Vintage Revival: The Kestos Bra

Kestos style silk bralet. Photo by K Laskowska
Kestos style silk bralet. Photo by K Laskowska

My last post may have given you a hint of my love for the Kestos bra; however, despite my love for them, I could never wear any of my vintage pieces on a regularly basis. I view them as an archive for the purpose of study and inspiration: something to be preserved rather than used up. Consequently, it brings me so much joy to see contemporary designers reimagine these classic vintage designs! Not only does it give everyone a chance to introduce these beautiful styles into their own wardrobes but technological advances into elastication and sewing machine possibilities make them vastly more comfortable to wear and much more accessible in price (I adore hand finishing, but the associated price tag makes it tricky to incorporate into lingerie on a regular basis!).

So without further ado: here are my current favourite picks of Kestos-inspired bralets!

Tempest Bralet by Evgenia Lingerie
Tempest Bralette by Evgenia Lingerie

The ‘Tempest’ bralette by Evgenia: available sizes S-L, $130 (USD)

From the adorable embroidered star French lace to the grosgrain trims, this piece bra has pride of place in my personal lingerie wardrobe: I was absolutely overjoyed to receive it in the Lingerie Secret Santa of 2014! The buttonhole elastic gives this style some extra flexibility in fit compared to the rouleau loops of the original Kestos style.

'Frankie' bra by Toru & Naoko
Toru & Naoko ‘Frankie’ bra

‘Frankie’ bra by Toru & Naoko: available sizes XS-XXXL + custom, $65 USD

A decidedly edgy take on the 1920s style, with a wonderfully seductive fishnet fabric and centre O-ring detail. Toru & Naoko have the most extensive size range on this list and even offer custom options if none of the standard options work for you.

'Carla' bra by Absolutely Pom
‘Carla’ bra by Absolutely Pom

‘Carla’ bra by Absolutely Pom: available sizes FR 85A-95B, 110 Euros

The mix of exquisite French lace and layered mesh make for a delicious contrast of textures and teasing sheers. Hooks and eyes at the centre back make for a more modern finish,

'Dirty BLVD Tri' Bra by Kiss Me Quick
Kiss Me Quick ‘Dirty BLVD Tri’ Bra

‘Dirty BLVD Tri’ bra by Kiss Me Quick: available sizes S-L, cups A-C, D-E. $65 AUD

Stretch lace and frilly trims make this bralet a decidedly sweet and flirty piece to add to your wardrobe: and at only $65 AUD it’s a bargain for an indie made lingerie piece!

Chantal Thomass 'Rendez-Vous' bralet. Photo by Nancy Meyer
Chantal Thomass ‘Rendez-Vous’ bralet. Photo by Nancy Meyer

‘Rendez-Vous’ bralet by Chantal Thomass: available sizes S-L, $195 USD

This decidedly luxurious interpretation of the Kestos bralet stole my heart long ago: it’s certainly the most faithful  reproduction of the original in its materials and relatively unflexible fit. French lace and exquisite silk binding are finished with delicious ribbonwork floral motifs, a wonderfully apt trim for a piece inspired by the 1920s.

'Rosaline' set by Karolina Laskowska
‘Rosaline’ set by Karolina Laskowska

‘Rosaline’ bralet by Karolina Laskowska: available sizes S-L, £150

And to finish this list off, here is my own personal interpretation of the Kestos bralet! This was a piece I’d dreamed about for years. When I managed to acquire this delicious design of French lace and the orchid print silk, this design was simply inevitable! The lace has been carefully placement cut on the matching knicker and gold plated components give it a deliciously luxe finish. I modernised the fit with adjustabled elastic and a slightly more curved bust point than the original styles. It’s certainly my absolute favourite design from my last collection!

What do you think of the Kestos shape? Which of these designs is your favourite?

