Indie Corsetiere Spotlight: Laurie Tavan's Historical Fusion
Today I'm delighted to feature the work of one of my Californian corsetmaking colleagues: Laurie Tavan. You may recall her from my list of 10 Specialty Corsetieres. Laurie's synthesis of historical silhouettes with a modern design aesthetic is deliciously unique, and she's also very well-versed in bespoke fit across a wide range of sizes.
How long have you been making corsets and when did you officially launch your brand, then titled Daze of Laur?
I am not exactly sure, but my first pair of bodies (Renaissance style corset) was probably around 2002. I sort of fell into business after starting to make costuming for myself. I opened up Daze of Laur in 2006 while living in Palo Alto, CA. I was mainly designing and constructing historical costuming and underpinnings. But that year I took my first Victorian-inspired corset commission for a friend who wanted a masculine overbust corset to accentuate his athletic body. Since then, I have slowly focused more and more on corsetry as outerwear. This is what drives me to create, and what I think about on a daily basis.
Tell us about your background in costuming and fashion. What (or who!) led you to historical costuming and corsetry?
My mother-in-law’s first requests to take me to Renaissance Faire led to my making my first gown back somewhere around 2001. I recently sold that gown and it resides with a dance troupe in Australia. I learned to make corsets as underpinnings for my historical events, having branched out into the Victorian period and eventually the 18th century and many others. I am also an avid Lindy Hop dancer, and am drawn to the early 20th century as well. Moving to the Bay Area after graduating college provided a rich community of avid seamstresses. I found myself always wanting to improve and learn more. Opening my business led to my working with many bespoke clients which allowed me to try and discover many different styles and techniques.
How did you learn to make and fit corsets? In particular, you seem to have an approach to fit that is a bit different from other corsetmakers, which blends historical silhouette techniques with the modern form. All good corsetmakers are passionate about fit, of course, but some are nerdier than others and we all approach it from different perspectives.
My very first Victorian corset was a Simplicity pattern, which I never finished because I wasn't happy with the barely cinched, flared shape. I graduated to the Laughing Moon pattern for my first completed corset, which I still have in my collection. I wore this year after year in my role as Queen Victoria at the Dickens Christmas Fair. My third Victorian was my very first bespoke piece that I drafted for myself based on the Victorian ideals in shaping. In my early days, I absorbed everything I could find on LiveJournal. I watched others’ experiments, and experimented on my own. Even now I'm always pushing to find new things to try and push beyond "the rules" and see where it takes me. I find it brilliant to start with historical patents, patterns, and antiques to discover old-but-new-to-me ideas of cut, fit, and construction. I am perfectly happy merging ideals from different eras into one showpiece.
What resources do you recommend for novice corsetmakers? Any particular tips?
Those old LiveJournal corsetmaker archives are still around for the most part, and I imagine somewhat active still, though I am not active there myself anymore. There are a lot of good tidbits in there. Nowadays, I am on Foundations Revealed and write for them as well. I find a lot of great information and in-depth details in their articles for construction as well as business.
What prompted your name change from Daze of Laur to the eponymous Laurie Tavan?
Daze of Laur originally came from a play on words, "days of yore," in reference to my historical costuming designs. The Daze of Laur website through the years became a more stagnant archive of my past work, and my new work didn't fit into that same mold. The Daze of Laur blog really encompassed my work and life beyond historical designs and I now think of it more as documenting my days working on my own designs and dreams. The bottom line is that I wanted to step away from pure costuming, and to do so I changed my name to reflect the new focus on bespoke designs. I still use Daze of Laur for my behind-the-scenes blog, but it is no longer my company name.
List the top three priorities that define your brand's approach to corset-making.
- Novel patterning with emphasis on sculpting, comfort, and dramatic shapes.
- Preference for overall hour-glass shaping, curved or scooped side profile with a barely-cinched hipline, and dramatic cinch at skeletal waistline.
- Opulent fabrics, lace, ribbons, and notions.
What other designs and corsetieres do work that resonates with you?
I really admire Royal Black's sleek construction and laser cut detailing, Sparklewren’s streamlined yet intense bird-wing construction with gilding, and Wilde Hunt Corsetry's leather and exotic material combinations.
You have a unique approach to color and embellishment that definitely resonates with me --- the "sophisticated whimsy" that I think of as being characteristic to my own line as well. What draws you to combine these classic silhouettes with such a modern, graphic interpretation?
My tastes in fabrics and bold prints with clean lines combine into often busy yet sophisticated corsets, so yes, "sophisticated whimsy" is apt. I am drawn to polka dots and striped fabrics of course, but also sometimes I just pick odd combinations. I also love to dye fabrics and use bold colors. I tend to embellish with traditional corset decoration but I'm all for trying out new fabrics and combinations. I guess it sometimes clouds my aesthetic message but mainly I prefer very clean and elegant designs, often incorporating dramatic color blocking accentuating the waist or bust-line. I also like the delicate and almost decaying, with pinked, fraying, or raw edges, which feel more fragile.
