What was the worst job you had
before you became a successful designer?
Rachel: I've been pretty
fortunate. I was a cake decorator in college
so it saved me from the dreaded retail or
waiting tables. Then, after tons of college,
I was able to break into the puppet and
specialty costume field in Hollywood , so
I think I've been very, very fortunate.
Of course, I'm not leaving Los Angeles any
time soon because I've just barely wet my
feet in the Fetish, BDSM and Adult communities
as a corsetmaker!
Contessa: How did you get
started designing corsets? I mean, it's
not exactly a traditional garment like say…
a dress or skirt.
Rachel: I started out as
a theatre person. I got my degrees in theatre
costume design, and anyone from that world
knows exactly what I'm talking about. All
theatres have costume stock, some of it
very old, and you get to have tons of fun
with period costumes and corsets. So if
it's not your parents' porn stash, it's
usually theatre that exposes you to corsets,
and that's the beginning of the end. Once
I knew how to make them, I also saw a lot
of other companies on the internet doing
some very wonderful things with corsets.
In 2001 I made the plunge, and with the
help of a friend from a local magazine,
I started advertising on the internetI could
see that corsets were not only traditional
fetishwear, but also making their way back
into runway fashions and the mainstream.
I actually figured they be done by 2005,
but they've only gotten more and more popular.
Contessa: Do you draw inspiration
from other designers or artists and if so,
tell us a little about this.
Rachel: Most of the time
I'm working hard to make my corsets not
look like anyone else's! I will be honest
and tell you that if I get a hold of Vogue
or Bazaar, I'm usually tearing out pages
for inspiration and reminders of little
things to try on my corsets. Fashion is
just so inspirational right now. Designers
are having their pattern makers break a
lot of the fit rules and create some exciting
shapes that would have been considered "ugly"
at any other time. Superficially, it looks
like a lot of designers are just dumping
their scrap basket out all over their line
and you get some kitschy trimmings and accents
that are so arts and craftsy, which used
to be a big no-no in art and fashion. Remember
the crocheted doll that Grandma had on the
extra roll of toilet paper? Somehow that's
not so funny now……… or
maybe that's just me. Maybe if the doll
is made of black yarn and is holding a whip!
Contessa: You've designed
some of the most beautiful corsets I have
ever seen. Has there been a particular piece
that is your personal favorite?
Rachel: My green Post-Modern Period
corset. It's my own pattern that I created
by mixing a few time periods. The frilly
decorations over the bust are actually an
old quilting technique, circles of fabric
corsets have long been known predominantly
amongst many well known fetish models and
performers and you've often said that you'd
rather be around a long time than short
term fame. How do you see yourself in 5
Rachel: Selling more corsets!
I want to find a way to do more wholesale
and keep all the manufacturing here in Europe
, but I have the fear that corsets just
won't look the same if my hand isn't involved.
I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to
that. The things that people respond to
are the things I work hard to do, like beautiful
stitching; a certain size and proportion
to seams and boning size that is pleasing
to my eye, and obviously others; choices
in trim and decoration that not only avoid
the typical white lace trim around the top,
but also push the envelope, like all the
beading I do. Also, every corset company
has their own "fit model" that
they have graded all their patterns from.
I believe people are really responding to
the fit and shape of my corsets, which is
different from some of the companies that
have been around forever. It's really similar
to shopping for jeans or bras -- you're
going to find a brand that makes you happy.
I think I'm making a lot of people happy.
Contessa: Your designs
have cinched the bodies of countless well
known artists and performers. Has there
been a personality that you would love to
design a corset or outfit for but haven't
Rachel: There's a countless list!I
feel a bit more of a kinship to the tattooed
and body mods community, and I think Fakir's
life story has influenced so many people,
including myself. Because he's pursued and
practiced so many venues of body modification,
he's also patterned and made corsets to
change his own waist. It would be an honor
to see him wearing my corset.
Contessa: You've also designed
corsets for men and the transgender community.