Vintage Appreciation: 1930s Silk Kestos Bra & Tap Pant Set with Ribbonwork Boudoir Cap

When it comes to lingerie history, I can easily pinpoint the 1920s and 1930s as my favourite eras.  In no other decades was such exquisite construction and attention to embellishment quite so commonplace. In my growing vintage collection, it’s always these pieces that I return to as inspiration. Elements like delicately hand finished silk binding and exquisite floral ribbonwork are just so utterly irresistible. I adore that this level of craftsmanship was considered far more the norm then it is in today’s fast fashion world and truly it is something to aspire to.

Silk Kestos-stye bra and tap pants, ribbonwork silk boudoir cap. Modelled by K. Laskowska, photography by Jessica Flavin
Silk Kestos-stye bra and tap pants, ribbonwork silk boudoir cap. Modelled by K. Laskowska, photography by Jessica Flavin

In this first installment of ‘Vintage Appreciation’ I’m looking at one of the jewels of my vintage collection: a 1930s ‘Kestos’ style bralet and tap pant set with a fantastically frivolous boudoir cap to top it off.  The Kestos bralet is a rather significant milestone in lingerie history. Patented in 1926, it was the first ever commercially available bra with seperately defined cups (prior to the 1920s, the ideal bust shape was the heavily structure ‘monoboob’, achieved with spectacular contraptions and padding known as bust improvers!).

Kestos style silk bralet. Strappy details most certainly aren't a modern invention! Photo by K Laskowska
Kestos style silk bralet. Strappy details most certainly aren’t a modern invention! Photo by K Laskowska

Kestos was a British brand, founded in London by Polish designer Rosaline Kiln: that may be one of the many reasons I feel such affection for this bra style! The Kestos bralet was characterised by its two lightly darted triangle cups (offering a subtle lift and seperation of the breasts that had previously not been seen in fashion). What is particularly striking about this style, however, are its intricate strapping structures: I am forever amused that these details are seen as modern inventions when they can be traced this far back! Although Kestos was a specific brand with a patented design, this of course didn’t prevent a multitude of copies arising. I am fairly certain that the silk bra in this blog post isn’t a genuine Kestos piece. It is certainly too intricate and detailed for a mass-produced utilitarian garment and lacks the signature label: but that’s what makes it so much more interesting…

Kestos style silk bra embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Kestos style silk bra embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

This bralet/tap pant set showcases an intricacy in hand finishing and embellishment that is almost entirely lacking in modern lingerie (indeed, the closest I’ve been able to find so far are the creations of Pillowbook!).  They feature beautifully elegant cording, embroidery and cutwork. I particularly adore the layering of silk satin over crepe: that contrast of textures is so subtle but delicious. The motifs are repeated on each cup of the bra and leg of the knickers: clearly painstaking hand work, yet so accurately repeated.

Kestos style silk bra inside hand finished binding detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Kestos style silk bra inside hand finished binding detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

Every element of these garments has been carefully considered and impeccably executed. The neck and underarm binding of the cups is exquisitely narrow. Even the wider underbust binding and the tap pant French seams are beautifully hand stitched for a near-invisible finish: no machine would be capable of such refined construction.

1930s silk tap pant embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
1930s silk tap pant embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

The tap pant itself is another great joy of mine; although its popularity has long since waned and outside independent brands you’re unlikely to find them, they remain my comfiest knicker style. Fitted at the waist with loose, voluminous hips and legs, they’re essentially knickers you forget that you’re wearing… With the added bonus that there’s an immense amount of satisfaction in their swishiness, particularly if they are cut on the bias.  Although my modern tap pant purchases lack such intricate embellishment, it does warm my heart that embroidery and lace appliqué were quite commonplace in bygone eras: I cannot wait to share more of my vintage tap pant collection with you!

