Renowned London corsetier Sian Hoffman has worked with Lascivious on exclusive corsetry for nearly a decade. Sian now also boasts a clothing and accessories line ‘The Model Traitor’ which helps to blend the fetishistic and fashion-forward nature of her work into a complete bondage inspired line. Complemented in no small part by her on-going relationship and amazing synergy with fashion photographer Tim Bret Day (best know for his work with Agent Provocateur and multiple fashion publications). Sian has recently launched a new website to showcase her work, www.sianhoffman.co.uk
Lascivious chats to Sian about their history and mutual loves...
Lascivious: I remember first becoming aware of your corsetry at the beginning of my career when we both sold into Coco De Mer in Covent Garden. I was blown away by your understanding of corsetry technique and finish. Coco De Mer really felt for me at the time like it was the first emporium that could really offer a luxurious and intellectual take on eroticism. I was honoured to sell my first collection into Coco; at the time it felt unusual, inspiring and high-end, which felt very rare for something viewed as erotic. Did you feel that too? or did you feel that it was already out there?
Sian: I visited Coco de Mer when I started college which must have been shortly after it had opened and wrote a review about it being my favourite shop as part of a project. It was extremely inspiring, I couldn’t think of a better place to stock my work. There weren’t any boutiques of this kind that existed. There was luxury lingerie and fetish boutiques but nothing of this calibre that combined intelligence and art with sex. The whole concept they had of sourcing highly exclusive items you wouldn’t find anywhere else, all hand crafted by specialist artisans who have a genuine passion for the products they are making. Highly skilled perverts! They were more than a luxury lingerie boutique and had a great selection of art, rare antiquities, sculptures, photography, erotica books, and literature, all celebrations of sexual pleasure. Everything was exquisite and beautiful down to the design on a bottle of lube or carrier bag, all with antique erotic illustrations that appeared as pretty pictures at first glance, but downright filthy at closer inspection. I loved the humour and fearless approach from Sam Roddick.
So, I was absolutely thrilled to be approached to stock my corsets in this wonderful store. The Coco de Mer ethos is something that I very much associate with. I believe it was the first boutique of its kind to promote luxury erotic artisans and has probably inspired many entrepreneurs worldwide to open erotic emporiums since.
Lascivious: I completely agree, Sam was an innovator and visionary that beautifully tapped into something we were trying to express. Do you think that the recent commercialisation of the Coco brand is a necessary part of growth?
Sian: From my experience in the luxury market especially dealing in niche products, it is often a struggle to survive. A few really fabulous boutiques I have worked with have closed down in the past 5 years which could be for various reasons but I imagine Coco could have been experiencing similar problems so developing diffusion lines opens up your market to a much wider clientele. For those who would usually find Coco de Mer’s prices range out of reach can now shop there.
Lascivious: I completely understand your perspective, it is very challenging to create a financially successful business and maintain the artisanal craftsmanship that makes it special and unique. The passions that we all started with certainly don’t pay the bills! I think it is probably possible to still interact at the top end of the market, but it needs some serious financing - and potentially a diffusion line. It’s a classic ‘fashion pyramid’ structure reflected by all of the large fashion brands of today - the couture pieces can be sold to only a tiny section of society and generally the shows cost those fashion houses more then they make (despite the high price tags of the clothes). Aspiration and desirability is created by the couture, but the real money is made in perfume sales and high street collaborations. Much like yourself, our Lascivious Swim line is all about connecting with a wider audience for the Lascivious brand, it retails at around half the price of our lingerie, so creates a more affordable proposition for our fans, whilst hopefully retaining our brand values.
I’d like to discuss those inspirations/passions further; I know you were inspired in your youth by ’The Story of O’ - interestingly a lot of designers in our field were - I know that Marlies Dekkers for example was also influenced by this book and I definitely read it when I started out. I would generally advise people not to watch the film however! How did you feel about the scene that you found yourself in as your interests developed?
Sian: Do you mean the London fetish/club scene?
Lascivious: Yes, but moreover, I think its my curiosity about what inspired you and what was happening around you at the time that fed into this - if you were shocked by it or if it was exactly what you expected and felt comfortable with.
Sian: Yes ‘The Story of O’ had and still has a great significance in my work but wasn’t the sole influence. Around the same time I read it, I was discovering BDSM illustrators such as John Willie and Vintage Bizarre Magazine and performance artists such as super-masochist, Bob Flannigan whose gesture of defiance towards his illness, cystic fibrosis, was to fight the pain with more pain. I grew a fascination with the Modern Primitive movement, a group of people who explore their bodies through extremity to reach new levels of consciousness and spiritual enlightenment. The most popular forms of body modification were tattoos, extreme piercings, branding etc but my chosen method was tightlaced corsetry. With these interests in mind, It was natural I’d end up exploring the ‘extreme’ clubbing scene when I moved to London. There was a thirst to broaden my mind so I was drawn to the underground but more importantly, to finally feel comfortable in my own skin in an open minded environment where there was no judgement. Clubs like ‘Stunners’ (now sadly closed) was so radical and ’outrageous’ but I somehow felt more at ease in this kind of place. It was real, with no false pretence.
Lascivious: I can understand that; when I first started the Lascivious brand, the Burlesque scene was a very inspiring place (which led me to create a ‘showgirls’ line in the early days) - it was underground and niche at that time and it was a great feeling to go out in a basque that you had made yourself or put on a latex dress and feel completely at ease in your surroundings.
