On “Failure”

This corset was a failure.

Ivory Flame by InaGlo Photography, 2012.
Ivory Flame by InaGlo Photography, 2012.

Failure is neither bad nor good. You don’t need to adopt a self-help-y approach of, “all the successful people have failed again and again before achieving their goals, therefore all failure is definitely a path to success!” because that isn’t true… But failure isn’t automatically a bad thing either. Because in so many ways, it isn’t the failure or success that matters, it’s what you do next.

I truly believe that context is everything. I believe in contingent truth, truths that are specific to the situation/environment. Perhaps they are indeed absolute truths, but we just haven’t all the measured variables before us to be able to see that. At any rate, for us to operate in the world we rely on context to inform everything we comprehend and do. Context colours, and in many ways you create your own context by how you interpret/approach things like “failure”.

So, the context of this piece, is that it was my first attempt at the Birds Wing corset and it came out wrong. I had been so careful in monitoring one particular area of construction (the part that I had anticipated being a challenge with this style), that I failed to notice a different issue synonymous with making the Birds Wing. I then realised my error, having already made great progress on finishing and embellishment, and upon checking further did indeed find the piece to be “flawed”. A failure.

But there are a few things about this failure that matter.

1) The obvious point. I learned what not to do next time. The first Birds Wing was always going to be a sacrifice to the Corset Gods, the fashion layer was made of silk offcuts, the strength layer was super-basic coutil, the construction was unknown… But I got to practice/test that construction, and got to assess other aspects of how the style worked, regardless of its being flawed. I laced the corset onto numerous people, learning each time about how the Birds Wing differs from body to body, and I discovered a quick way to make the flaw imperceptible to all but myself (which again, taught me more about the Birds Wing, and how it differs from other corsets).

2) I would have resigned it to the Abandoned pile of corsets, had it not been for a friend who insisted it was too pretty for that! This reminded me of something that I had begun learning when I took on the pop-up boutique project in 2012… Customers do not notice the “flaws” that professional corsetieres notice. Once I had learned that lesson, I resolved that the onus was on me as corsetmaker to ensure I kept my quality as high as ever (and to aim for higher still), but to do so with less anxiety. When you make something with your own hands, heart and mind you are attached to it. You desperately want to please the client, and it doesn’t matter how many times you do you still worry that you won’t. I’ve never (touch wood) had an unhappy client, but I still feel a thrill of worry when handing over a corset. Learning that this worry was internal, a result of my own feelings rather than a reflection on the actual *real* quality of my work, was a step towards greater confidence. You don’t learn that without “failing” and discovering that the world thinks your failure a success.

3) I’ve always had a rather breezy approach to failure and never worried about it (except where client work is concerned, of course). Therefore, I’m always willing to fail. And being willing to fail lets me be willing to try.

4) Sometimes the most rewarding ideas happen when you aren’t expecting them. This (temporarily) abandoned corset sat in my boutique for a while, until one day I suddenly thought to drape it with silks. I used offcuts (of beautiful georgettes, satins, and silks with metallic silver running through them) and hit upon an aesthetic which I completely adore and have since expanded on in different ways. I may never have so “wrapped up” a perfect corset, may never have landed upon this design that I love.

5) One is less precious over the failures, which teaches you to be less precious overall. They are garments of use, after all. This corset cannot be sold, and so I have sent it off for a few shoots and even allowed it to be dunked underwater for a fashion editorial. I’m looking forward to seeing if there are any signs of rust as time goes on and thus learning yet more lessons. Though who knows, perhaps I will tear it apart or give it away as a gift before then…

In the meantime, it has functioned as a beautiful addition to the portfolio; is one of the designs that I get the most positive feedback from; has unlocked different ideas and taught me my first lessons about the Birds Wing; and remains on display in my showroom as an example of the artistic “happy accident”.

Failure, in your own projects as a craftsperson, is to be welcomed and transformed.

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