1930s silk tap pant interior embroidery and cutwork stitching. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
1930s silk tap pant interior embroidery and cutwork stitching. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

It may seem a little strange to someone who doesn’t make garments themselves, but I always get the most satisfaction from the inside of garments. Lingerie doesn’t have the bulky linings of outerwear so this it the best way to get a garment to reveal its secrets. There’s an intense amount of joy I find in seeing the work that’s gone in to create the intricate outside shell of beautiful embellishment – particularly when it’s as neat as on these tap pants. The contrast between the two is quite stunning.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

Boudoir caps are a relatively recent discovery of mine. Although headwear is not necessarily something that someone might immediately put in the lingerie category, this garment rather does epitomise some of my greatest loves of lingerie. I’m almost a little saddened now at how these bonnets have become more-or-less obsolete; I sincerely doubt that many modern women don these in the boudoir to protect their hair styles! Nevertheless, I’m continuing to collect these beauties for the pure satisfaction of craftsmanship.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

Boudoir caps almost appear to be the perfect canvases for lingerie embellishment. They utilise the most beautiful fabrics: exquisite silk satins, fine tulles, intricate Schiffli embroideries and delicate leavers lace. Expensive techniques such as pleating and decorative smocking are commonplace. My personal favourite, however, remains ribbonwork.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

I truly adore the ribbonwork of this era. It’s almost as if you see a beautiful floral garden sprouting from the finest silk ribbons!  Having attempted the technique many times myself, I am truly in awe of the skill taken to create these gorgeous frills and rosettes.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

I hope that you enjoyed this first installment of ‘vintage appreciation’! Truly, the joy of these pieces is in the details. I’ll be back soon with some more of my favourite vintage pieces and some suggestions on where to find these styles in the modern lingerie world. Plus, of course, how this gorgeous bra inspired me to take my own modernised design twist!

Which of these pieces is your favourite? Would you ever wear one of these garment shapes?

My Secret Santa Gift 2015: Pillowbook Lingerie

Pillowbook Shhh... half cup bra and tap shorts. Photo by K Laskowska
Pillowbook Shhh… half cup bra and tap shorts. Photo by K Laskowska

Everyone who works in the lingerie industry will be fully aware of the run up to Christmas is one of the most stressful times of year. Whether it be the constant push for sales, the struggle of fulfilling higher than usual demands or the manic sewing in the run up, it’s not a particularly joyous time until the doors are finally shut for the holidays. Consequently, for the last few years I’ve been organising a Secret Santa specifically for independent lingerie designers. Everyone receives a beautiful lingerie gift from another designer. It’s an excellent pick me up at a manic time of year, especially since many designers can’t normally justify the expense of purchasing more pretty lingerie!

My freshly opened Lingerie Secret Santa gift from Pillowbook! Photo by K Laskowska
My freshly opened Lingerie Secret Santa gift from Pillowbook! Photo by K Laskowska

For the 2015 Secret Santa, I received my gift from Irene at Pillowbook: a couture lingerie brand specialising in exquisite silks based in Beijing. I’d been admiring the brand from afar for a while now. There’s a lot to love about their philosophy, from the focus on exquisite couture craftsmanship to the dedication to reducing fabric waste (all garments are made to order and offcuts are upcycled).

Beautiful personalised labels and silk wrapping from Pillowbook. Photo by K Laskowska
Beautiful personalised labels and silk wrapping from Pillowbook. Photo by K Laskowska

When I opened my gift, it honestly made me want to cry. It wasn’t just the beautiful wrapping (though the calligraphy paper, rope bows and matching silk pouch were all stunning!), but the perfection of construction and attention to detail. I can honestly say that I haven’t seen an equivalently well made piece of lingerie outside my 1930s lingerie collection; and trust me, that’s a big  deal. (as an aside – you’ll be getting to see the first of my vintage lingerie feature posts very soon!). I particularly adored the personal touches to the labels: each garment is signed off by the couturier who crafted it.

