An Interview with Period Corsets®: The Corset Makers For the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show
While the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is often seen as an hour-long commercial for America's most famous lingerie store, the show also features work from smaller, more independent artisans. While corsets were shown prominently on the runway both this year and last year, Victoria's Secret isn't really known for making the kind of authentic, steel boned corsets we know and love. So when Victoria's Secret wants to use a corset in their annual fashion show, who do they call? They call Period Corsets.
Founded in 1997 by Rebecca Kaufman and Susan Davis, Seattle-based Period Corsets has been the official corsetiere for Victoria's Secret for three years now, and I am incredibly excited to feature these talented designers on the blog in an exclusive Lingerie Addict interview. Please don't forget check out their Etsy store and take a moment to tell them what you think of their work in the comments! We've got lots to talk about right now though, so let's get started with the interview.
1) I’ve often admired the corset work during the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, so it’s a real delight to talk to the corset makers behind the beautiful pieces we see on the runway. Thank you for making the time for an interview on The Lingerie Addict. Let’s start with the question that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind… how did you begin working with Victoria’s Secret? Did they approach and how did they first discover your work?
Thank you for interviewing us. It’s our pleasure.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show approached us! In 2009, a few weeks before the show, their designers needed another outfit for Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas (the musical guest that year) and some options for the runway collection. Their designers were looking for a company they could trust to make high-quality, high-fashion corsets with a quick turnaround.
While Period Corsets® is based in Seattle and we make everything in our studio here, we are part of the network of New York costume houses and regularly partner with places like The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a hybrid between costume and fashion, bringing together talented artists from all over to create the breathtaking looks you see on the runway – whether that’s 10-foot wings, “million-dollar bras” or one-of-a-kind corsets. Victoria’s Secret retail lingerie is woven throughout the fashion show, and what completes the look of each themed ensemble are the custom-made pieces. That’s where our corsets come in.
2) That's really interesting... especially since most people don't know that Victoria's Secret employs artisans in that way. How many VS fashion shows have you created corsets for and how many corsets have you made for Victoria’s Secret in total?
We’ve worked on three Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows, and the number of corsets has varied from five to ten each year.
In 2009, time was of the essence so Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show designer Todd Thomas picked a few styles from our retail line of corsets and sent us the fabrics. He chose our c.1900 Lilly and a c.1860 Julia in emerald green silk taffeta as options for Fergie, and they decided on the underbust Lilly style to construct a dress around.
Photo Credits: Jason DeCrow/ AP Victoria Secret Fashion Show 2009
The show also featured two more Lilly under-bust corsets; one in herringbone plaid and the other in a red metallic fabric with an overlay of black lace. We also patterned the underbust version of our 1880s Alice corset to be worn with a Victoria’s Secret bra. This corset was made out of an extremely narrow, creamy silver metallic brocade fabric that was so unusually delicate and luxurious, I am certain it was a vintage kimono fabric.
Photo Credits: Jason DeCrow/AP Victoria Secret Fashion Show 2009
In 2010, we were fortunate to collaborate with Todd Thomas from the early development of the show. That year Heavenly Bodies, Tough Love, and Country were some of the design inspirations for the themed corsets, which were closer to wearable art than functional garments.
Working directly from Todd’s design sketches is a privilege; he is wonderfully creative with both his corset shapes and unconventional fabric choices. We made corsets out of a diamond-woven straw matting, wig lace, and cross-stitch embroidering canvas. It was exciting to find creative solutions for constructing corsets out of these vastly differing fabrics. The straw corset presented the most challenges. When completed, it was more molded into shape than it was sewn – when we finally top-stitched the seams into place, it held its shape so well that it barely needed the boning we put in! You can read about the construction process on our blog.
The Heavenly Bodies corset below is made of a wig lace--a sheer, impossibly delicate fabric intended for making wigs. It’s not what you might think would work for a corset, but perfect for a Victoria’s Secret Angel. You can read more about the construction of the wig lace corset here.
