Lucy Williams (better known to some as Bishonenrancher) is a bit of a youtube phenomenon within the corsetry world. A dedicated wearer and passionate collector across almost every niche and price-point, Lucy has an incredibly broad experience of corsetry as a customer. She is also at the beginning of her own exciting journey as a corsetiere and these combined experiences give her a unique point of view. It was a joy to interview Lucy for Foundations Revealed and I hope you enjoy learning more about her blossoming understanding of the industry.
The visual aspect initially roped me in, but I “stayed” for the hug (pun intended). My first introduction to corsets was through the movie “Gone with the Wind” when I was 6 years old. Although I found the plot terribly boring at the time, I couldn’t stop staring at the silhouettes. In that famous scene when Scarlett tells her mammy “You’ve just got to make me 18.5 inches again,” I was in awe – this was the first that I’ve heard of a woman not abhorring a corset, but instead setting goals for herself.
As I grew up in the 90’s when Disney was churning out one princess movie after another, I began to associate delicate figures with women of high status, grace, and even strength and courage (considering the adventurous nature of Belle, Ariel, Jasmine and Mulan, who all left home at a young age). When I tried on my first corset at 15 for a Halloween costume, it felt as though I was clad in armour. It was a thrilling combination of outer aesthetic and inner strength, and I knew then that corsetry was something special to me.
I have a lengthy checklist of requirements when buying corsets! My structured corset reviews basically outline this list, although I’m more lenient in some aspects than others. For example, I have worn corsets without a waist tape that cinched much more and lasted longer than some other corsets with waist tape. Some of my off-the-rack corsets have impeccable stitching which can only be achieved by someone who has sewn the same corset over and over for months or years, but the quality of the materials or the fit of the corset aren’t up to my standards – conversely, in some of my higher-end corsets I may see a wobbly seam or a pucker, but the corset overall is a beautiful example of artistry. I try to purchase and review corsets from all points on the quality/price spectrum, as I know that my viewers all have different expendable incomes, have different body types and use corsets for different reasons. Having so many corsets also helps me understand why some corsets are priced the way they are.
When it comes to making corsets, I am much more critical of my own work than I am of others’ (aren’t we all!) and when sewing corsets for others I use the same checklist. Honestly, I don’t know where my corsets will be placed in the market yet and that’s almost exciting. It’s the reason that I haven’t made standard designs yet; I enjoy working on wildly different pieces.
For corset makers, I put a lot of emphasis on communication and customer service. Of course the amount of communication depends on the customization involved in the corset, but I am much more likely to return to a company or corsetiere who is kind and attentive to their clients. Clientele is what makes any company thrive, and customers like to feel that their investment in that company is appreciated. (Although I’m not incredibly well-known, I will sometimes use an alias when purchasing corsets to make sure that I don’t receive special treatment.) While I do realize that many corset makers are incredibly busy and have a lot of emails to get through, a kind quick email takes no more energy than a curt one.
I do have different expectations between daily-wear/ waist training corsets and special-occasion corsets. For daily corsets, I put an emphasis on strength, hardiness and comfort. Fashion fabric (if there is any) is chosen based on breathability, abrasion-resistance and strength of weave. Preferably, daily corsets are perfectly smooth on the inside for comfort against the skin, which means that boning channels, waist tape etc. may or may not be visible from the outside.
Conversely, special occasion corsets may include delicate materials like lace, or entirely unbreathable materials like pleather or metal. Not always, but sometimes, a special-occasion corset may not be the most comfortable piece – for instance, I don’t find internal boning channels to be particularly comfortable against the skin, but I find it acceptable if it means the shell of the corset is lovely and smooth.
One of the biggest mistakes I think would be not maintaining a consistent level of quality, or worse – favouring some customers over others in terms of care and attention given to corset construction. This may lead to mixed feedback and prospective clients may feel that they’re entering a game of roulette by taking a chance with this company. On a related note, taking more commissions than one can handle is also bad news. I’m sure having too much demand would be a dream for many artists, but it’s a shame to see corset makers overwork themselves and sacrifice their health in addition to quality of their work. I’m now beginning to see why many corsetieres are regularly ‘closed’ for commissions, or only take commissions on a case-by-case basis. I try to keep this in mind when making corsets for others. Another thing I do is be honest with myself about my capabilities. Although I try to stretch my skills whenever possible, I don’t take commissions that are far above my level of experience.
My favourite part is similar to yours! When I make corsets (no matter how simple or plain) I try to email the client regularly with in-progress photos. This helps them understand the construction process and they can see the corset slowly coming together – it also allows for last minute changes to be made if the vision in their mind doesn’t match the real thing. My favourite part is seeing the client’s building excitement when they see their design, their dream, materializing and coming to fruition. It’s an amazing thing to take an abstract thought and make it into physical matter. For me, being able to witness and take part in the clients’ growing anticipation is the most gratifying part, almost more gratifying than shipping the completed corset off to them!
I have a love/hate situation with many of my earlier pieces. I’ve kept all these early pieces – some because they’re a sentimental reminder of how my skills have improved, and others only because I know nobody else in their right mind would buy them. One of the more notable “love/hate” pieces is my Wrinkly Pig, an underbust corset with a fashion layer of lightweight, pink polyester Chinese brocade – the one that frays if you look at it wrong, and completely disintegrates under a light draft. I used gigantic seam allowances, I worked so hard to interface it, hand-baste it etc... basically I did everything I knew of to have it lay smoothly, yet I still ended up with an ugly, fuzzy, fraying little piece so bounteous with wrinkles that one might almost have gotten away calling it “ruched”. I could have cried. The Wrinkly Pig underwent several aesthetic procedures, but eventually I had to retire the piece. Although it was eye-bleedingly frustrating to construct and alter, I have never learned more about corset-building (and perseverance) from any corset as I have with the Wrinkly Pig, and that’s why I love it.
In my mind, corsets are a form of wearable art; this is why I believe that so many different corsetieres can exist without too much competition. One corset can’t fit all people’s tastes – the same way that one painting enthusiast loves Monet, another loves Da Vinci, etc.; so different corset enthusiasts may be drawn to different corset brands. This is something that I have just woken up to in the past year, especially when it comes to independent corsetier(e)s. When budget permits, I will always try to buy a piece that is almost “quintessential” to that maker at that time; a piece that fairly represents both their skill and their aesthetic. More often than not I’ll buy sample pieces (partially because of the price, admittedly) but more because these pieces are often purely the product of their own minds, unadulterated by others’ opinions or demands. A painting enthusiast can look at the layers in a painting, the heaviness and the line of the brushstrokes etc. and may be able to gain access into the thought process of the painter. I hope that, in some small way, I may also learn how to do that by examining corsets of different makers – while, of course, trying to respect their trade secrets. When it comes to my own work, I’m quite immature in this respect. I haven’t found an aesthetic genre into which I can settle; there’s no real defining characteristic about my work. Of course there are aspects of other people’s corsetry that I admire, but if I were to draw inspiration from their work I would like to modulate it; let it evolve and make it my own. I’m having fun experimenting and slowly growing into my own style, and I’m not anxious to rush the artistic process.
Of the corsets I’ve sewn, my favourite in terms of shaping is the Sebastian corset. It’s relatively simple but I find it both flattering and comfortable. However I don’t believe that I’ve quite “arrived” in terms of my patterning skills; I’m still constantly tweaking and experimenting. I have a definite weakness for contemporary silhouettes: conical ribcages, wasp-waists and longline corsets with rounded hips; and curves, curves, curves! I tend to avoid harsh angles or points, instead gravitating towards rounded edges that languidly flow around the body. It brings an element of softness to an otherwise rigid piece. Another thing that gets me particularly excited is a contemporary overbust corset with a beautifully smooth, rounded, high-cut, almost hemispherical bust. To reproduce this shape and understand the process of 2D patterns to 3D shapes, I used to cut fruit into geometric shapes.
Prior to my introduction to the online world of corsetry, I was geared towards the health sciences. I’m still very interested in the health benefits and risks associated with corsetry. One of my dreams involves conducting a modern broad study on the effects of corsets and other restrictive garments (like medical back braces and weight-lifting support belts) on the human body. Many researchers and physicians may find this information obsolete, but I’m eager to be able to finally confirm or dispel centuries-old rumours of corsets, and perhaps the new findings will be useful in building more comfortable and safer corsets, as well as more efficient custom corrective back braces for congenital spine deformities, etc. I have already started collaborating with one doctor in studying the effect of different corsets on carriage (posture) and spine/ neck curvature, but I don’t want to give too much away quite yet. ;)