t was in the 16th century that women first began to bind their waists and push their breasts heavenward with the help of some whalebones. Since then, the corset has taken many forms, eventually loosening its grip on women in the 1960s, when it fell out of fashion and slipped into the realm of fetishists and sexy lingerie shops. In the ’90s, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Madonna gave it a brief return to glory, parading the garment outside clothing. And every so often a movie like Moulin Rouge, and most recently Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, inspires us to cinch our waists until we turn blue yet again. It all goes to show that the corset, love it or hate it, refuses to go away.
This is good news for Los Feliz corsetière Simone Williams of Exquisite Restraint, who loves nothing more than giving women (and sometimes men) the waists they never knew they had. A costume designer by day (she recently helped create Kelsey Grammer’s blue beast costume in X-Men: The Last Stand), she’s been hand-making her custom, one-of-a-kind corsets since 2000, catering to those who, like her, are “totally bored with the Chinese red dragonfly” designs so commonly found.
Veering away from the PVC-and-leather dominatrix look, Williams’ überfeminine designs come in lush velvets, satins and silk dupioni. Working in turquoise, fuchsia and baby-doll pink, she mixes and matches Victorian sensibilities with burlesque, and Edwardian with tough-girl rockabilly style. But what really sets her stuff apart from the rest is the detailing — mesh flowers, tiny beads and swishy tassles scattered liberally across her sorbet-colored designs. “I have yet to see anybody else do this much stuff to a corset,” she says. “I do it because I want people to treat my corsets as they would a fine hat, or a handbag or a piece of jewelry.”
Williams’ corsets are some of the prettiest you’ll find in L.A. — which is ironic, because that’s exactly the opposite effect she was looking for. Part of the Los Angeles fetish scene, Williams generally preferred working in traditional BDSM colors — blacks, reds and deep burgundies — with skull motifs and “beaded darkness.” Using pretty pastels was an experiment, she says, and not really her thing. “The flowers and cutesy colors must have been some kind of feminine expression on my part, because I don’t dress like that,” she says. “I must have been letting something out. It’s like playing with Barbie dolls.”
But the girly girls went wild for her designs — former Suicide Girl Apnea has been photographed in one of her creations, along with America’s Next Top Model star Lisa D’Amato and alterna-porn model Ariel X. Williams also works with the “Bettie Page hot-rod girls” who come to her because, frankly, those vintage frocks can be such a squeeze. These days, if someone asks for a black leather corset to go with a new riding crop and handcuffs, chances are she’ll send her elsewhere.
Williams likes to talk about “true corsetry,” which to her means working almost exclusively in coutille, a type of double-stitched cotton. If you thought it was the whalebone rods (plastic or steel are commonly used now) that kept your love handles in place when you wore a corset, you’re wrong — it’s actually the fabric in between that holds in your squishy bits. If you’re a first-timer, she recommends trying on a corset at retail outlets like Victoria’s Secret before splurging a few hundred dollars on one of her designs (don’t forget to figure out your corset size first by measuring your waist and then subtracting 4). If you like what you feel, chances are you’ll be in heaven in one of her creations.
“When a woman puts on a corset — immediately they are like, ‘Ooh, I didn’t realize it was going to feel so good!’ We don’t realize how much we slouch, and a corset gives you so much support.”
So how to wear your custom-designed corset? Williams recommends teaming it with jeans or, if it’s an underbust corset, with a slip dress or vintage T-shirt underneath and pleated 1930s-style high-waisted pants. “That way the corset becomes a real centerpiece,” she says.
She also makes maternity corsets with a big hole for the baby bump, and a range for men, which, when worn over a white dress shirt, can look “just stunning.” Male corsets are patterned differently to allow room for men’s lower ribs, which are much bigger than women’s. Perry Farrell wore one on the cover of Spin magazine last year. She recommends corsets for more confident guys, the types who can “wear a kilt and get away with it.” But she doesn’t foresee a wave of corseted studs on the streets of Los Angeles (or even West Hollywood) just yet. “Twelve years ago I predicted guys would be wearing beautiful, tailored Armani skirts, and that hasn’t happened either,” she says, “so I’m not holding my breath.”
To order a corset or schedule a custom fitting, log on to www.exquisiterestraint.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.