I like the idea of storytelling in my work, but I also value creating things that can be styled many ways. Corset designs can be very dramatic but still allow for multiple styling choices. While my bespoke design work is an important contribution to the final result, those results are finally realized when my clients incorporate pieces into their wardrobes. I hope to make pieces that don't just hide in a box at the bottom of a closet but are worn often and loved and cherished because they are comfortable and beautiful.
Describe your design process --- do your designs tend to come into your head fully formed or do you work them out as you're constructing? Where do you find inspiration? What's your favorite format to design in?
For me it is really is a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some designs I sketch out fully, and they come to fruition close to what I envisioned. In many other cases I have fabric or supplies that tell me what to do along the way. I find myself designing corsets more by sketch and full gowns and ensembles more by draping & intuition. Often, though, the right fabric will inspire me to drop all other projects and dive in. A lot of tidbits of designs come from following couture designers whose work I admire, museum pieces, and researching historical designs. My work is never far from historical influence. I am designing more head-to-toe looks now, but generally with the goal of separates that can be integrated into other looks. My work has naturally fallen into collections over time but I don't sit down and design a full collection in one sitting. I like the idea of collections and developing different ideas across more pieces in my portfolio, and may do some projects like that in the future.
How often do you wear corsets yourself? Do you have corsets from other makers?
During the week I often wear experimental corsets while at the workshop. I wear corsets many days per week, but usually only a few hours at a time. For weekend events I may wear a corset for up to 8-12 hours in a day. I do like to take my corsets for longer spins here and there and I even travel with at least one corset wherever I go. But I don't specifically waist train daily. I love to test out new materials and constructions techniques on myself first and test how they wear over time. I love wearing corsets under dresses for an extra-dramatic silhouette.
I have a drawer full of corsets from other makers that I like to wear regularly. They each are super unique. I am very much a collector and adore seeing other people's visions. I also love to model other designers work. I have what I call my Corsetry Museum and finally got started on its website. I hope to share more examples of both antique and contemporary designs in the future. I wish I had the finances to own a corset from each of the wonderful makers I've met over the years. The very first corset that I bought was from Dark Garden, but my collection now includes Maria Pozo, Pop Antique, Timeless Trends, Electra Designs, Anachronism in Action, and Sparklewren, amongst others.
What are some of the misconceptions about corsets that you feel you have to continually address, even among the dedicated corset audience?
I think the idea of sizing down a ready-to-wear corset without any changes to the hip and rib spring of the pattern makes me the most irritated. As you reduce the waist further and further the patterning has to be curvier to accommodate the changing ratio between the body measurements.
What's your favorite corset styling accessory?
I love wide elastic belts and narrow leather belts to wear over corsets, or over dresses with corsets underneath. I also tend to wear my corsets with sweaters, which seems counterintuitive but true. I am one of those people who has a blanket on them in 100-degree weather. As mentioned before, I also love wearing corsets under dresses. It is super simple to hide lacing under a ruched back panel of a dress, for example. I also love to pair corsets over a shirt and basic skirt for a lot of dance events.
You work with your clients as "models" a lot, care to divulge a bit about your process for photography?
My clients are often my best choice for models because they own bespoke corsets that are custom fit to their bodies, so they show the "fit" of my work. Many of those same clients are also game to try on samples and give them a whirl for a photoshoot. If I wasn't so obsessed with corsetry, I'd be a full time photographer. My husband and I shoot the majority of my campaign images but I'm branching out because just like in making corsets, in photography each person’s eye leaves its own mark on the work. Collaborations in general greatly intrigue me --- I love working on a team with others. I think of each photo shoot with clients or models as a time to build a story, to play with styling, and to take advantage of locations to show off my work.
I find myself working over and over again with individuals who are enthusiastic and hard workers. I let my clients show interest first and nearly all my clients have asked to be included as a model. It is not a firm requirement for clients to model for me --- absolutely not --- but many do and I love it! I always offer my clients the option to keep everything about their commissions a secret, so I really appreciate those who share and take the time to model for me. I really prefer to share images of all sorts of body types, which comes naturally when using my clients as models. Some of my models have found me through Model Mayhem for fashion shows and photoshoots which helps me branch out into other aesthetics.
What's coming up next from Laurie Tavan Corsetry?
I am opening up my bridal commissions next year for three individuals who want to have something special for their wedding day. I’ll have one Spring/Summer, one Summer/Fall, and one Fall/Winter opening. I’m booking now for Spring/Summer delivery, as all bespoke gowns must start at least six months prior to delivery.
I am also working on some mini-collections based on my designs. These will be offered in limited quantities and for a limited time, but with options for custom patterning just like in my bespoke service. Up first is probably a trial run using synthetic whalebone which I have been testing on samples. And on the outskirts vying for my time is a cheeky new label named by my friend Laura, "Nights of Laur," which will focus on lingerie designs as outerwear, and separates to pair with corsetry and your day- or evening-wear.
What do you think of Laurie Tavan's corsetry? Which is your favorite piece from her body of work?