We visited the atelier Alige, where Alice welcomed us and explained how works today a corset maker.
You are a corset maker. Can you tell us about your training and your career?
My great grandmother was French, and she made corsets at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. My grandmother moved to Milan from France, and between the two Wars, sold clothing and made custom-designed bathing suits for those who could afford to go on holiday. My mother did not follow in their footsteps, but took up a completely different line of work, whereas I sewed when I was a little girl. I found some of my grandmothers’ patterns, and it was a wonderful discovery, but I’m actually truly self-taught. I have always had a soft silhouette and very particular tastes: in stores I never found anything I really liked. Fashion has never interested me: I hate eccentricity for its own sake. Then the fashion industry forces you to adapt to cuts that in the most widespread sizes fit well on hardly anyone. Today I dress normal girls, not people who are extremely thin and 1.90 metres tall. So at the age of thirteen, I was already making clothes with a sewing machine. At sixteen, the passion for making corsets awakened in me. I learned the basics of sewing from my grandmother, and then I continued on my own for years, buying practically every existing book on the subject and experimenting with different materials and forms, following through with the evolution of my tastes. I did a degree in advertising at the Milan Politecnico, but I knew what path to take, and so after hundreds of corsets and finally perfect seams, I opened my business five years ago.
At sixteen, the passion for making corsets awakened in me. I learned the basics of sewing from my grandmother, and then I continued on my own for years, buying practically every existing book on the subject and experimenting with different materials and forms...
That is why some of my clients choose my creations: to give themselves a different look. There are those who wear them day and night, so I have to create perfectly comfortable corsets.
How is a corset made? Why do your clients choose them?
A corset is a garment composed of various pieces of cloth joined by channels with flat or spiral slats (I use the latter, which are more expensive, but stronger because more flexible). I personally love corsets with a lot of vertical seams, because I think that vertical lines look good on the body. And then every corset maker has his or her own tastes, but for me, the fundamental thing is that every centimetre of the article of clothing must be perfect. If for some reason a client has to undo one of my corsets, she would find that the lining also has perfect seam lines.
Why would anyone buy a corset?
Some of my clients contact me with a precise idea: “I want this corset corset to wear under a sheath dress” or “I want a corset that will give me this or that shape”.
I love to give shape to the body, but without forcing the bones and the chest. I am not a doctor, but I know that today’s women could not stand to wear a historical dress: they would feel ill. Today, no one has a waistline like they did at the beginning of the twentieth century, because at the time, lingerie was different. Today we wear low-waisted clothing, while at the time, wearing a corset every day changed the physiognomy of the “soft parts”. That is why some of my clients choose my creations: to give themselves a different look. There are those who wear them day and night, so I have to create perfectly comfortable corsets.
What are the rules for wearing a corset without suffering?
I always give rules to whoever buys a corset: never binge, for example, and if you wear one every day, you should only have small meals frequently during the day. If you feel bloated, or if it is too hot, it’s better not to wear a corset. When you wear a corset, you should feel comfortable. Until 1930, it was a piece of lingerie that all women wore: you just have to know how to use it.
Who are your clients?
I have had clients from 17 to 68 years old, men and women. From the woman who wants to reduce her waistline to wear a sheath or elegant dress, to young girls who want a sophisticated corset for an evening out, to the bride who wants special lingerie for the first night with her husband (I also make bras, panties, garter belts...), or those who want a corset for their wedding dress, so much so that they entrust me with the creation of the entire outfit. Or there are men who want to hide a corpulent waistline, or have a more feminine waistline. I enjoy collaborating with many burlesque performers, for whom I create eccentric, exclusive stage costumes. I also create fashion articles for some designers, and design and produce in standard sizes for firms. I also work for shops that suggest custom-designed pieces for their clients.
How do you meet your clients?
The boutique chains that I work for are Italian, French and American. The Americans want the made-in-Italy brand, and in Italy there are not many of us in this trade, so I can be found easily, even through my site. Then word-of-mouth automatically catches some. Private customers who come to me from Milan usually meet me this way. I have done trade fairs for years, but I understand that it is not the best way to do things: my pieces are custom-made, and I prefer to have a direct relationship with the client.
Would you advise young people to take up a career like yours? What training should they seek?
There is no specific training. You can still find corset-makers who make women’s corsets and they can teach you, but only the basics, because corsets have a completely different form.
You have to go abroad to learn, in France (where the legendary Mr. Pearl works), or in England, and then gradually develop your personal tastes. I have the impression that today’s young people so not understand the value of work: in the beginning you have to pay for the materials, make mistakes and learn, but you can’t improvise and think you can sell. Self-criticism is fundamental in order to continue to improve. In the beginning, I was made fun of because I was doing my job without a diploma in fashion. But if you believe in what you’re doing, you have to keep on doing it, get better and do it with passion. You have to be fast and precise. If you ever make a mistake, you have to take everything apart and start again: the work must be perfect.
There is no lack of work, but it is hard and you can’t be lazy; you have to work all the time, and always to the maximum of your ability.