly believe that corsetry should be for everyone regardless of size or shape. My only regret with this corset is due to its complexity I haven’t yet been able to mass-produce it to make it more widely available!
*I know the term plus-size is controversial, but at the moment it is the terminology I’m most comfortable using. I entirely support the movement that aims to de-label models and increase diversity in the fashion world, but plus-size is still a useful word for describing my larger clients while causing the least offence (a tricky balancing act on the internet!).
What are the most common misconceptions about corsetry?
- Corsets don’t hurt (at least they shouldn’t!). The most common comment I get when people try on a corset for the first time is ‘oh it’s so much more comfortable than I thought’. You will feel held and supported, not pinched in.
- A lot of people think a cheap corset is a good way to start, but this really is a false economy. Your first corset should be made of coutil with steel boning; anything less will just be uncomfortable to wear. A cheap corset won’t give you any kind of shape, and you will probably end up not wearing it. You don’t have to start with an elaborate bespoke corset for your first time, but you will have to spend a bit to make sure you’re getting something that will shape you well in a comfortable way. The good thing about that is that if you get a quality corset to start off with, it will last you a very long time.
- We do not use whalebone. We haven’t used whalebone since the industrial revolution c.1800. Please stop telling me to save the whales!
Do you have any advice to people who want to start making corsets themselves?
Corsetry is pretty complicated – but you’re lucky, there is a lot more information out there now than even a few years ago.
For a complete beginner, my best advice is to buy a corset making kit – something that includes pre-cut boning, the right fabric (coutil) and a pattern suitable for beginners. Using the correct materials is very important. The materials are expensive I know, and often hard to source, but they will make a huge difference. A beginner’s kit will also include very clear instructions, so you’ll get less frustrated.
I’ll also let you in on a corsetiere’s secret: subscribe to www.foundationsrevealed.com. They have everything you could ever possibly want to know about corsetry.
Also be aware that it will probably take you a few goes before you get something you’re happy with – sadly there aren’t really any shortcuts here, as with most things, patience and practice is the only way to good corsetry!
What is the process when customers ask for a custom corset – do you design it together?
It really depends on the client. We start by discussing the clients needs – is it outerwear, underwear, costume, for an event, for daily wear, waist training, stage or fashion? Then we discuss the concept – for costumes people will usually have an idea of what they want (especially for professional performers). For brides we go into detail about their plans for the dress and how their corset will fit into their day. We discuss the rest of the outfit, and we often look at my previous work or any designs I currently have on file to get an idea of what the client wants. It is definitely a collaborative process – but my best work happens when I have free rein. I think the process is comparable to getting a quality tattoo – you find an artist whose style you like, give them a direction to head in, and let them work their magic.
Here is a rundown of the process:
- Initial consultation – this is where we talk about your corset. It is nice if you have an idea of what you’d like at this point, but the more you can leave to me, the better.
- Design – I go away and make you some sketches based on what we’ve talked about in our first meeting. I’ll usually send you sketches via email.
- Measurements – When we’ve agreed on a design, then I take detailed measurements.
- First toile and fitting – I will go away and draft the pattern, then make a mock up of your corset. This is so I can perfect the fit.
- Second toile – I re-adjust the pattern, and make another toile. Depending on the complexity of the corset and your body shape, we may need extra fittings. I’ve had corsets come together in one fitting, others take longer but the average is two or three.
- Construction – I make your corset! Depending on the level of detail and embellishment, this can take quite a while. Please don’t think your project has been forgotten, corsets just take a long time to make!
I am currently setting up my atelier in Berlin so that I can start making custom pieces again.
Which other corsetiere from around the world do you admire most, and why?
Mr Pearl, because he is a living legend that has made corsetry what it is today. If there has been a corset on the runway in the last 20 years that you have fallen in love with – chances are Mr Pearl made it.
What would you say to people who believe that corsetry goes against feminism?
This is an issue I find fascinating, and is very close to my heart. Basically corsetry has been a lot of things throughout history; it has been used as a symbol of oppression and it has evolved to become a symbol of female sexual freedom. I have just written an essay on this last week. But here is a short excerpt from the very end that sums up my feelings on the matter:
When I see women put corsets on it can be a transformation. Especially older or larger women, who have become used to the false idea that they are not considered attractive. They put on a corset and suddenly they are no longer mother, worker, carer, they are powerful, sexual beings. Young women who are used to school dress codes handed down by old men, and catcalls on the street, put on a corset and are suddenly in charge of their own budding sexuality, not having it dictated to them by those who are least fit. Trans people can use corsetry to give them the shape that fits their soul, and people of all genders and sexualities can find self-expression within a corsets embrace.
I understand, even as someone who makes her living selling corsets, that it shouldn’t have to be this way. People shouldn’t require a garment to make them feel like themselves, we shouldn’t need a slim waist to feel beautiful, and we shouldn’t need to defy anyone to claim our sexuality as our own. But sadly we do. In this political climate, the corset can and does bring so much joy and autonomy to those who have historically been denied it. There is nothing about that that is not feminist.
Please visit Emma’s websites to see her beautiful creations:
Bespoke – www.emmacapponicorsetiere.com
Off the rack – www.emmascorsets.com
I also have a very exciting announcement coming in the next couple of days, regarding Emma’s corsets so make sure you are following my Facebook page to get the latest news.
Thank you Emma, I look forward to seeing what you do next!