By Jenni Hampshire (Sparklewren)
Skeleton and ventilated corsetry has many different incarnations. Sometimes being corsets that are decorated with a ribcage motif and sometimes being big sculptural wearable-art pieces (McQueen, Gaultier and Iris Van Herpen spring to mind). But for many of us, "skeleton corsetry" refers more specifically to a breed of Victorian corsets made with cutaway sections. Designed, apparently, to let the skin breathe or reduce heat.
Women traveling to foreign climes might be persuaded to buy corsets like this. Our very own tutor Alison (CrikeyAphrodite!) has an affection for ventilated pieces, wondering if an ancestor of hers would have worn one. Worn over chemises and under gowns (and generally with a rather low waist reduction), there would be little risk of unslightly bulges of skin, and perhaps that extra bit of air would make a difference to comfort.
True skeleton corsets might have no solid bands of fabric, being made entirely of bone casings, waist tape, and binding alone. But I personally find the cross-over point to regular corsetry more beautiful. This is where corsets might have open or cutaway sections, but are not entirely skeletal.
Contemporary makers often shy away from ventilated corsetry but a friend of mine, Jemma of Purdy Corsetry, has embraced it whole-heartedly, making some of the most striking and clever ventilated pieces I have seen!
Having met Jemma in 2013, I can tell you that her work is technically immaculate and very gorgeous. Combine that with a great understanding of colour and a willingness to explore ideas many shy away from, and you have stunningly unique corsets!
As an aside, this "U" shaped plunge is very popular detail this year... It's been growing for perhaps two or three years, but just now we are seeing it quite a lot. Partly perhaps due to work like Jemma's, partly perhaps due to wonderful antiques that are being brought back to life by people like Nikki... It's lovely to see such trends and experimentation within corsetry. When I started a few years back, there wasn't quite so much variety (and I'm a big fan of variety!).
Another piece Jemma is working on is a more muted dark tone and heavily beaded. I cannot wait to see the finished item!
One of the things I love best about contemporary corsetry, is having so many friends and acquaintances within it. We can only guess at the motivations of individual cutters and designers back in Victorian and Edwardian times, but with our peers we can geek out to our heart's content about the technical challenges surrounding any new design. Add to that the fact that corsetry can also be pretty and shiny and I think you have a perfect artform :-)
There is so much to be inspired by, like Purdy Corsetry's work here. The trick isn't to replicate the work of those you're inspired by, but to replicate their attitude of innovation, hard-work, study, and boldness. There are a zillion ways we can each have an unique take on corsetry, and referencing antique styles is just one of them.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about Purdy's work! Do bookmark us and check back in the future, for more posts all about beautiful corsetry.