Gilded Lilies - A Sparklewren RetrospectiveGilded Lilies - A Sparklewren Retrospective

This exhibition is split into chapters, which can either be navigated page by page or through your area of interest with a full list of links at the bottom of each page. Clicking on images will take you to their dedicated object page, where you can learn about the individual piece in detail.

All photography by Tigz Rice Studios

Curation, object descriptions and commentary  by Karolina Laskowska

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Introduction

The 2010s saw an unprecedented revival of corsetry craft. Across the globe, more designers than ever are dedicating themselves to unparalleled creativity based around this structured garment. Our 2018 exhibition ‘The Modern Corset Renaissance’ shone a spotlight on some of these creators; one of the key players within this movement was the Sparklewren label. What set Sparklewren apart from its contemporaries was the treatment of the corset not as a functional garment, but as a piece of wearable sculpture.

‘Gilding the lily’ (a common misquotation from Shakespeare’s play King John) refers to over embellishing something unnecessarily; a concept that usually carries negative connotations. Sparklewren challenged that notion; why not gild the lily? The spirit of maximalism dictates that by combining two already beautiful things, something even more wonderful can emerge.

'Burning Coals' Silk & Lace Appliqué Overbust Corset By Sparklewren, 2012, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Sheer Corset With Cups & Lace Appliqué By Sparklewren, c. 2012, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice
Blue Silk & Lace Appliqué Underbust Corset By Sparklewren, c. 2012, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Cyclamen Butterfly Overbust Corset By Sparklewren, 2017, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice
'Jonah' Silk & Feather Overbust Corset By Sparklewren. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice
Falling Blossoms Overbust Corset By Sparklewren, c. 2015, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Chapter One: Early Days

The Sparklewren brand was founded in 2009 by Jenni Hampshire. She completed a BA(hons) in Fine Art, having created jewelled paintings, feathered wings and a stuffed unicorn; even before moving into clothing, her creations had the dreamy atmosphere and sparkles that the corsetry brand would become renowned for. The designer is entirely self taught in corset making and had never received a formal garment making education.

Originally Sparklewren corsets were created entirely in the maker’s home. Early designs were experimental without a consistent aesthetic: referencing entirely disparate areas of corset history: from rigidly structured 18th century stays, to the fan lacing that was popularised in 20th century girdles.

The brand’s early years reflected the concepts and techniques initially explored through Jenni’s fine art work, combining sparkles and frivolity with the exploration of gender as performance. Her creations have always focused on the relationship between the corset and its wearer, treating the garments as a form of sculpture rather than purely functional clothing. Even in these early pieces the signature Sparklewren aesthetic began to clearly form.

Ruffles & Lace Cincher By Sparklewren, c. 2009, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Ruffles & Lace Cincher By Sparklewren

Date: c. 2009

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Silk, lace and cotton

 

The ‘Ruffles & Lace’ line of cinchers were one of the earliest Sparklewren designs. This style of underbust corset was initially intended as a test run to experiment with different types of steel boning and working with different body sizes.

The design incorporated a central corded lace panel framed with contrasting ruffles, silk dupion panelling and graphic exterior bone channels. This particular example has an exceptionally small waist (closing at 16″), so the design features only a single row of ruffles per side, whereas larger sizes within this collection featured a double row.

Silk & Leather Underbust Corset With Hip Arches By Sparklewren

Date: c. 2011

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Silk and leather

 

An early Sparklewren design, this underbust incorporates standaway structured panelling at the hipline, described as ‘hip arches’ by the designer. These ‘arches’ further emphasise the already dramatic silhouette created by the corset. The corset is created in a striped silk and embossed scale patterned leather, with a cotton lining. It is structured with spiral and flat steel boning throughout, fastening with a metal busk at the front and cotton lacing through metal eyelets at the back.

