Almost since the beginning of fashion history the female form has been molded into anaesthetically desired or fashionable shape. For much of this history, the corset - acinching garment designed to encase the middle torso to shape the figure by either flattening or pushing up the breasts, or to minimize the waist, or both, and deriving itsname from the French word for body, '
' - has played a central role. And even thoughit has experienced spells of disfavour, it seems, remarkably, that fashion has an affair with the corset and it continues to be reinvented and popularized as high fashion on thecatwalks of almost every top designer, in lingerie and erotica, and in cinema. It appearsvery much that the corset, or interpretations of it, are here to stay and will continue to be part of the evolving fashion trends that sweep us along with them.The corset has had a varied past, from being desired for support, shape and comfort, to being considered restrictive and Draconian, to being a symbol of sexual allure and eroticdesire. It has been worn as both underwear and outerwear, as much now as it washundreds of years ago. "Down with the corset” was the protest slogan at the start of the20th Century. At its end, French couture designer Christian Lacroix sent it back to the
catwalk in every variation and colour imaginable. In 1990, VivienneWestwood launched her 'Portrait' collection, which had an enormous influence on coutureand street fashions throughout the decade. An exaggerated interpretation of the EuropeanRococo styles of the mid-1700's, and intended as outerwear, Westwood sent corsetryteamed with cage skirts and very high platforms down the catwalk. She was quoted ashaving said "Not many people buy the corset and the cage…..but this exaggeratedsilhouette that I have been working on fro 10 years has finally had an influence.”Westwood had succeeded in resurrecting
. In 1997/98 she again lookedto the archeology of historic silhouettes and their grandeur and decadence, in her “FiveCenturies Ago” collection. She inspired leading designers such as Versace, Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld, Thierry Mugler, john Galliano and Donna Karan. In March1997, as part of her debut collection for Chloe, young designer Stella McCartney presented a series of belle époque corsets. Within the last five years Gucci and Versacehave both featured corsets as central to their fashion stories, seen on international personalities the likes of Elle McPherson, Carolyn Murphy and Christina Aguilera (whohas become Donatella Versace’s muse).Credit for our modern appreciation of the corset must be shared not only amongst thecreators of fashion and the dictators of style, but their association with the highlyinfluential film and music industries as well. In spring /summer 1988 Jean Paul Gaultier showed his ‘Corset Ensemble’. His development of the corsetry theme which began in1983 continues to this day. ‘He has worked and reworked this theme with consummateskill that it has become as much a classic form as Dior’s boned evening bodice’s were inthe 1950’s. Like Dior, Gaultier has constructed a predetermined shape with traditional boning and padding but has literally turned the bodice inside out and added detailingdrawn from supportive underwear , including an elastic strap, conically stitched bra cups, pres studs, back lacing and decorative floral lace…’ Gaultier left a lasting impression onthe annals of fashion history when he made headlines with his sculptured, architecturalcorset for pop icon Madonna’s
concert tour of 1990’therby liberatingthe corset from the myth of it’s being a tool for the subjugation of women.’