Corsetiere and fashion designer Melanie Talkington owns Lace Embrace Atelier, a shop and studio just off Main St. in Vancouver, Canada. She sells spectacular handmade corsets, as well as boudoir paraphernalia, including Patricia Fieldwalker silk nightgowns, modern bra/panty/girdle combos by French ’50s reproduction line Scandale, garters and elaborate stockings.
Her corsets are often replicas of vintage styles from her Paris-worthy collection. The grand creations, which can be remade in exotic fabrics, take six to eight weeks to finish making, and start at $600 and can sometimes cost thousands for a custom job. Ready to wear models begin at $250.
Buyers from around the world flock to her shop in Vancouver, sending Talkington their measurements via email. Some are so hard-core they leave their personal fit mannequins with her, including loyalists such as Burlesque superstar Dita von Teese or Cathie Jung (record holder for the world’s smallest waist - 15 inches).
“I am obsessed,” Talkington says. “But with the internet, I now know how many other people out there are as well!”
In her collection there is a rare red-wool 1860s corset. Vintage pieces can be dated by the length of their components, and by how they manipulate the bosom, waist or hip to match the fashions of the day.
There is a small international community of artisans, collectors and scholars with whom Talkington shares sources, such as the revived steel producer in France who provides her with steel for the stays. (These stopped being made of whalebone in the 1880s.)
The continued and growing popularity of burlesque shows in Canada means Talkington has a steady supply of fresh clients, as well as those who buy for special occasions (think weddings) as well as others who wear corsets daily (often to train their waists, or make them smaller).
She also has a number of male clients. “You put a corset on a man to flatten his stomach, and it makes his chest fuller, and gives him a military bearing,” says Talkington.
The Paris show, Behind the Seams: An indiscreet look at the mechanics of Fashion, includes 38 items from Talkington’s collection and starts in July at Musée de la Mode et du Textile, located in the decorative arts wing of the Louvre.
Talkington hopes to bring the exhibit home afterwards: She’s planning to display her collection at her shop or a local art gallery.