Silk & Leather Underbust Corset With Hip Fins By Sparklewren, c. 2011, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Fan Laced Overbust Corset By Sparklewren, c. 2010, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Fan Laced Overbust Corset By Sparklewren

Date: c. 2010

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Spot broche cotton coutil

Cotton Fan Laced Girdle By Camp, c. 1940s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Cotton Fan Laced Girdle By Camp

Date: c. 1940s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Cotton

Structured Cage Bodysuit With Ribbon Lacing By Sparklewren, 2011, UK. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Structured Cage Bodysuit With Ribbon Lacing By Sparklewren

Date: 2011

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Silk brocade and leather

Silk Brocade Whaleboned Stays, c. 1770s, Austria. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Silk Brocade Whaleboned Stays

Date: c. 1770s

Origin: Austria

Fabric: Silk brocade, linen, baleen (whalebone)

One of Sparklewren’s strengths was taking seemingly anachronistic details from historical design, and re-purposing these functional design elements for decorative and boundary pushing design.

Fan lacing was originally intended to make self-dressing easier for corset and girdle wearers, and the heavy structuring of baleen boned stays intended to provide everyday bust and back support. Clearly, neither of these functional design aspects are relevant in contemporary design. Advancements in garment technology have largely replaced these with decidedly more convenient and comfortable underwear options, but there is still an undeniable aesthetic appeal to historical design. Even in these early designs, Sparklewren saw the value of this.

Fan Laced Overbust Corset By Sparklewren, c. 2010, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Fan Laced Overbust Corset By Sparklewren

Date: c. 2010

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Spot broche cotton coutil

 

This early experimental piece uses fan lacing in both decorative (the lacing on the front hips) and functional (the back lacing) capacities. The base of the corset is made of a single layer of heavy spot broche coutil, with coutil bone channels and velvet binding on the top and bottom edges. A mix of spiral and flat steel bones support the corset, and the front closure is a traditional busk fastening.

Structured Cage Bodysuit With Ribbon Lacing By Sparklewren

Date: 2011

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Silk brocade and leather

 

An early experimental piece from the Sparklewren brand, this bodysuit was inspired by structured 18th c. stays. The heavily boned bustline is cropped at the waist, with a cage style structure forming the leg and hip lines. The garment is heavily structured with a mix of spiral and steel bones. The brocade silk body is overlaid with metallic leather decorative bone channels and ‘arrow’ re-enforcing motifs. The original bodysuit had a golden satin ribbon forming the lacing and ties, but has since been replaced with a deeper red ribbon.

Structured Cage Bodysuit With Ribbon Lacing By Sparklewren, 2011, UK. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice
Champagne Silk & Lace Sweetheart Overbust Corset By Sparklewren, c. 2011, United Kingdom. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Champagne Silk & Lace Sweetheart Overbust Corset By Sparklewren

Date: c. 2011

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Silk, cotton and lace

 

A gently shaped sweetheart overbust corset in silk taffeta outer with a cotton lining. It is continuously boned throughout the waistline with a mix of flat and spiral steels, giving the piece a highly structured appearance. It is embellished with a fine lace overlay at the bustline, with the scalloped edge of the chantilly lace delicately hand stitched in place. The garment fastens with a gold toned busk at the centre front, and gold toned eyelets with cotton lacing at the centre back. Although this is a relatively early Sparklewren design, it had already incorporated the brand’s signature lace appliqué embellishment technique.

Silk Dupion & Lace Appliqué Overbust Corset By Sparklewren

Date: 2011

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Silk dupion and cotton

 

This dramatically proportioned, plunging overbust corset began its life as an elaborate toile for one of burlesque star Immodesty Blaize’s bespoke Sparklewren ensembles. It features an outer shell of two-toned silk dupion, a cotton lining, and is structured with a mix of flat and spiral steel boning. It opens at the rear with cotton lacing and metal eyelets. The corset is embellished with symmetrically applied, hand stitched, antique chantilly lace appliqué. The corset’s bone channels are extensively embroidered with intricate flossing motifs, providing a decorative historically inspired element that helps to secure the corset’s bones in place. A fine lace trims the neckline, and the garment is finished with contrasting black silk binding.

Silk Dupion & Lace Appliqué Overbust Corset By Sparklewren, c. 2011, UK. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
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