The corset and controversy

by Daryl Champion

Vogue Italia is no stranger to controversy. The Italian edition of the iconic title devotes more resources than most of its competitors to the fusion of fashion, photographic art and, as the cover of its September 2011 issue boldly states, to the avant-garde. True to its promise, the magazine courted controversy once again with September’s starkly proclaimed cover feature: a sixteen-page tribute to the mid-twentieth-century tightlacing corset enthusiast, Ethel Granger.

Photographer Steven Meisel worked with forty-year-old British model Stella Tennant to create scenes inspired by Granger, who, born in England in 1905, began tightlacing with corsets when in her mid-twenties. Granger reached a waist measurement of thirteen inches (thirty-three centimetres); she complemented the extreme corsetry with body piercings and some very prominent facial jewellery. Certainly from the early 1930s until her death in 1982, Granger was, indeed, an ambassador of the avant-garde.

Mrs Granger had maintained her tightlacing regime for more than fifty years; her love of corsetry was – and

is – not unique, although the extremes to which she took her passion is a rarity. However, despite a certain cult status, including a website dedicated to her life, the Vogue Italia feature is unlikely to inspire a new generation of young women to invest in a corset and embark on the long and demanding process required to produce a waist of up to half its natural circumference, as many who object to the feature apparently would have us believe. Rather, Vogue Italia’s bestowing of avant-garde laurels on Ethel Granger is not misplaced, and hardly represents a threat to society, as becomes clear when considering the corset historically.

/ Like other aspects of costume, corsets speak not only of fashion, but of the evolution of our societies and concepts of beauty and form. /

Corsets, of course, have a long history, and like other aspects of costume, speak not only of Western fashion

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