Written by Marianne Faulkner.
The second annual Oxford Conference of Corsetry followed the theme of the design process, from start to finish. Each of us "Corset Fellows" made a corset that represented our workshop topic, inspired by Oxford and Jesus College, our venue, and of course, showcasing our own design sensibility as well.
The Design Process
My workshop was on standard sizing and grading, as I am in the unusual position of being highly focused on ready to wear rather than bespoke work. As such, I knew I needed to create something from one of my standard patterns, but I also wanted to show that ready to wear doesn't have to be boring. Being inspired by a location was a bit of a challenge for me. My design concepts tend to be derived from mood and music, rather than specific visual elements.
Finally, one day, inspiration struck, fully formed. At the inaugural OCOC, I had also been featured as a model for our Sunday photoshoots. The first couple of shoots I did were in the pool room off the JCR, and I particularly loved Angela Stringer's casual snaps of me posing against the gorgeous paned windows set into drab grey stone walls. Color blocking and other graphic, silhouette-based design details have long been a mainstay for me. I could combine the "mink" and "dove" herringbone coutils (sold by Sew Curvy) with contrasting black structure to mimic the stone and paned effect.
Originally, I had planned to make my corset as a mini-dress, attached to a pencil skirt with a peplum. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough coutil for that to happen, so I kept the peplum and ditched the skirt, which I wouldn't have had time to properly fit on my model anyway. What I particularly love about the mink and the dove next to each other is that it's a bit unexpected; they have the same value (relative lightness or darkness) but in very different hues: one cool, one warm, both fairly desaturated. Typically color blocking would rely on two different values to make it pop, but in this case, that was done with the contrasting external casings, waist tape, and petersham binding. If I'm not hiding the structure completely (as with my signature knit corsets), I like to put as much of a corset's structure on the outside as possible because I think it's more comfortable. This also creates design possibilities that are perfect for my graphical tastes.
I decided on a contrast pattern that I call my "Pop Contrast:" center front and the second-to-last back panel in the secondary color. As with leaving off the skirt, this was a decision based partially on how much of each coutil I had left - which is to say, very little of the dove!
The peplum was simple, with seam allowance that was equivalent to the width of my binding. I added a petersham binding to the bottom as well, though of course it's hidden by the peplum. The coutil is so firmly woven, though, that I could've gotten away with a raw edge for a sample.
My model for the photoshoot was Morgana, aka Threnody in Velvet. Though Morgana has a very distinct look, I tried to style her in a way that was very representative of my brand. I'm sure the originally planned miniskirt would've been more her style, but in its absence I decided to go for more of a vaguely 40s angle. I was excited to use my drapey silk palazzo pants, purchased from Betsey Johnson a couple years ago but as yet unhemmed and therefore unworn. Fortunately Morgana is fairly close to my size... more so to my size two years ago, I must confess! And to top off the look, a hand-blocked silver sinamay pillbox hat. The silver sinamay also has a faint blue hint to it, making it an excellent match to the cool grey of the dove coutil. The pillbox hat also has a space in the band where interchangeable bows can be clipped in, so I selected one in a beautiful cranberry red to match Morgana's deep lipstick, which otherwise might have seemed out of place in such a strongly monochromatic and (for me) subdued look.
In the crush of shooting our four corsets before the delegates' scheduled shoots, we unfortunately only had time for a few minutes of shooting. Fortunately, our Jenni is quite a talented photographer, and I am always willing to model. On Monday, when we had the place to ourselves, we squeezed in another shoot. Though we were unfortunately unable to shoot in front of the windows that had been my inspiration source, I still love what we came up with.
The Jesus College campus is a wonderfully inspiring environment in which to shoot. The delegates of OCOC15 will have a wonderful array of models and photographers to work with at this singular location. I look forward to seeing this year's batch of OCOC corsets and photoshoots in just a few short weeks!