The 2011 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has been by far the most thrilling and challenging for us. We made 10 corsets for several of the themes: Ballet, Angels Aquatic, and I Put a Spell on You. The designs are closely guarded secrets that are only unveiled on the runway. Once we send our corsets off to the show, there is excitement down to the last minute as we wait to see how things will turn out.
This year, Todd Thomas' designs and fabric choices evoked the essence of fragility. They are “breath-taking for the moment.” These ephemeral corsets are for one night only like Cinderella at the ball.
This Ballet themed black velvet under-bust corset is made based on our c.1900 Lilly corset.
For Angel’s Aquatic we made a transparent wig lace corset which the Victoria’s Secret design team then encrusted with coral and pearls.
The I Put a Spell on You themed looks embodied the temporality of his designs with this all-in-one corset tailored in cotton eyelet flat-lined to translucent nude organza.
We created a new underbust corset style in white cotton eyelet; also flat-lined to nude organza to achieve its delicacy.
Aside from its distinctive shape our Julia c.1860 style corset disappeared under layer upon layer of feathers.
This opaque Swiss dot striped cotton, as sheer as fabric comes was carefully matched with bust cups and a custom enameled front opening.
We will post more of the behind the scenes magic; making these corsets from two-dimensional design sketches on our Facebook page and our blog after the show airs on November 29th.
3) Wow! That is a lot of detail. The wig lace and straw corsets are especially amazing. Which leads me to my next question... what kind of direction does Victoria’s Secret give you when it comes to making the corsets? Do you pretty much have free creative reign or is there a very specific vision you’re asked to stick to?
It is very much a collaborative process. We design our own products, but when we do custom work, we enjoy combining creative forces with other designers or people with imaginative ideas for their own one-of-a-kind corsets.
For the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Todd Thomas is the designer, and we are the technicians bringing his two-dimensional drawings to life on the runway. He gives us free reign to interpret his design sketches into the physical shapes that take into account how gravity and physics apply to the fabrics and the person wearing them.
We start the process in late spring when he sends us his gorgeous design sketches, and we confer on what corset style might work with each one. He either has a clear vision to use one of the styles in our retail line of corsets, a style we developed for a past show or a new pattern that we create. The collaboration continues right up to the finishing details.
For example, the Tough Love corset from the 2010 show (shown below) was our 18th century shape styled with a ragged hemline. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show team accented each bone channel with silver spiked studs.
The Country cross-stitch fabric corset was a pattern we developed to include hip gussets of vintage tatted lace and pleated chiffon. Their team cross-stitched the Victoria’s Secret logo. Whatever the choice of pattern, when you add the custom fabrics and final details you have something completely new and fresh.
4) It sounds like a complex process. How much time goes into making one of those corsets from start to finish?
Because we hand-make every corset we produce and are meticulous about the details, there are many steps that all take time. We make a sample to fit and critique; we true the pattern and develop a construction method. Only then do we start sewing the final garment. So the time varies based on the complexity and fabrics, but we want each corset to be a work of art.
We also spend a lot of time finding unique solutions for custom work. For example, the corsets in our retail line come with grommets in the back for a lace-up closure. In a fashion show, you don’t have time to unlace each grommet, so for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show we developed a quick-change method that we call speed lacing and now use for all of their corsets.
There are also different levels of finishing to the corsets we send to the show. We send the corsets ready to fit and they do the final steps, whether it’s a bit of detailing or an extensive appliqué. Some are complete and they may only add a few accessories. Some get a lot of detail added before the show. For example, with our straw corset, they added sheaves of wheat and straw appliqué over the whole corset. In some cases the corsets are barely recognizable, but our shapes show through.
5) Do you personally fit any of the Victoria’s Secret Angels or is a remote fitting?
We make a pattern based on the design sketches and send a sample to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show team to fit and give us feedback. When using styles we’ve made before, we make the corsets directly in the new fashion fabrics and send them ready for a final fit. All of our corsets have alteration points so they can be let out or taken in, which adds versatility for the final fitting and allows the corset to fit more than one model.