I was always impressed with your technical ability and understanding of how to sculpt the female form - I was once asked if I trained my waist when wearing one of your waspies! I remember learning traditional corsetry techniques when I was studying, I can’t remember what the book was called - did you start by working with these traditional patterns? How did you modernise the fit? and do you still adapt patterns in order to modernise, or follow a template tweaked for individuals?
Sian: I never had any corsetry training. I was given a basic basque block when I was doing a fashion foundation course which wasn’t very useful and I always struggled with pattern cutting from a block or reading existing patterns so I purchased a mannequin which I use for pattern making. It’s so much easier because you simply map out the design you want on the mannequin and trace it off. Then the dimensions need to be altered to fit the client. As a keen wearer of corsets I had the drive to learn this skill for my own personal fulfilment and the patterns I create, I try on myself and adapt them to fit what’s my idea of the perfect silhouette, often tweaking them year after year.
I learnt most of my skills though books, museums, and studying vintage and antique lingerie. When discovering ebay, I became quite an addict purchasing interesting pieces of historical underwear that were great study pieces and taught me construction techniques. When you have a passion to do something it comes quite naturally and seems quite easy.
Although most corsetieres are influenced by historical corsetry, I have reshaped the traditional corset to fit a more modern ideal. For example I use built in bra cups that add fullness to the bust unlike the flattening bust lines of many period corsetry and redesign the structural panelling for a more contemporary feel but still concentrating on the primary focus of reducing the waist. I am a contemporary corsetiere and craftswoman. I use corsetry as a medium to experiment with fantasies of enhanced pleasure, empowerment and well-being. With my work, I aim to share the sensual power that corsetry can offer and encourage freedom from taboos.
The corset is a marvel of engineering, perfected through centuries of dedicated craft, through sheer love for the object itself. It’s still a thrill for me to transform flat lifeless panels of silk together with the finest precision to a sculptural object with the capacity to bend flesh to new lines. Countless tiny stitches, thrusting hard steel bones through channels, dozens of hours in the making, bring the body to bear the emblem of culture and artistic vision.
The donning of the corset is in itself ritualistic. Time and care are required in the process of passing the laces through the eyelet holes before the time of fastening, as both the body and mind transition sharply in to new states. An intense sensation of pressure, of being enveloped, embraced, hard boning against soft skin with the ability to ‘inflame the organs of the abdomen and thereby excite amorous desires.
Lascivious: Aside from our conversation above about creating a more accessible line to sit alongside your corsets, why else did you choose to create The Model Traitor and what inspired the name?
Sian: I have always played with the notion of the corset as being a symbol of discipline. There are feelings of security that come from self discipline, strength and grace, so creating a whole range of discipline tools and lingerie just happened. I have always designed a lot of fetish style corsets such as the ‘Slave’ styles which were designed with restraint and discipline in mind. These corsets attach to a Neck Corset (Posture Collar) and contain various D-rings to attach cuffs/tethers so that the wearer can be bound to the corset.
With a radical passion for the arts and erotica, The Model Traitor allows me to express my darker desires of sadism and masochism and uncover connections between religious ritual and sexuality.
Because the corset brand is my own name, I often felt a little uncomfortable expressing my deviant ideas with a brand that is associated with my name and didn’t want to scare off potential clients because my corset range is very broad and not strictly a fetish brand.
The idea of my pieces leading to the exploration - and ultimately the fulfilment - of fantasies is very satisfying.
If we lift societal pressure in the form of discrimination and judgement, we are left with a beautiful spectrum of people, including a fluidity of gender and sexuality. That is what I want my work to convey and endorse
‘The Model Traitor’ comes from Emil Cioran’s ‘A Short History of Decay’.
Lascivious: I find you incredibly interesting, as your voice and manner is so delicate, yet your look and work so striking. It’s an usual combination - although actually funnily enough something that gets said to me quite often, is that I look very unassuming and my job is surprising - I am often mistaken for the intern! I read an article recently about how lingerie attracts introverts, do you think this is true?
Sian: That’s funny what you say about being mistaken for an intern! I have experienced similar reactions. Maybe that’s why we have always got on so well having similar mannerisms! I don’t know what people are expecting when they meet me. I am guessing they imagine me to be a strong powerful Miss whiplash type of figure. What they realise I am quite the opposite. So yes we are certainly proof of kinky lingerie professionals attracting introverts!
Lascivious: Ha, yep! Well I suppose we are British, it’s part of our heritage ; )
Where would you like to take your corsetry next?
Sian: I started making corsets for myself in the beginning without any thought of it becoming a job. After 12 years of dedicated training in the pursuit of the craft, I have thought about giving it up professionally but to continue to create pieces for myself and focus my attention on The Model Traitor. My bespoke service appeals to a limited few and I am very thankful and admire my devoted clients who are often collectors of the rare and exquisite. Bespoke orders are always the most exciting part of my job so I don’t think I could ever give it up completely but now The Model Traitor has become a full time job, waiting times for corsets can be long.
In an era when everyone wants everything quickly and cheaply, dedication to corsetry shows one is patient enough to take the time to let it happen, and that is a beautiful notion. Seeking beauty, pleasure and true intimacy in a world that goes too fast.
Where is your favourite place in London to..
I never get bored of V&A and Wellcome Collection. The Society Club is a nice bookshop/bar in Soho and Brick Lane that I like to visit when in the area.
There is a Polenta restaurant on Old Compton Street that does yummy wholesome meals.
I prefer true vintage shops that sell pre 60’s items & markets. Some of my favourite shops are in Angel Islington’s, Camden Passage.
Shop Sian Hoffman's Model Traitor Here