The Pillowbook Shhh... half cup bra and tap shorts in Midnight/Caramel. Photo by K Laskowska
The Pillowbook Shhh… half cup bra and tap shorts in Midnight/Caramel. Photo by K Laskowska

I received the Shhh… half cup bra and tap pants with a matching eyemask, in a beautiful ‘midnight’ blue and ‘caramel’ orangey red (though it’s worth noting that as each piece is made to order, you can customise the designs to your personal colour tastes!). Each piece is impeccably constructed. All seams are beautifully enclosed, with intricate art-deco taping embellishment and incredible attention to detail. The tap pants in particular blew me away: the hem on this piece is hand stitched precisely for an utterly seamless finish. The stitches are utterly tiny, so you can only see them if you’re looking for them with a keen eye: realistically, you could wear these shorts inside out and they’d still look beautiful!

Impeccable finishing on the Pillowbook 'Shhh...' tap shorts. Photo by K Laskowska
Impeccable finishing on the Pillowbook ‘Shhh…’ tap shorts. Photo by K Laskowska

The bra I absolutely adore because it’s the perfect mix of couture elegance and unashamed naughtiness. I’d like to think that’s a rather excellent representation of my personal lingerie style! The fit is utterly perfect and it’s the most flattering half cup/cupless bra that I own.  What’s particularly worth noting though is the beautiful custom clasp, featuring Pillowbook’s logo: such a beautiful interpretation of a functional closure. Perhaps not as suitable for everyday as a hook and eye but certainly preferred for special occasions.

Beautiful custom clasp by Pillowbook. Photo by K Laskowska
Beautiful custom clasp by Pillowbook. Photo by K Laskowska

Even the eyemask is impeccable: from the silk covered adjustable straps, to the beautiful sheer panel showcasing all the soft silk offcuts that are used to pad the piece out. Truly, it’s the most couture example of upcycling I’ve ever seen! I particularly adore the silk ‘pockets’ on this piece and the fact that they include organza wrapped rosebuds. They smell delightful, and I’ve since discovered that they can be used to make tea!

Pillowbook silk eyemask - I adore how you can see the shredded silk offcuts used as padding through the sheer silk 'window'! The rosebud organza pouches are another gorgeous touch. Photo by K Laskowska
Pillowbook silk eyemask – I adore how you can see the shredded silk offcuts used as padding through the sheer silk ‘window’! The rosebud organza pouches are another gorgeous touch. Photo by K Laskowska

You can read all about Irene’s Secret Santa experience on the Pillowbook blog. I’m sure that you may have managed to guess from this gushing post, but I am utterly in love with her brand. This gift was more than I could have ever imagined. I don’t want to totally overload this post with detail photos, as tempting as it is… So I’m sharing them over on tumblr!

Pillowbook 'Empress Noir' dudou - aren't these details the stuff of lingerie dreams? Sigh! Photo by Pillowbook
Pillowbook ‘Empress Noir’ dudou – aren’t these details the stuff of lingerie dreams? Sigh! Photo by Pillowbook

I’m already saving up for my next Pillowbook set: the brand has since released its new ‘Empress Noir’ collection which honestly makes me feel a bit giddy. From the graphic embroidery to the delicate silk knots… I have so much lingerie lust. This set will be mine this year, even if it means I buy no other lingerie!

Have you heard of Pillowbook Lingerie before? How much does the craftsmanship behind your lingerie mean to you?

Ink Progress

I am notoriously terrible at keeping dress diaries or recording the progress of garments. It was always my one of my least favourite elements of university assignments: when I get into the progress of creating something, I don’t want to continuously stop to record what I’m doing. I want to get absorbed and excited about the process, with no interruptions… Nevertheless, I sometimes manage to get a few phone snaps of the creation process, whether that be for instagram updates or to send to friends.  Ink was undoubtably my personal favourite out of all of my creations in 2015; it certainly wasn’t the most popular thing I made but it is most definitely the one I got the most satisfaction from. It’s a dramatic step forward for me in workmanship and in design.  So without further ado, here are some of my limited process photos; click the thumbnail to go through to the full colour image.

ink progress square 4 ink progress square 3ink progress square 2Ink progress square 1For the sake of clarity, the corset is twisting in the photo but this happens with all corsets with multipanelled construction courtesy of my wonky body. It also took over a week to wash the ink stains out of my hands – totally worth it. I’m working on some new bobbinet pieces this year (not just corsets!) which I hope to share with you in the near future!

