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PUBLISHED: 11:53 15 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013

Corsets and Gillian Wesley

Corsets and Gillian Wesley

Modern women shape up with Victorian style

Modern women shape up with Victorian style

They are most usually associated with the Victorian era, but Catherine Thompson discovers corsets are still popular with many women of today. She talks to corsetiere Gillian Wesley in her Kenilworth studio.

I met Gillian at a networking do, being striking and compelling I was drawn to her but unlike the rest of us who were dressed suitably corporate chic; she was looking very sophisticated in corset, one, it transpired, she had made herself.

Now having a corsetiere in my social set appealed, so I quickly ingratiated myself and coffee and a show-around at her studio in Kenilworth were swiftly agreed.

I turned up at her door - having given great consideration to my own foundation garment - to find her between finishing a rush job and giving directions to her 'lady-that-does' in the garden.

Gillian is a Warwickshire girl and dress making and tailoring is in her blood. Her great-grandmother ended up a single parent raising five children and took in tailoring work to help feed them. She was unable to manage so she sent Gillian's grandfather to an orphanage.

Whilst it did sound rather Dickensian, the positive aspect was that he was educated and taught his trade, to be a tailor. Then he too found himself raising a family single-handed after his wife died. He would make his daughter dresses so she would not miss-out on the things a mother would do. At this point Gillian roots around a box of mementos and finds an old picture of her mother in a dress her grandfather had made.

Whilst Gillian is taking a call from a client, I have a quick snoop round her box and find her school report from Thorn School in Kenilworth. She laughs as she catches me in the act and tells me that she kept this particular report because, whilst her grades were generally mediocre, she was marked as outstanding in dressmaking.

So why did she specialise in corsetry? She explains that when she had her son, Adam (now 16), she was taking in dressmaking for pin money but she really wanted to be properly qualified and have her own business.

She went to college as a mature student to study fashion design in her early thirties and developed an interest in making wedding dresses and, in particular, the corset style tops. Her passion developed as she enjoyed the opportunity for personal expression in individually decorating each of the corsets she designs for her clients.

I want to play now so she lets me try a couple on. The first thing I notice is my bosoms suddenly look magnificent and low and behold, I have a waist! Interestingly I do not feel the slightest bit like strumpet but really quiet sexy and powerful.

"Typical clients," says Gillian, "are normally women who tend to be slightly older, thirty-something's. Women who are already confident or those who want to be more so. It is so rewarding seeing the transformation that takes place when a woman views herself in a corset for the first time."

I have to admit I agree. I have been quietly trying to work out which of my potential gentlemen suitors would stump up for one of Gillian's bespoke corset. I will work on that one!

Interestingly Gillian's youngest client is just 15, she has curvature of the spine and Gillian has made her a special corset, which helps her to sit upright. It has been a blessing to this young woman because the alternative was metal braces. She wears her new corset everyday because she feels so 'trendy' in it

A text arrives for Gillian and she starts to chuckle. A woman who came to see her a week ago is tipping her off that her boyfriend will be ringing shortly to commission a 'surprise' corset for her birthday. Of course, Gillian is to be completely surprised and congratulate him on his initiative when he rings -oh the ways of women!

Gillian was once short-listed for a national award for 'Female Inventors and Innovators', not bad going for a single parent who started out sewing for pin money.

Whilst she is delighted to be acknowledged in this way, she says her greatest pleasure is really seeing the difference her corsets make to a woman's esteem. She recently dressed Zelda Wilson in one of her corsets for a charity fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. Zelda is a local woman recovering from breast cancer and the ravaging effects of chemotherapy. They raised 7,500 on the night but, most importantly, Zelda said she felt feminine and sexy again after such a harrowing time.

Browsing through buttons, bows and lots of glamorous fabric Gillian realises that it almost 100 years ago that her great-grandmother was using tailoring to provide for her family and now she is doing the same - but with a garment that hails from her great- grandmothers era.

It causes me to reflect that on one level Gillian, like many Warwickshire women is carving out her niche and developing her business, using her talent and determination to support her children. On another level she has enabled a varied array of women, of different ages and experiences, to feel confident, powerful and esteemed when wearing her corsets.

The only challenge I face is how am I going to get my hands on one, I think a call to my current beaux is in order - after all I am only doing it for women!

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