ococ15 banquet - Jesus College Oxford dining hall

Oxford Conference of Corsetry ’15 – Part 2

In part 1 of my personal highlights of the Oxford Conference of Corsetry (OCOC) I explored the town of Oxford and Jesus College, and some incredible vintage corsets. That just barely scratched the surface.

One of things I enjoy most about OCOC is the egalitarian sense that we are all here to learn. Organisers, presenters, and attendees, despite our varying levels of experience we all learn form each other. The workshops and presentations are all lead by amazing people, but I think they would be the first to admit that they learn as much as they teach. Two of this year’s workshops were particularly inspiring for me. In both it was how these individuals approach their projects.

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Deep into consultation with Ian Fraser Wallace. Photo courtesy of Alison Campbell.

Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse led a workshop on “Integral Corsetry.” So what exactly is integral corsetry? That is precisely where we started, deciding upon a working definition: integral corsetry is a garment where the corset might or might not be attached, but the corset is integral to the look, shaping, or style of the full garment. From there Mr. Wallace lead us through the design process of a number of the garments his atelier has produced. This quickly had me rethinking some current design ideas as well as spawning some new ones. I was sketching more than taking notes. Like so many of the great designers, Mister Wallace’s creations owe everything to how he engineers his garments.

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Barbara Pesendorfer and her corsets are swarmed after her presentation.

Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black has defined herself in the corsetry world with sculptural corsets that range from the extravagant to the avant-garde. Coming from a family of artists, she explained that this directly affects how she approaches her work. While grounded by the history and form of corsets, she is always looking to what new forms a corset can take. I found this all very exciting as it is an analogous approach to that which I try and take in designing corsets for the modern woman.

Mister Pearl
As the preeminent corset maker of our time Mister Pearl would seemingly need no introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in corsets. This is the man that the world’s biggest fashion designers turn to when they need a corset in their collection. It would sound cliché if it was not so rare today, but Mister Pearl is a private man who allows his corsets to take center stage.

We were first formally introduced to Mister Pearl in a Q&A hosted by his colleague and friend, and last year’s keynote speaker, Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden Corsets. His years of experience in corsets and the fashion world give he a rather unique perspective that was both intriguing and entertaining. A transcript of this would be amazing, but these quotes from my notes will have to suffice.

In responding to a question about whether he considers corsets to be lingerie or outerwear he said, “Corsets are objects in their own right, whether lingerie or showpiece…they exist in their own world.” He also added, “[corsets] are not fashion, they are beyond fashion.” Perhaps my favourite comment was, “lingerie is something very private, to be shared in private. Corsetry should be shared wherever possible.” Probably the most popular of his quotes was, “The largest animal on earth is used to create the smallest waist,” in reference to the traditional, but now illegal use of whalebone in corsets.

After this, he would prove to be a presence throughout the weekend, taking time to get to know each of us. I was impressed that he was so eager to integrate himself into the rest of the conference and making an attempt to try to get to know each one of us while imparting bits of knowledge. I loved his personal comment that among the vital things in life are, “corsets, wings, and kilts.” His years of living and working in Paris have done nothing to diminish the English gentleman that is Mister Pearl. A very rare individual indeed.

The People
The single greatest element of this amazing conference is the people. I always feel honored to be surrounded by so many amazingly talented and creative people. But the fact that they have become a community of friends is such a reassuring feelings. The work of the average corset maker is a rather solitary one. Few in this industry can afford to have more than an assistant or intern. So being able to discuss corset-making with so many people who understand everything you are saying is almost surreal. After this year’s stellar line-up I am left thinking that the only thing that could have improved this conference would be a full extra day to spend getting to know all the other attendees.

I won a set of beautiful Laurel Engraved Busks from Vanyanis as a raffle prize. I had been considering purchasing some of these ever since they were released. Now I just have to find the perfect corsets to incorporate them into. You will definitely be seeing these in the future.

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