And as ever, apologies for the silence… I promise this blog will be actively resurrected this year. I have so much content lined up (photoshoots finished, drafts written!) but it’s proving quite difficult to find the time away from the sewing machine to finish the posts!

Karolina xxx

Lingerie Secret Santa 2015

Lingerie Santa Pangolin, apparently now the Secret Santa Mascot! Illustrated by the wonderful Marianne Faulkner
Lingerie Santa Pangolin, apparently now the Secret Santa Mascot! Illustrated by the wonderful Marianne Faulkner

Believe it or not, this time of year is one of the most stressful for any independent brand. Having just weathered the likes of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, I would actually say the worst is over; I’ve resolved to not panic-sew any more stock this year and am feeling all the better for it. Nevertheless, with all the Christmas gift buying it’s still a very busy time of year for all of us lingerie designers, and one where we need all the additional cheer that we can get. That’s where the Lingerie Secret Santa comes in…

The Lingerie Secret Santa was an idea I had a couple of years ago; you’re probably familiar with the concept of a Secret Santa, where a group of people pick names out of a hat to give on person within the group an excellent gift, rather than everyone receiving something small. I’ve heard many a lingerie designer lament that despite their careers and love of beautiful underthings, they can rarely actually afford to buy themselves some lovely knickers. So I proposed the Lingerie Secret Santa: where everyone gifts some of their own designs and receives something beautiful in return. Rather than a randomised gifting scenario though, each pairing is carefully tailored to match up designers with something they’ll hopefully actually like and use, whether that be through sizing or personal taste.

The Lingerie Secret Santa is in its third year now, and it’s got bigger than I’d ever imagined – there’s nearly thirty designers involved this year! (and actually, I’ve had to draft in help from the ever wonderful Catherine at Kiss Me Deadly to help me manage to organisational email deluge – you can read her post about the swap here). Trying to pair designers up was an interesting and tricky experience this year; it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that minority groups are quite unrepresented in indie lingerie brands (and would you believe it, everyone involved is a woman!). Nevertheless, after much flailing in the direction of Catherine and some thinking outside of the box, we managed to get everyone matched with someone we think will really love their designs. Also, we now have a mascot in the form of a Pangolin. Catherine explained the origins over here but quite frankly, I feel there shouldn’t be questions about this anyway because PANGOLIN.

Daniela lace tap pants, socks and custom bralet by Karolina Laskowska
Daniela lace tap pants, socks and custom bralet by Karolina Laskowska

For my gift this year, I decided to go with one of my specialities: beautiful French Chantilly lace. My giftee is receiving a custom bralet, tap pants and boudoir socks in my signature ‘Daniela’ style – with a little bit of cheeky luxurious custom embellishment, in the form of black pearl beading and jet Swarovski crystals… I do hope their new owner loves them as much as I enjoyed stitching them! Can you guess who my gift is going to?

You can also see my gift from last year in this blog post – a custom set in vintage lace with pearl beading and polka dot silk.

Now that Black Friday madness is out of the way, I’ll be shouting about this event on social media a lot more! Follow the gifting loveliness with the tag #lingeriesecretsanta – I know that I’ll be drooling over the beautiful lingerie that’s going to be flying all over the world to lovely new homes. You can see a full list of the brands involved this year below!

