Then and Now – NSFW

Please note: some of these images are “not safe for work”.

Fashion (and corsetry in particular) is curiously circular, needing to find renewal and interest within a reasonably tight set of parameters. It is a question of maintaining a cohesive sense of self (or identity, or brand, or aesthetic, whichever you prefer) whilst also exploring ideas and kicking against the boundaries of your own knowledge and skill.

2010. The first “accidental” mini-collection by Sparklewren.

I certainly find that I have explored many avenues in corsetmaking, discovering things I love and techniques I hate in almost equal measure. I have especially found that when spurred into “accidentally” creating a little collection, I feel at my most creative and learn a lot. Likewise, when considering the representation of those pieces (through working with talented models, photographers, etc.), I find that I learn a great deal about my aesthetic. About the things that I am most drawn to. And in learning those things, I have come to believe that it is paramount for any creative person to pursue the aesthetics they love to as refined and singular a point as possible. One must be open to ideas, naturally, but I do think one also has to be responsible for their aesthetic, to claim it and explore it and stay true to it.

Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. The first Sparklewren “collection”.  A bespoke underbust in pale blue with flossing.

The challenge comes from the fact that corsetmakers (and bridal designers, etc.) are creating a product. For Sparklewren, there is perhaps becoming a more tangible split between the “art pieces” and the “products”, though they are all within the same universe… But the relationship between the two is nuanced. A product benefits from feedback, wide reach, standardisation. An art piece benefits from autonomy, singularity of vision, uniqueness. I am most drawn to the latter, and it feeds into the former in surprising ways. 

Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. A classic buttercream silk, fully-boned, bridal corset, with ivory lace.
Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. A classic buttercream silk, fully-boned, bridal corset, with ivory lace.

Anyhow, to get back on track… My first mini-collection (in 2010) featured three key ideas: underbust, overbust, corset-body. I realised today that my most recent mini-collection was likewise. Upon trawling through photographs from that first shoot, it became clear that certain concerns and interests have remained, even as the corsetry has developed greatly.

Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. In a pale silk corset-body with ivory lace.
Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. In a pale silk corset-body with ivory lace.

Unusual patterning remains a focus, though construction has been streamlined further and further. It would be interesting to return to some older patterning ideas with these more streamlined construction techniques in my repetoire.

Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. Wearing a gold and black underbust corset and collar with embellished lace.
Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. Wearing a gold and black underbust corset and collar with embellished lace.

Embellishment remains, naturally, though these days I prefer to have more control over proportion, texture and quality. It is very rare now for me to use a pre-embellished lace or motif. Instead, I like to layer laces and silks, add beads, crystals, feathers, etc. in an organic manner. The effect is much richer.

Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. A metallic ruby-red corset-body with cording and spoon busk.
Ivory Flame by Sean Elliott Photography, 2010. A metallic ruby-red corset-body with cording and spoon busk.

Likewise, I have found that the imagery I love best is still as it was in 2010 (and even before Sparklewren)… Hazy, blurry, grainy, indistinct, with bokeh and artifacts and reflections. “Imperfections”. How much more life they give an image! I am a big fan of “imperfection” (and I will write more about this later), as such is life. The things we love, truly adore… out experiences of them aren’t pin-sharp like a catalogue photograph. Our emotions are coloured by other senses, the images we see are focused on the thing we love (to the temporary loss of our peripheral vision)… We don’t take in the person or object we adore as a flat and complete image, our attention shifts and flutters around, we are pulled in to details. A collarbone, a jaw of the person you love, perhaps… or a texture, a shadow, of the art you are entranced by.

The 2014 mini-collection.
The 2014 mini-collection.

In creating the newest mini-collection, I enjoyed this same focused, single-minded attention to detail when creating the pieces. I played around with my own behind-the-scenes snaps to explore making images that were hazy and indistinct in the way that I love. And I fell in love with the final edits from InaGlo Photography (see below) for their evocative and textured way of pulling you downwards as though into water or a dream.

Tingyn by InaGlo Photography, 2014. The most recent “accidental” collection. Here showing an Antique Bird corset with lace.

Because these corsets are “art pieces”, it makes sense to me that the images be artistic too, not solely documentary or purely about driving sales of a product. I have clean-and-crisp detailed close-ups on my website’s homepage to show product quality, and numerous client images to show bespoke fit and shaping.

Tingyn by InaGlo Photography, 2014. In a Little Bird corset of mink coutil and off-white couture lace.
Tingyn by InaGlo Photography, 2014. In a Little Bird corset of mink coutil and off-white couture lace.

These images, these photoshoots with creative people, are about playing and collaborating to make something beautiful and unusual. I consider myself very fortunate that I get to work with such lovely people to that end and I adore the inky, characterful nature of such images. They aren’t storyboards, but there is a hint of narrative there, in the sense of dream-narratives which dissolve and make little coherent sense upon waking. Something intangible that seems terribly potent, but you can’t quite grasp it and then it’s gone.

Tingyn by InaGlo Photography, 2014. In a mink coutil Birds Wing corset-body, with layered laces, pearls, beads, quartz and tulle.
Tingyn by InaGlo Photography, 2014. In a mink coutil Birds Wing corset-body, with layered laces, pearls, beads, quartz and tulle.

When I work with bespoke clients, for couture corsetry or bridal, I hope to always bring this love and aesthetic with me. I hope for them to know that I care, deeply, that everything I make be beautiful and affecting. That it be gorgeously made and beautifully fit but also, more importantly, perfectly imperfectly unique. Since life is a curious brief and unknowable thing, I want to spend my time making things that will never ever exist again. Things that are gestural, painterly, and can never be truly replicated. It seems an interesting way to pass the time, falling in love with beauty again and again.

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