Corsetry is all about art, science”¦and attitude. I was fortunate to sit down with the Queen of Corsets, Poupie Cadolle, at the Salon International de la Lingerie in Paris to gain some valuable insight into her world.
We started with some basic definitions. Corsets have no elasticity and are fastened with lacing. Any garment with elastin or a zipper is, by definition, a bustier and not a corset. Corsets, as defined by Cadolle, are also made with steel boning, as steel does not lose its shape. Plastic can warp as it warms up, which can mean losing the line of the structured body the corset creates. In Cadolle’s corsets, there are four different kinds of steel in a single garment, varying by width, thickness and gauge. The steel is placed in thick velvet tubes to protect the body, and the entire garment is lined in cotton.
Cadolle corsets are also renowned for featuring a shape with a gracefully rounded bust line, without squeezing or flattening. Given the firm materials used in a corset, it’s a challenge to create that curvy silhouette, and working since 1889 to perfect the bustline is just part of what sets a Cadolle corset apart. A custom fit also helps to make the lines optimally flattering on a woman’s figure.
Not every woman seeks to wear a corset, although they are much more prevalent in Europe and some Asian countries than in the US. Cadolle shared her thoughts as to why that disparity exists.
More than anything tangible, the difference between a European foundation garment shopper and one from the US is cultural, according to Cadolle. The US market tends to want comfort and fashion, while Europeans tend to be more willing to be a little uncomfortable in order to achieve the look they like. European women like to, “play with the men. There’s a desire to please men that exists [in Europe] but not so much in New York.”
Cadolle also notices that American women tend to dress up for occasions, and in ways that emphasize what other people see. The European approach is geared more toward fashion every day, and dressing up for how a woman sees herself, not just how others will see her. This may be why European women are more inclined to spend for undergarments that are worn all the time, while American women tend to identify their lingerie distinctly as “everyday” or “special occasion.”
Said another way, Cadolle suggests that Americans focus on sex (the destination), while the European market emphasizes romance (the journey).
Of course, these are generalizations, and yet they are interesting observations that get to a core question – assuming that these generalities tend to be true, what does it mean for the US lingerie market, and what can we learn from our European sisters when it comes to bringing more romance to our every day lives? I invite readers to share their thoughts on my Facebook page.