Entering into the New York installation of the Lingerie Française Exhibition 2013* I was presented with a wall of vintage corsets from the early part of the twentieth century. There was no better way that this event could capture my attention and imagination. This very exclusive traveling show has been touring the world, at a relatively leisurely pace, since it’s debut last summer in Paris. Wandering through the panels it tells the story of the development of modern women’s undergarments through eleven of France’s leading lingerie manufacturers. It was intriguing to see how the development of new fibers, materials, and shapes have coalesced to produce today’s lingerie and foundation wear. And yet I kept feeling myself drawn back to those very first pieces – the corsets.
These corsets, with all their amazing detail work, were some of the first to incorporate elastic and rubber fabrics into their construction. Previously a woman had to turn to a corsetière or her own sewing skills to custom fit her corset. While still maintaining traditional shaping and stainless steel boning, these corsets utilised stretch panels to allow a corset to fit a wider range of sizes.
The choice of displays did not allow one see how the lingerie would fit, or in the case of corsets, shape and define the body. Still there was so much to admire about the detail work – embroidery, stitching, lace and ribbon details. In particular I just couldn’t get over the beauty of the hardware on the garter straps. In fact as I was leaning in ever closer to get the perfect detail shots of these I heard the voice of another guest behind me, “How close are you going to get.” Her playful tone betrayed her, but I still explained that I just couldn’t resist these beautiful little pieces of hardware. “Well go to France and buy them,” she followed up. Sounds like an excellent idea to me.
*– Their website has a lot of great information about lingerie and some amazing photos as well.