Westwood Heritage: Corsets
17/04/2023 — Vivienne Westwood
As ever synonymous with the notion of Renaissance – a French term, originally evoking rebirth – Vivienne was always one to look to the past for inspiration. ‘When you explore the past, you enter the future,’ she once expressed. Her 18th century-inspired corsets were symbolic of this vision and her keen interest in history. Though long regarded as a patriarchal instrument that would deform the female body, the garment would be reimagined by Vivienne – who was among the first to introduce underwear as outerwear. A radical choice that would empower women, as opposed to binding them.
Adorned with opulent satin, brocade, or lace – the corset was traditionally crafted with rods made of whalebone and intricately embroidered detailing; all overt displays of wealth. In accentuating the sexually dimorphic curves of the body, it functioned as a silent way of asserting one’s place in society. First appearing in the Autumn-Winter 1987/88 Harris Tweed collection, the Portrait Corset established Vivienne as the first designer of the 20th century to subvert the historical flat corset structure – which was originally worn by the fashion-forward high society women of 18th century salon culture. This first incarnation referenced a 19th century copy of an original bodice, showing the multiple panels stiffened with whalebone, which forced the breasts up and out. This design was modernised using stretch panels on the side and zip fastening instead of lacing; A feature that would evolve throughout the seminal Gold Label collections of the 1990’s, soon establishing itself as a signature of the house.
Accordingly, our exclusive Vivienne Westwood Corsets exhibition illustrates the intrinsic links of the corset to historical dress, culture and fine art – which continue to serve as a constant source of inspiration for our collections. Each piece shown reveals Westwood’s ingenuity in corsetry design, and Andreas Kronthaler’s most recent iterations of this historical garment, which have gone on to influence the current collections of the house. A limited-edition jewellery collection has also been created for the occasion. Featured, is a 3D charm of the original Westwood Portrait corset, which has been reimagined in gold metal. The small range includes a Westwood gold–plated charm on a necklace and bracelet, on either a pearl or gold-plated chain with matching clip earrings.
Vivienne’s approach to corsetry always touched on the theatrical – playing up to our societal fascination with ‘what’s underneath?’ As articulated by Alexander Fury, Vivienne’s revisiting of the garment meant that, ‘A woman wearing a corset today is a symbol of empowerment, of sexual freedom, of control. She’s the one holding the laces, the one constructing her own femininity.’ In uniting historical elements with her singular perception of the zeitgeist, Vivienne’s corsets have become oeuvres in their own rights. They offered a new meaning – at once social and poetic.
The Vivienne Westwood Corsets exhibition will be displayed in our boutiques. It debuts in Paris from the 17th-30th of April, and in London from the 8th-21st of May 2023. Our exclusive jewellery collection for the event is available online and across the Vivienne Westwood boutiques.