The Fashion Statement: It's a Cinch!
Women's Wear Daily, the so-called bible of the fashion industry and my former employer, wrote an interesting article this week about how corset sales are up in the U.K. thanks to the influence of Rihanna (above) and Lady Gaga.
The piece said women in London are snapping up corsets in the intimates departments and wearing them to the discos. It's such the rage, Selfridges Oxford Street posted a 70 percent increase in sales in November compared with the same month last year. The article goes on to say that the trend of underwear worn as outerwear is more popular that ever.
Rihanna and Lady Gaga are not the first divas to go corset crazy, of course. The corset, which has existed in womenswear for hundreds of years, now represents sex, fetish, bondage, body modifications -- all the good racy stuff that shocks us and slightly turns us off and really turns us on. It worked for Madonna. Why not Rihanna and Lady Gaga? And why not a million other girls?
In my 15 years covering the fashion, I've always suspected the edgiest fashion (streetwear, rock and roll, punk) appears to change more slowly than conservative fashion (contemporary, designer). Because it doesn't have to. Spikes always provoke us. Punk hair that resembles a frill-necked dragon always pushes our buttons. Exposed body parts always unnerve us just a little (OK, maybe not all of us). Corsets always work. Every time.
There are a few other masters of the shock game and all of them make ample use of the corset. Jean Paul Gaultier, of course, through Madonna in the '80s as I mentioned.
Vivienne Westwood, the queen of corsets, sums it up perfectly. "As soon as you begin to use a word like 'radical' to describe fashion you are faced with a paradox: in order to do anything original you have to build it on tradition," she says.
That's what corsets are: tradition turned on its head. That's what gets us going. Pure drama. When fashion knocks us off kilter, we have a visceral response. We're slightly uncomfortable or even turned off. But we never forget it because the emotion is intense.
No wonder all these girls want a piece of the action.