The Oxford Conference of Corsetry 2015 (A Newcomer’s Perspective)

image

The only picture I took of the college while I was there.

While there are relatively few networking and professionalization events in the lingerie industry, one of the most revered is also one of the newest — The Oxford Conference of Corsetry, held over the summer at Oxford College.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Welcome

Sponsors for this year’s Oxford Conference of Corsetry

For those unfamiliar, The Oxford Conference of Corsetry (otherwise known as OCOC) is a three-year-old event, created by corsetmakers, for corsetmakers, and dedicated to the study of corsetry. People fly in from all over the world for the weekend — sleeping, eating, networking, and yes, partying at the college. It’s an event full of expert-level educational seminars as well as the opportunity to simply admire gorgeous, wearable works of art.



This year’s conference had two key highlights: a visit from the king of corsetry himself, Mr. Pearl, and a burlesque performance with after-dinner speech by the world-famous burlesque artist Immodesty Blaize. It’s a testament to the name and reputation of OCOC that it would have such prestigious guests after so short a period of time. Yet even the conferences “regular” attendees are notable figures in their own right. Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden was there, and so were Cathy Hays of Foundations Revealed and the eponymous Lucy of Lucy’s Corsetry. Simply put, there is no other conference like this in the world.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Karolina Laskowska

Trying on one of Karolina Laskowska’s pieces. This one-of-a-kind corset fit me perfectly…I almost hated to take it off!

Though I’m not a corsetmaker (or even a hardcore corset wearer), I’ve been intrigued by OCOC since the very beginning. I appreciate corsets, both as examples of historical fashion and material culture, as well as modern works of art. As a lingerie blogger, I both wanted to support the event, and also see some of the best corsetry being made nowadays. And I won’t lie, getting to see two of my writers in person — Karolina and Marianne — was a definite factor in the decision as well. While it often seems like the basic black underbust dominates the tightlacing and waist training scene (for good reasons), The Oxford Conference of Corsetry is a place for corsetmakers to show off in front of their peers. I saw corsets that quite literally took my breath away.

One of my worries before attending was that, as someone who doesn’t sew, I would feel out of place or like an interloper, but my experience was exactly the opposite. There’s a strong sense of community here, a genuine urge to make people feel welcome. Being interested in corsetry is enough to attend (though, to be fair, the conference price would probably dissuade most casual visitors). Everyone there is there to build up and encourage each other, and while this year’s conference was reportedly the largest by a wide margin, it doesn’t feel too large. It’s quite easy to meet others, introduce yourself, and talk with both new corsetmakers and corsetry legends alike.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Corset Table

The corset try-on table (I’m sure it had a more official name, but I don’t recall it now).

In this era of fast, disposable fashion, the corset world is an anomaly. Yes, there are plenty of budget corsets available now, but OCOC is specifically dedicated to the craft of corsetmaking. Here, people discuss — in rigorous detail reminiscent of academic conferences — skills, techniques and materials that only otherwise appear on the runways of haute couture. Everything is labor-intensive, hard to automate, done by hand. The inefficiency of these processes is astounding; I saw corsets that took literally months to create. The fostering and reproduction of these mostly “dead” methods could make the Oxford Conference of Corsetry more than just a place for corsetmakers in the future; it could be a venue for art historians, costume specialists, and museum curators. This event is a treasure.

Yet while there’s an appreciation for the past, the corsetmakers at OCOC never feel wedded to it. That may sound strange on the surface because a corset is an inherently “old” garment, but it turns out there’s a lot of room to modernize what a corset can be in the 21st century… in the same way a dress made in 2015 and a dress made in 1885 are very different pieces yet both still recognizable as dresses.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset Table

OCOC Antique Corsetry Seminar. Curated by Stephanie Selmayr of Past Pleasures.

There’s also a distinct lack of preciousness regarding the garments, even with antique corsetry. Trying on and examining the pieces (with permission and freshly washed hands, of course!) is encouraged. Here, respect and admiration for the techniques of the past isn’t limited to looking at clothing in a dark room behind a glass case. The opportunity to closely examine historical, museum-quality corsets is one I’ll never forget.

Related to this sense of community (and something I hope I’ll able to convey adequately here), while there are male corsetmakers present at OCOC as both delegates and speakers, the event is primarily run, taught, and attended by women. Even though that aspect isn’t a part of the conference’s “marketing pitch,” so to speak, this is a space that centers the stories, voices and experiences of women… not as a specific objective, but just as a way of doing things.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Conference Bag

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Tote Bags

Getting a chance to see another side of the lingerie community, all on the historical Oxford campus, was an incredible experience. I left with a renewed sense of appreciation for the story of intimates, a stronger sense of how vintage silhouettes connect to modern day underpinnings. And, of course, getting to see a few priceless works of art in person was definitely a perk! All in all, it was a wonderful, worthwhile trip.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Swap Table

The swap table at OCOC

What do you think of The Oxford Conference of Corsetry? If you’ve attended, do my impressions match up with yours? If you haven’t, is this the sort of event you’d like to attend?

Morua Corsetry 3

Morua Corsetry

Morua Corsetry

Morua Corsetry

Emiah Couture

Emiah Couture

Emiah Pearl Beast Closeup

Emiah Couture

Emiah Corsetry Plum Ruffles

Emiah Couture

The Velvet Letter 1

The Velvet Letter

The Velvet Letter

The Velvet Letter

Crikey Aphrodite

Crikey Aphrodite

Clessidra Couture

Clessidra Couture

Clessidra Couture 2

Clessidra Couture

Laurie Tavan

Laurie Tavan

Ava Corsetry 3

Ava Corsetry

Ava Corsetry

Ava Corsetry

Ava Corsetry 2

Ava Corsetry

Karolina Laskowska 4

Karolina Laskowska

Karolina Laskowska 2

Karolina Laskowska

Sparklewren

Sparklewren

Royal Black Corsetry 2

Royal Black Couture & Corsetry

Royal Black Corsetry 4

Royal Black Couture & Corsetry

Royal Black Couture & Corsetry

Royal Black Couture & Corsetry

Holly Rafaela Corset

Holly Rafaela Corsetry

Angela Stringer Corsetry

Angela Stringer Corsetry

Purdy Corsetry 1

Purdy Corsetry

Purdy Corsetry 3

Purdy Corsetry

Vanyanis 1

Vanyanis

Vanyanis

Vanyanis

Cathy Hay Stays 2

Cathy Hays

Cathy Hay Stays

Cathy Hays

Ties That Bynde

Ties That Bynde Designs

Ties That Bynde Designs

Ties That Bynde Designs

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset 8

1890s Corset w/ Colored Flossing and Shoulder Straps. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset 7

1890s French Corset w/ Bust Padding. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsety Antique Corset 8

1900s Corset w/ Hip Fins as worn by Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black Black Couture & Corsetry. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Sample Lace Book

Antique Lace Sample Book. From the collection of Karolina Laskowska.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Whalebone

Antique Whalebone

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset 4

Antique Corset w/ Crisscross Boning Channels. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset 6

French 1890s Corset w/ Unusual Front Closure. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset 5

Symington Summer Corset. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset 3

1890’s CB Corset. Never Worn. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corset 9

1890’s CB Corset (interior of above). Never Worn. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Corsets

1870’s Corset w/ Interesting Flossing Detail. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

1890s French Fully Whaleboned Corset.

1890s French Fully Whaleboned Corset. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Oxford Conference of Corsetry Antique Whalebone 2

Antique Whalebone. From the collection of Stephanie Selmayr, Past Pleasures.

Save

Mad Mimi Form

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. I started TLA in a small studio apartment in 2008. Since then, it's become the leading lingerie blog in the world, and has been featured on the websites for Forbes, CNN, Time, Today, and Fox News. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that every who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

3 Comments on this post

  1. Courtney says:

    The Purdy red corset is out of this world!
    So great to hear about the ococ, really neat that people who are so pasionate about their art get to show it off and learn from each other. As someone who does not sew either having a chance to see the details and knowing how much time is spent it would be amazing to see thesee in person.

  2. Kirk Whitmer (deux lunes corse says:

    As a newcomer last year (2014) I can truly attest to what an amazing community this event has created, and how I was immediately welcomed into this community. This review captures so much about what makes this a truly magical weekend for corset makers.

  3. Julia Bremble (OCOC Founder) says:

    Thank you for such a lovely review! I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit to Oxford and the OCOC :) It was lovely to meet you :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *