Corset-style pieces have made a triumphant comeback in recent months. Blame it on the popularity of Bridgerton (and, of course, its Regency era-inspired costumes) or fashion’s shift to all things sexy, but the look is suddenly everywhere — just take a peek at the Spring/Summer 2023 runways of Prabal Gurung, Dilara Fındıkoğlu, and Versace. Dior’s latest runway show, too, sent a series of fitted tops down the catwalk credited to the maison’s latest muse: Catherine de' Medici, a French queen from the 16th century often credited for introducing the cinched-in style to her court. Meanwhile, outside the rarified world of high fashion, a growing cadre of independent corset designers is helping to evolve the look as well.
With a focus on craftmanship, these burgeoning brands are gaining traction for their fresh and thoughtful approach to fitted, curve-enhancing tops. Their striking corsets are made by hand from upcycled fabric — often tapestry designs from old couches, chairs, and cushions — found in vintage stores. The finished products boast bright florals, idyllic pastoral scenes, and baroque paintings that make all manner of jeans or silk midi skirts feel more special. In short, these are the sort of tops you wear when you want to really stand out.
Below, meet four up-and-coming designers making corsetry feel fresh, and shop an edit of their one-of-a-kind creations.
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Four years ago, Kristin Mallison connected with her passion for design upon discovering Cafe Forgot, a New York City-based clothing store that often carries experimental and independently-made clothing. “Before I knew it, I was *dying* to find a way in [to sell my clothes],” she tells TZR. Mallison’s work caught the eye of the store owners and soon enough, she designed her very first tapestry corset. Fast forward to now, and she’s focusing on her business full-time — and even looking to hire a second employee to help her keep up with growing demand.
Mallison’s unique granny-chic creations are made from the upcycled tapestry fabric found on vintage furniture. “The creative process feels a bit like putting a puzzle together again and again,” she says. She aims to make every scrap count in each piece, which will vary depending on the source material. Finished products run the gamut from mini skirts with a lovely landscape motif to a tight tube top emblazoned with a kitschy kitten. “A tapestry is like a painting that has this depth that draws you into it, telling a story,” she says. “Whether it's a visually dynamic tapestry scene with people and landscapes, or a singular subject such as with a portrait, I feel that my use of [the fabric] gives my work its true meaning.”
In 2018, Austrian native Isabelle Hellyer couldn’t find a corset that fit the way she liked. Luckily garment-making was a tradition in her family, and she had the tools to craft one of her own — and ultimately launch her celeb-loved label all is a gentle spring (Charli XCX, Rowan Blanchard, and Grimes are fans). “Because there’s multiple generations of dressmakers in my family — also known as hoarders, or amateur historians — we had these patterns dating back to like 1912, 1914,” Hellyer told Australian Vogue. “Growing up, I had this library of vintage patterns which skewed my taste very historical, without me necessarily realizing.”
The collection is centered around boned bustiers and corsets — some made using cartridge weaving, an Elizabethan technique for garment-making. “It has to be done by hand, and it creates the deepest, most dense pleats you can find,” Hellyer continued in her interview. “If you picture the first Queen Elizabeth with the big ruffle around her neck, that’s where this technique originated.”
When the pandemic hit, Anna Walsh found herself with a lot of time on her hands as Australia faced one of the longest lockdowns in the world. She filled her time by reconnecting with the love for musical theater she once nurtured while growing up and started researching historical garments. “Over the lockdown I really began to explore transferring the theatrical dramatic elements of costume into my work,” Walsh says. She owes her passion for garment making to her grandmother, who worked as a dressmaker and ran her own shop for 20 years.
“The corset trend has been really exciting to watch and be a part of,” she tells TZR. “I love seeing everyone's different interpretations of such an interestingly controversial piece of clothing.” On her end, this means repurposing decades-old fabric, laces, and trims found in antique shops or fabric warehouses and giving them a new life. “It’s really beautiful how these fabrics that were once a wall hanging or furniture upholstery are now getting their own little spotlight as a treasured piece of clothing.”
Kara Geraerts started her corset brand, Rennelier, in 2020. Growing up in Veldhoven, a village in the Netherlands, she nurtured a love of style that led her to study fashion design. She found inspiration in documentaries on punk music and style — and soon enough, her interest for DIY clothing grew. After selling her first corset in 2020, the burgeoning designer was so heartened by the positive reaction to her design that she began focusing specifically on the cinched-in silhouette. Making her buyers feel confident and beautiful is Geraerts’ main goal when crafting each of her pieces.
Finding just the right fabric requires a lot of time spent at thrift stores and online marketplaces. It’s one part of the process Geraerts is passionate about. She particularly loves stiffer upholstery-like material that evokes “a romantic, chic, and timeless atmosphere,” by featuring nature-inspired designs such as pastoral animals, birds, and florals. The designer sees each item as “wearable art,” which she hopes tells a story.