What are some of the differences between
the corsets that you design for genetic
women, men, and transgender folk?
Rachel: Well, as many TG
(trans-gender) ladies know, their waist
is a little bigger, and their hips are smaller,
than genetic women. I know a lot of TG ladies
and crossdressers add hip padding in order
to wear clothing made for women. My corsets
can take it a step further and actually
nip in the waist to help them create a feminine
hourglass. Whether a transgendered woman
has gone through a full medical sex change
or not, she knows that her ribcage is shaped
differently from genetic women, and there's
not much you can do about it. The best thing
is to nip in the fleshy love handles and
she finds skirts and pants just fit so much
better. My TG Underbust is patterned to
help with this illusion, and fits smoothly
over the ribcage. I've taken the time to
pattern it differently over the male (or
formerly- male) ribcage. The main objective
is to nip in that waist without having the
corset fit badly over the hips and ribs,
and I accomplish that.
For men who
aren't crossdressing, I think tightlacing
and a nipped in waist are less important.
I think the subversive aspect of appropriating
female dress and doing some gender bending
is what rocker dudes and goth guys are after.
A corset on them really works like some
sort of cyber armor, or has a BDSM aspect.
Even Prince has a corset on over a dress
shirt on his latest album cover, and we
all know where Prince is coming from!
Contessa: Are there any
fabrics/materials that you prefer to work
with over others?
Rachel: I'm sticking with
fabrics, versus leather, latex or pvc. Frankly,
I'm not interested in learning how to work
with those other materials because there
are so many great companies out there. I
could concentrate on working in fabrics
for the rest of my life and not exhaust
the possibilities. Leather is a different
animal, pun intended, and I commend the
people who have learned how to work and
manipulate it, as have the latex artists
Contessa: I always envision
designers toiling away late at night under
a work lamp. Has your best work usually
the result of bursts of creativity or constant
drudging through set hours?
Rachel: Well, for one thing,
I've learned my lesson with pulling all-nighters
and procrastinating! I'm the farthest thing
from the stereotype of the drama queen artist!
I really think it's best to give a project
time, even if it's just to percolate, plan
and research before you even take pencil
to paper or cut that first piece of fabric.
But yes, there's a point where my corsets
become straight-up manufacturing for me.
I will be sitting at the sewing machine,
just running the pieces of fabric through
it. You gotta take the boring with the fabulous
because in the end, it's all worth it.
Contessa: You have a very commendable
philosophy about your couture line vs foreign
or sweat shop mass production. Has this
affected your ability to expand as a designer?
Rachel: Yes, I think so.
Even in the small world of Fetishwear and
BDSM gear, I think the more successful corset
companies are "manufacturing,"
meaning they have at least a few employees
to make all the corsets. And this is great
because it means they got that wholesale
order at a retail store. That's the brass
ring…….. or the other extreme
is to deliver such a luscious high-end item
that you can survive on the custom orders.
I have a feeling I'm this second extreme.
And then there's the truly mass-produced
corsets, which are 100's of units at at
time (that's retail talk) and have to be
manufactured overseas where the labor is
cheaper. Sorry, but I can't contribute to
that, for a world of reasons. I have a lot
in common with someone who makes a living
at a sewing machine in the manufacturing-heavy
countries, and I wish things weren't the
way they were. I wish the demand for cheap
goods wasn't so high that so many people
work cheaply, and get mistreated. Having
my corsets made in another country would
not necessarily help people in that country.
But having my corsets made by employees
in America helps create jobs for Americans.
Contessa: We often hear
about Whale Boning vs Steel Boning vs Plastic
Boning. Can you explain the differences
Rachel: Ok, here's your
history lesson, and one I love giving.
is a historical item and went out of use
when Steel boning was invented. Whale boning
is not actually made from the bones of the
whale, but from the baleen of certain whales……..
baleen is the stuff hanging in the whale's
mouth that resembles the pieces of palm
tree that end up on Los Angeles streets
on a windy day. I'm not kidding! Baleen
grew in sheets in the whale's mouth and
was split like reed or cane…. Think
wicker bedroom furniture! Steel boning came
into use with the industrial revolution.
