The big SQUEEZE during recession; Consumer Editor EMMA McKINNEY discovers a pop-up corset shop hoping its designs won't leave Birmingham shoppers' pockets too cinched in Corsets are 'the very antithesis of control knickers'.
ACCORDING to the Queen's underwear makers, Rigby & Peller, the corset trade is booming.
The upmarket firm says sales of its traditional corsets this year are up 45 per cent on 2011. And shopping website eBay has reported a staggering 185 per cent rise in the number of corsets sold online in the last three months.
The news comes as no surprise to Jenni Hampshire, who has just opened Sparklewren, a pop-up corset shop in Birminghas m city centre.
Despite the fact her designs cost from pounds 400 for a simple design up to a staggering pounds 15,000 for a corseted wedding dress, the 29-year-old has orders flooding in from around the world.
"I don't worry about the current economic climate," she says. "What I make is a luxury item, and the luxury market never seems to suffer during a recession.
"If I was selling cheaper corsets at around pounds 100, I would be targeting a very different market that would probably not have the money to spare that they once did, but for most of my customers money is no object."
It's not surprising that Jenni's products come with hefty price tags, given the extensive work that goes into each piece.
"It can take from 20 hours to over 200, depending on how detailed the corset is or whether it's part of a bridal gown," she explains. "They can be incredibly elaborate and some of the materials I use include expensive Swarovski crystals or delicate vintage lace." Among her clients is world-famous showgirl and burlesque queen Immodesty Blaize, who modelled some of Jenni's corsets at the launch of the new shop in Great Western Arcade, Colmore Row. However, Jenni admits her life now is a far cry from her days as a disillusioned fine arts graduate working in a bakery.
"I finished university feeling like I hadn't learned any new skills, just a lot of theory behind art," says Jenni. "I'd sort of given up and resigned myself to working in a bakery. "But I loathed it and after six months into it I realised I had to do something as I couldn't take it any more.'' The amateur sewer then began teaching herself how to make corsets, but soon discovered it was no simple task. "My first few corsets were a disaster," she says. "But it just made me more determined to try harder. "The more I practised the better I became and I strive to make each new corset more beautiful than the last. "For me they are a piece of art, which celebrates the female silhouette."
Her customers include corset collectors, whose missions are to own a piece from every corsetier in the world. "They collect them just as they would art," adds Jenni. "They are something to treasure and enjoy, not only for their practical use but also for their aesthetical beauty." Not everyone shares Jenni's love of corsets, which date back as far as the 16th century and were often used to reduce a woman's waist to give her a more fashionable hourglass figure. In the 19th century it became common for corsets to be laced progressively tighter, forcing the ribs upwards and squashing the soft tissue at the waist, leading to all sorts of health issues and permanent deformity.
But Jenni says her bespoke designs, made with steel boning and rich fabrics, are not about constricting women. "Far from subjugating the female form, the corset is making a positive statement of our feminine curves because it is designed to be seen on the body, not hidden away, so is the very antithesis of control knickers," she adds. FROM PAGE 27 Her pop-up store doubles as a workshop and comes after Jenni has spent almost three years running her business from her home in the Jewellery Quarter.
It will open until Christmas, and is not the first pop-up shop to be created by the Great Western Arcade. Currently, ten of the mall's 42 units are empty but the arcade refuses to give up hope and has been thinking outside the box in a bid to beat the retail industry's demise. Bosses of the arcade, which dates back to 1875, are continually coming up with innovative ways to make the most out of a bad situation. Last September they turned another empty unit into a temporary shop for artist Elizabeth Whitehouse, and they now hope Jenni's store could become a permanent fixture if it is a success.
The arcade's manager, Gay Faulkner, explains: "This is about giving businesses a chance that they might not otherwise have had. "It also creates more interest in the arcade by both consumers and retailers alike. "It's also great to have another independent store in the arcade, it makes it a real shopping destination with a niche market, offering consumers something a little bit different." For more information visit www.sparklewren. co.uk or email jenni@ sparklewren.co.uk
Up front: Burlesque queen Immodesty Blaize caused quite a stir among stoppers when she modelled corsets at the opening of a new pop-up shop in the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham.