An interview with Mr. Pearl
Mr. Pearl is a genius. The creator of the most stunning corsets to thrill the high fashion world, over the years works have graced the collections of Christian Lacroix, Thierry Mugler, Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano and also appeared in Walter van Beirendonck’s most recent menswear offering.
Mr. Pearl wrapped Kylie Minogue in a captivating corsage for her 2005 ‘Showgirl’ tour. In a rare lapse into good taste, Victoria Beckham, too, had a wedding corset made by none other than Mr. Pearl.
A native South African, Mr. Pearl first went to London before settling in Paris where he has lived and worked for some years.
The Corset Meister himself is laced up 24/7 in one of the exclusive garments, thereby reducing his waistline to a breathtakingly tiny circumference.
In an interview, Mr. Pearl reveals how a good corset works and why it is essential to allow yourself time to reach your goals:
C.R: Which materials do you use to create your designs? Do you have a favorite material to work with?
P: Yes, silk!
C: How do you create the stronger inlays and the structures that keep the silhouette tight?
P: You use Coutil, which a corsetry fabric that you back the silk with. It’s made of 100% cotton so it’s all-natural.
C. Oh, that’s good, so it’s washable?
P: No, No! You don’t wash corsets! They loose their shape if you wash them.
C: Ah! But is there a way of cleaning it, or do you wear something underneath?
P: Oh, I clean by hand.
C: So it’s a very delicate thing to wear.
C: Do you have a favorite corset silhouette?
P: Yes of course: the straight front, S-bend shape is for me the most amazing. But, as such, it’s really virtually not seen today, so nobody really knows how (good) this can look. But from photographs of people at the turn of the (last) century, you can get some idea.
C: Do you also do straight front, S-shape corsets?
P: I tried, but it’s not possible to create this shape, because you need a trained body to wear it.
C: This brings me to a question about different bodies and the corset: what do you think of corpulence, of body fat? Could you translate the idea of corsetry to a corpulent body?
P: Yes of course, because it is very voluptuous for somebody with this shape to be corseted! It can be very interesting to have a large figure in a corset.
C: Because to me it always seemed to be connected to a very tight shape and the idea of not allowing your body to put on too much fat, so for you it could also be interesting to imagine a corset on a more massive body?
P: Yes, I think it can be fascinating.
C: I was amazed to find that the history of the corset is so old. I read that the Cretans had corsets 4000 years ago!
P: Yes, the Phoenicians!
C: Do you have a favorite historical period in corset culture?
P: Well, the swan song of the corset is really my favorite period; the end of it’s glory days between 1890 - 1900.
C: Oh yes, a fabulous time. Up until then corsets were worn by both men and women. Why do you think the male corset is such a rarity these days?
P: Oh, I think people have just become very lazy, that’s all. They’ve become very involved with T-shirt culture.
C: Wearing this kind of lazy underwear style really can become so very boring.
P: Yes, I think a bit of foundation is a good idea!
C: The Renaissance corset was made to basically mold the female body into a more male form. From baroque times until the 19th century it slowly took on a more female connotation. Do you think, there’s still an ongoing development, or has corsetry found a form in which it will now remain?
P: (Corsetry) seems to be founded more on (body) form, because the bodies that wear corsets are actually projecting the shape that they are, and there’s no real corset silhouette at the moment. It seems to vary depending on the person, if they are voluptuous or not, if they train their bodies or not. So it means that there is no particular style.
C: You wear corsets yourself, don’t you? How did it start?
P: I was very interested in this experience. I wanted to know more about it through wearing corsets myself. I believe it’s part of my research to wear a corset; to understand what a corset is about. When you make a corset, you need to know certain things.
C: What do you enjoy most about wearing a corset?
P: Well, it’s very comforting. It holds you in a particular way, which can be very reassuring.
C: How important is the aspect of comfort in a corset?
P: It’s very important! It needs to fit well, to be comfortable. Of course there will be some minor discomforts, but that’s part of it. It’s important to be comfortable so you can wear it the whole day without having any problems. It needs to be very smooth inside and well fitted, then you’ll have no problems wearing it.
C: You also practice tight-lacing. Did you start tight-lacing right away, or did it take some time?
P: In the beginning it was difficult to bear the tight lacing, but it comes to a point where you can. It’s quite a slow process. I started late, so I had to catch up! I had to force my body, whereas in the past, corsetry was introduced in childhood.
C: I heard it used to start around the age of twelve.
C: Do you know anyone who does it at such a young age today?
P: No, I don’t know any child that wears a corset.
C: I imagine a partner is vital for tight-lacing? Do you have help, or do you tight-lace alone?
P: I tight-lace alone; it’s no problem.
C: So you do all the fixing and closing yourself?
P: Yes, you can do it yourself.
C: There are lots of rumors about the dangers of tight-lacing. I’ve read about deformed inner organs and things like that. What do you think about these concerns?
P: I’m not concerned with them at all! I’m only interested in wearing a corset, no matter what the result will be.
C: I personally think there’s no danger involved.
P: No, there isn’t. It just needs to be done gently and then I believe there’s no danger. I’ve had no problems with eating or my digestion or anything like that.
C: Are there any limits to tight-lacing? Is there a point that you reach and stay with or is it an evolving goal?
P: An evolving goal is a good way to say it. But, of course, the body has its limits, and it depends on the shape of the body, of the bone-structure especially. It depends a lot on that. It depends on how flexible you are. So you can only go so far and there’s really no way to go very much further.
C: So you have a form that you can reach, and than you can keep it and enjoy it?
C: If you create a new design for a customer, what is the procedure, how do you approach a new design?
P: Well, the client orders something. Depending on what they wish, I would then maybe make a sketch, if they want. I not I immediately begin to make a trial, which is for the fitting and made exactly like the corset will be made, just a little more roughly. Then one commences with fittings, normally there are three or four fittings, sometimes even five or six; it depends. After that, all the adjustments are made on the model. If the adjustments are not too great, you can alter the existing model or otherwise make a whole new trial, which means starting all over from the beginning again. Sometimes you have to make three different trials, it depends...
Then I make it in the fabric that they have chosen and try it once more, when it’s nearly finished. So then it’s finished and up to them to wear it!
C: Do you get responses from people who have worn your designs for some time? Good responses, I suppose!
P: Yes, I hope so!
C: Something about corset wearing that I would be interested to know: how long did it take you to achieve your current waistline?
P: About ten years.
C: And you now you have the waistline that you’re happy with?
P: Oh, not really, no! I’d like a much smaller waistline! But maybe I’ve become a bit lazy...
C: Too much work, perhaps!
P: Yes, maybe..
C: So what would be your ideal waistline?
P: Oh, very small! I would like to be very, very small!
C: Do you have a sort of “tight-lacing hero”?
P: Yes, Fakir Musafar. He was waisting down to 15 to 18 inches! There’s a beautiful photograph of him, called ‘The Perfect Gentleman’. In this photograph he’s wearing a shirt and tie and (has) a very small waist. That’s really one of my favorite pictures ever!
C: The corset appears throughout the centuries, also finding its way into literature. Do you have a literary hero, too; someone whose writings you adore?
P: Yes, Marcel Proust!
C: Proust, oh yes! I can imagine him wearing a corset! Do you know if he did?
P: No, maybe he did...
C: It would be a great image!
P: Oh yes.
C: Thank you very, very much for this inspiring and interesting interview; it’s been a pleasure talking with you!
P: Thank you, too! Take care!