The making of spring steel was an innovation
and was made into the flat ribbons of steel
put into the seams of corsets. So by the
mid 1800's, whale boning was out the door!
Plastic Boning is a great example of Better
Living Through Chemistry, but not for corset
wearers. It's fine for the silly Valentine's
bustier you got at the mall, or your prom
dress, but (cue Faye Dunaway's Mommy Dearest)
never, ever, ever for a Corset!
Contessa: Jean Paul Gaultier
made a very big splash in the 80's with
his fetish inspired line. Last year John
Galliano showed his models looking like
cyber warrior-Dommes (my own description!)
in buckles, straps, and cinchers. Some purists
scoff at this while others think it's wonderful.
What are your thoughts on this?
Rachel: I love seeing fetish
wear make an appearance in the mainstream!
It leads to discussion and dialogue, and
hopefully a more open interest in what is
or isn't sexy…….. and it leads
to more fetishwear customers! If people
like what they are seeing on the runway,
they will work hard to find those items,
and seek out what makes them feel sexy,
dominant, submissive or whatever their flavor
is. I can't imagine how many fetish and
BDSM newbies there are because they've seen
fetish-inspired fashion in a magazine, the
internet or television. Only a couple of
decades ago, this was the stuff of plain
brown packages and no Frederick 's in the
Contessa: Since the Victorian
era, corsetry has seen very small changes
with the advent of new fabrics and materials.
What revolutionary changes do you predict
for corsetry in the near future?
Rachel: Wow, I actually
think with the direction fashion is going,
corsets look like the farthest thing from
new innovations. For one thing, the 20th
Century can be personified for all of its
technological innovations in stretch fabrics
and magic fabrics- been there, done that.
I think currently, fashion is utilizing
things like spandex, but hiding it in very
classic designs. At the same time, I think
corsets are going the way of the Steam Punk
movement, and will work hard to create the
illusion of being historically old and from
an older time period. There is the occasional
designer who will attempt to create shiny
cyber-looking corsets, or someone like Issey
Miyake who will make them from molded plastic,
but I think corsets retain their novelty
and excitement by being the "natural"
element of a person's wardrobe, no matter
how many metal buckles, raver dayglo, bells
and whistles they have on them. Of course,
by next week, I will be proven wrong and
someone will invent Terminator 2 clothing
that you pour on your body!
Contessa: What advice would
you give somebody who's shopping for their
Rachel: Firstly, know that
the median price for a good corset is $350
to $500, or more. It's an investment, but
it's worth it…… frankly, I think
it makes the corset wearer stand out from
the designer handbag set! Secondly, take
time to try on different brands of corsets,
getting measured and fitted properly. I
find that a lot of corset wearers are also
involved in some sort of costume play or
creation, and corsets are a quick study
for them. Once someone wants a corset, it's
like wanting a tattoo- you get your first,
and you've joined the club. People should
take the time to find out what a corset
feels like and which brand is best for them-
just like bra or jeans shopping. Sometimes
the only way to do that is take the plunge
and buy that first corset.
Contessa: Finally, what
are some common misconceptions about corsetry
that you'd like to correct?
Rachel: That they are uncomfortable.
That's something the individual wearer will
have to combat by choosing a well-fitting
corset and deciding what the corset is intended
for. Maybe discomfort is what they are after,
and that's a personal decision. Not all
modern corsetry is intended to permanently
modify the waist and ribcage, like women
did in the Victorian era. Modern tightlacers
have a goal in mind, and by tightening slowly,
over time, they still aren't experiencing
a lot of discomfort.
are not only fetishwear or lingerie. Right
now is the time of the abs, the core, and
the midriff is the erogenous zone. I think
corsets definitely have a place as streetwear
and on top of wardrobe items, such as fitted
dresses, slip dressed, with tailored trousers,
It takes an iconoclastic person to pull
it off, but they look hot when they do!