Toru and Naoko

Sugar Lace Lingerie

Pamela Cooper Intimates

Edge Of Beyond

Uye Surana

Nubian Skin

Love Pillowbook

Ayten Gasson

Karolina Laskowska

Raven Dreams

Almeida

Playful Promises

All Undone

Kayleigh Peddie

Orchid Corsetry

Betty Blues Loungerie

Evgenia

Sandmaiden

Little Women

Nearer The Moon

Maraki

She And Reverie

Harlow and Fox

Kiss Me Deadly

Dotties Delights

Ava Corsetry

Hopeless

Ell And Cee

And finally – if you’re a lingerie designer and want to join the swap next year, please get in touch! (Please note that joining the swap is based on criteria such as social media following, functioning E-commerce and general lingerie enthusiasm!). And for those of you that aren’t designers, I hope you receive lots of joyful lingerie this holiday season!

Karolina xx

Up close: Ink Cupped Corset

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, polaroid by Jenni Hampshire
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, polaroid by Jenni Hampshire

It is a rare occurrence indeed that I am actually pleased with something I’ve made. Call it the ‘creative curse’ if you will, but almost every time I make a garment it doesn’t take long for me to become intensely dissatisfied with it. Either I get bored with the design or think of a million things that could be improved.

The Ink corset in action: my outfit for the Oxford Conference of Corsetry 2015 dinner. Corset by Karolina Laskowska, gown by Gareth Pugh.
The Ink corset in action: my outfit for the Oxford Conference of Corsetry 2015 dinner. Corset by Karolina Laskowska, gown by Gareth Pugh.

Bizarrely enough, the ‘Ink’ corset is a piece that I can honestly say that I’m happy with. I can recognise that there’s several flaws in it, but that doesn’t affect my love of the piece. This piece was the first style in which I attempted the ‘keyhole’ cut out in a cupped corset; cupped corsets are tricky at the best of times, but in my usual haphazard approach I didn’t bother toiling it. Somehow, be it fluke or reliable pattern blocks, the final garment came together exactly as I’d hoped.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire

This was the second corset which I’d made using cotton bobbinet. The first piece I’d made left certain elements to be desired when it came to fit and had the additional issue in that it was a closed front (never a fun style to dress yourself in). When I started this piece, I had two primary aims: to create cups that fit correctly (as in a bra), and to use a busk.  These might sound like somewhat simple goals but they brought with themselves a whole slew of challenges…

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Marianne Faulkner
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Marianne Faulkner

I briefly covered my love of cotton bobbinet in my write up on the ‘Klimt’ corset. It’s a delightful fabric for corsetry: strong enough to shape the body, but lightweight enough for a flexible fit. Putting cups into coutil or crin can be incredibly challenging due to the extreme bulk of these heavy fabrics: bobbinet makes the stitching process much easier and more accurate.  Nevertheless, its loose weave brings its own challenges. It can’t take strain as easily as coutil. I wanted this corset to be made completely of bobbinet, without using coutil on the harder-wearing areas. This meant that there needed to be additional re-enforcement around the busk and eyelets to prevent the fabric from tearing. On these areas, I ended up using 4 layers of the bobbinet, as well as 3 layers of a sheer tight-weave nylon normally used to line lingerie. I wasn’t entirely convinced at the time that this would be enough to prevent eyelets or busk ripping out of the fabric, but fortunately the corset seems to have survived fairly significant wear unscathed so far!

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska

Although partially an aesthetic decision, I originally decided to use this keyhole as a method of improving cup fit. Cupped corsets encounter a lot of difficulties in this area, as the rigid and structured nature of a corset prevents the normal tension and elastication that a bra would have from molding the cups to the body. This becomes particularly challenging when a corset uses a busk, as the busk width means the cups are forced further apart from one another than is ideal. By creating this cut out, it meant I could interrupt the busk lower down on the body, allowing the cups to meet at the centre front and close with a hook and eye.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska

I took a slightly different approach in the pattern cutting of this corset: I focused more on integrating a corset into the cups, rather than cups into a corset. The cups are lightly padded with foam for structure, and the wire is placed onto the cups rather than the corset cradle. This was also my first experiment with integrating one of my signature adjustable bra underbands into the cups: extending out from the side seam, this allows the wearer to adjust the band to fit their body and to place enough tension on the cups to spring the bra wire open.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska

The main corset body is multi-panelled, with lightweight twill tape as internal bone casings. This corset has approximately 10 panels per side, with lightweight 5mm spiral steel bones supporting the structure. The curves of this corset are significant but not particularly extreme: I wanted them to emphasise my existing shape rather than significantly changing it. The busk is one of my favourite parts of this corset: it is an antique, and features slightly squarer shaped loops and a soft ‘spoon’ shaped curve. It’s nowhere near as extreme as traditional spoon busks but has a much softer effect: I’m a bit heartbroken that this is type of busk is no longer manufactured!

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, antique busk detail
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, antique busk detail

Initially this corset was an experiment with patterning and techniques, so I didn’t have a concrete plan on how I wanted to embellish the piece. Originally I had thought of delicate French lace appliqué in bold black and white, in a mix of symmetrical and assymetrical placement. I cut an outer of scalloped lace for the cups on the assumption that this would be the corset’s final aesthetic, before my plans went dramatically awry…

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, cup detail
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, cup detail

The act of painting a garment, particularly one with so many hours in its construction, always strikes me as one of risk. You have to give up a certain amount of control that has otherwise driven the process of creation and there’s no way of telling the direction that the final garment will go…

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska - hip detail
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska – hip detail

I’ve always adored working with ink. When it comes to painting, I am incapable of being precise and precious, so I choose to embrace the total opposite approach: chaos. The process of painting this corset was immeasurably fun. Dripping ink, splashing it, dunking the corset in water and letting it bleed… I particularly adore the effect it’s had on the lace, with the layering of texture and tone between the chantilly threads and the solid foam  below.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire

I suppose one of the main reasons that I’m so pleased with this piece is the rawness that the ink has brought to it. So often, lingerie is completely focused on precision and perfection. Although this corset still carries those elements (after all, this many seams need 1mm accuracy in stitching), the act of painting and ‘ruining’ the original garment was a welcome break from the traditional prettiness of underwear and corsetry.  This is definitely an aesthetic that I wish to explore more in future: deliberate acts of vandalism towards garments that have already eaten so many hours of precise construction.

What do you think of painting garments? Would you ever take this risk with something you were making?

Up Close: Klimt Corset Dress

Corset by Karolina Laskowska, modelled by Threnody in Velvet, photography by Chris Murray
This pose may have started out as a joke… The problem is that I’m a bit of a metalhead and quite enjoy being a little sacrilegious in a church. Corset by Karolina Laskowska, modelled by Threnody in Velvet, photography by Chris Murray

This corset was created as my showpiece for the Oxford Conference of Corsetry. One of the curses of creativity is the constant dissatisfaction with what you make (or at least, in my case!). Of the 7 or so corsets that I created in the run up to the event, this was the last one that I started. It was also the only one I had a concrete design idea for and the only one that turned out exactly how I’d imagined.

Corset by Karolina Laskowska. Modelled by Threnody in Velvet. Photography by Chris Murray.
Corset by Karolina Laskowska. Modelled by Threnody in Velvet. Photography by Chris Murray.

This dress was a development on a cupped bobbinet corset dress that I also had photographed at the conference; a similar base, but totally different approaches to embellishment.  Both pieces started with a cotton bobbinet base: a lightweight tulle net that is created in a similar manner to lace. In a double layer, it is strong enough to sculpt the body. There’s a small amount of give to this fabric: not enough to ‘stretch’ as such, but enough to mold beautifully around curves.