6) Amazing. How long have you been making corsets? And are there any other famous clients you can share with Lingerie Addict readers?
We have been making corsets since 1997. Over the years, Period Corsets’ retail line of historic corsets has grown to include 13 styles; each encapsulates the fashionable look of an era. We developed each corset by researching vintage corsets, historic photos and paintings and distilling a wide variety of examples from the time into one corset with classic simple lines. The distinctive attributes of these corsets are what have attracted the eyes of costume designers and stylists in the fashion world.
We’ve made corsets for celebrities, pop stars, opera singers, dames of the theatre and fashion models, including Madonna’s little lavender waist cincher corset for her “Sorry” video.
Mainly we make corsets for women everywhere who want unique, glamorous corsets of their own. Women all over have figured out they can make an elegant, sexy statement with their own signature corsets.
7) I love that you’re based in Seattle, especially since this isn’t an area many people associate with lingerie and corsetry. Are you very involved in the local lingerie, theatre, or burlesque scene?
Yes! At Period Corsets we make everything in our studio here in Seattle and are very proud to be part of the thriving theatre, performing arts, lingerie, and custom clothier scene. We have supported Seattle non-profit performing arts organizations by donating a few corsets to their fundraising events.
In this economy we know how important it is to support businesses based in the US. In the apparel industry, especially, we all know how much cheaper it can be to buy things that come from other parts of the world. We prefer to buy our materials from domestic vendors. We also keep the needs of our amazing team of employees who have been with us since we started a high priority. We work hard to balance paying a living wage and providing benefits to our employees while keeping our corsets affordable for our customers.
We feel fortunate to be part of this amazing community. For instance, a shop manager from a nearby theatre recently needed a few c. 1890 Theodora corsets for “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and she walked down the street to our studio to pick them up.
8) What expert advice would you have for my readers who are interested in buying their first corset?
We advise investing in a quality product made in the US from a company with great customer service. To get an idea about whether they really care about taking care of you and helping you find the right corset, you should do some research: Do they have happy clients and good feedback? Do they make the kind of corset you want? When you are buying something via the internet, you need to make sure you can communicate your ideas with a person on the other end. Call or email us and we’ll be happy to help you with any questions about your next corset.
9) It's extremely cool that you make corsets for celebrities and the opera, but how would a “regular person” commission a corset from you? Do you accept commissions?
It is very easy! Go to www.periodcorsets.com. Choose your style, size and fabric and check out. We keep all of our styles in small to 2XL in stock and ready to ship within seven business days. There is a size chart for you to determine your size after you’ve taken measurements. We are ready to help anytime from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday Pacific time. You can always email us at [email protected] with any questions; to double check that you’ve chosen the right size, to pick the style that might suit your needs best or to consult on having a one-of-a-kind corset made to measure.
If you commission a custom corset, we estimate two to three weeks. To start your custom order, look at www.periodcorsets.com to see if the corset you are looking for is one of our existing styles with a few alterations. Then peruse Period Corsets on Etsy, which will show you examples of the many ways we customize our corsets with fashion fabrics or by altering the style lines. We are also happy to look over your design sketch or to research images of your dream corset. Once you have an idea of what you want and the range of our products, you can email or call me to get a quote.
We treat every individual as we would a professional designer. Your imagination is the limit! We are happy to create whatever strikes our client’s fancy, whether it’s a corset in Harris tweed wool for a dashing steampunk gentleman, or a red silk corset for a college student who wants it to match her graduation robes.
As Lingerie Addict readers know, all of life is a stage and a runway when you have the right lingerie/corset. We love to hear your ideas so we can make your corset a perfect fit.
What great advice! Thank you so much for your time, and for the great behind-the-scenes interview. I hope we see your work at many Victoria's Secret Fashion Shows to come!
corset, corsets, designer interviews, fashion, period corsets, victoria's secret