Showing a tiny, tiny waist hasn’t been a fashion topic for quiet some time now. Women are more into comfort and ability to move freely when it comes to fashion. The last couple of years A-lines and hipsters dominated the catwalk as well as straight lined clothes and even some oversized ones. I am curious what will happen when fashion starts to embrace the hourglass figure again?
In the old days women were willing to wear very tight-laced corsets because it was in fashion, like the Empress of Austria, Elisabeth in Beieren (Sisi), who was famous for her tiny waist. In the seventies women fought for equality to men and part of the liberation of women was taking of their corsets and bra’s. Not wearing a bra didn’t turn out to be a great idea because of gravity and after a while women started wearing bra’s again, but out of their own free will and the way they are manufactured and designed has changed to comfort and great looking. The corset never came back as a necessary undergarment, but as a sexy outer garment.
For some people a tiny waist is an outing of total discipline or sexual excitement. Ethel Granger for instance got into corsets because her husband, William Granger, told her he liked her to. Although Ethel resisted at first, her husband persuaded her. Mark Pullen alias Mr. Pearl, got introduced to corsets by his grandmother, whom he happily laced up when he was a little boy. He said this ritual must have planted a seed.
Mr.Pearl, born in 1962 in South Africa, is the most amazing corsetier of this time. His corsets are made without any form of modern technology and it can take up to several months each to construct. He started wearing corsets himself when he was 30 years, after seeing pictures of Fakir Musafar. Mr. Pearl has a 46 cm corseted waist at the smallest, ‘I have let it slip out these days to about 56 cm, very lazy’. He wears his corset 24 hours a day, except when bathing.
Mr. Pearl moved to London in 1994, setting up shop as a corsetier. In 2002 he moved to Paris where he now works in the romantic setting behind the Notre Dame. He has made corsets for designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, John Galliano, Chloe, Alexander McQueen, Christian Lacroix and Vivienne Westwood. Dita Von Teece wears his corsets during her performances.
In an interview he explained: ‘My interest in classical ballet, discipline and training helped me to understand more about the incredible capacity of the human body and how it can push limits for change – mind over matter’. ‘Ballet bodices require to fit like a glove, they are boned like corsets. In my spare time I assisted in the costume wardrobe where I observed that these tightly fitted bodices enhanced the natural form of the human body. I came to understand that the posture in ballet derives from the fact the dancers were corseted up until the end of the 19th century. I wanted to make such form enhancing garments’.
The story of Ethel Granger is a more difficult one. Although she did get to like wearing her corsets, she was pushed into it by her husband, who kept tightening her waist for his pleasure. Starting out with only having to wear the corsets during the day, after some years she went further to please him by wearing them 24/7.
His fetish went further by piercing Ethel himself and stretching the holes in her ears, nose and nipples to the max and making her wear heels as high, till she could just reach the floor with tip of her toes. He had corsets made smaller and smaller, till a waist size of 33 centimeters, which made her the woman with the smallest waist in history of mankind.
Ethel Granger’s story is about love for her husband without limits, sacrifice, suffering and devotion to beauty which led to deform herself. After some time she started to enjoy all the pain and suffering of the deformation and got pleasure out of pushing the boundaries of her body.
Beauty is to the eye of the beholder!
For Vogue Italia september 2011 photographer Steven Meisel shot a fashion story inspired by the look of Ethel Granger modelled by Stella Tennant.