Corset by Karolina Laskowska
Corset by Karolina Laskowska

The centre front and back panels are created in an outer layer of silk duchess and lining of cotton coutil. The centre front has concealed boning and has a bound top edge leading to a keyhole cutout beneath the cups with a velvet loop for a detachable harness.

Corset by Karolina Laskowska
Corset by Karolina Laskowska

Cups are made of a foam lining for a smooth and sculpted shape and an outer of silk duchess and exquisite French leavers lace, fastening together with a hook and eye. This lace is one of the most striking designs that I’ve come across in recent years: I’ve been struggling to find a use for it for nearly a year. Putting it into lingerie seemed almost a waste: any lingerie that I create for the purpose of sale has to have a certain amount of limitations in an attempt to keep the price at somewhere vaguely commercial. The cost of this particular lace style means that using a scallop on the designs of cups for example would push the retail price beyond £250 for a bra.  Whilst this would make for a lovely showpiece, I wouldn’t want to invest so much time in the design, pattern cutting and grading of a piece knowing that I wouldn’t be guaranteed to sell it in a certain amount of volume.

Corset by Karolina Laskowska
Corset by Karolina Laskowska

One of the elements of my recent cupped corsets that I’m particularly proud of is that the fit of the cups. Cupped corsets as a rule encounter feature a certain amount of fit issues. Metal bra wires as a rule rely on the stretch and tension found in a bra to ‘spring’ open and fit around the body, something that isn’t generally found within rigid corsetry.  This is something that I’ve managed to work around by building in something akin to a bra wing, in my signature adjustable style.

Corset by Karolina Laskowska
Corset by Karolina Laskowska

The embellishment was where I had the most fun – and I suspect that shows! I’d had some somewhat limited experience working with gold leaf many years ago, as part of my AS-level Fine Art coursework. At the time, I’d had somewhat of an obsession with Catholic icons and their sheer opulence.  I’ve never been a particularly accurate painter so I never intended to try and approach this corset with any sense of precision. It was to be a total opposite attitude to delicate lace appliqué and beading.  This is one of the reasons that I created this corset with a closed front: as a larger canvas for painting, rather than splitting it into panels with a busk. Of course, this caused a few problems later on: dressing a closed front corset dress with closely-spaced eyelets isn’t exactly a walk in the park suffice to say…

Corset by Karolina Laskowska
Corset by Karolina Laskowska

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the gilding process was a lot of fun. The floor and mannequin were covered in a lovely selection of plastic bin bags whilst I began painting and dripping size around the corset with a certain amount of enthusiasm.  As it began to get tacky, I’d apply the gold leaf: admittedly, with a sense of trepidation. I’d been a little irresponsible and had bough a small book of 24ct gold leaf, rather than going for a couple of books’ worth of a less pure gold. Fortunately, there was just enough gold to achieve what I’d been hoping. Faded, golden drips, splashing down from the top edges of the corset.

Corset by Karolina Laskowska
Corset by Karolina Laskowska

Admittedly, this piece was pattern cut to fit my body specifically; I tend to use my figure as my ‘sample’ size. It is admittedly the wrong size for Morgana.  The cups are a size too small and the rest of the garment a couple of inches too big. Nevertheless, it did the job for some gorgeous photos. I’d still like to have this shot without the high-waisted leggings underneath (a requirement of modesty around the Jesus college campus!): you can’t quite get the full impression of the delightful sheerness of the bobbinet.

Corset by Karolina Laskowska. Modelled by Threnody in Velvet. Photography by Chris Murray.
Corset by Karolina Laskowska. Modelled by Threnody in Velvet. Photography by Chris Murray.

Out of all the pieces that I made this Summer, this was the only one that I felt satisfied with from the moment it was finished (which is rather an odd experience for me!).  This gilding technique is definitely something that I’d like to revisit – perhaps not commercially viable for lingerie but it certainly has a striking effect.

What do you think of this gilding embellishment? Do you love this French lace as much as I do?