Don’t whisper it quietly. Shout it from the rooftops.
Corsets are everywhere. Untouchable and unmentionable no more. So put out the lacy bunting and raise a glass to the fashion trend that never really went away.
We’re all familiar, of course, with Madonna and the iconic new image she presented to her world back in 1990 (yes, that’s a little over a quarter of a century ago now) when she made herself as much a topic of debate as her music.
The corset as art. There, in the very public eye. Collective gasps shared between fans, critics and, most of all, the happy executives at her record company.
Plus a happy renaissance for the corset of course.
Yet she was hardly breaking new ground in putting the corset to the celluloid.
The 1954 French film Ah! Les Belles Bacchantes (released as Peek A Bo in the US) caused more than eyebrows to lift with one of its scenes which featured, and not fleetingly at all, leading lady Colette Brosset being undressed, with some assistance from her maid; the denouement of the scene showing Brosset spectacularly clad in full corset finery.
An essential plot device? Or titillation for the audience; a guarantee that the film and its star would end up being talked about?
Much the same question Madonna PLC might have been asking itself nearly four decades later.
Another French film, L'Aigle À Deux Tetes (1948) sent one reviewer into a spin, his post viewing comments focusing entirely upon the appearance of the films leading ladies rather than the apparent irrelevance of the films finer features, for example, it’s plot.
“From start to finish it contains, pardon the pun, tightly laced women in wonderful outfits. No lacing scenes, just authentically and exquisitely nipped waists throughout”.
‘Exquisitely nipped’ was hardly a description you could apply to the star of the 1905 film Airey Fairy Lillian Tries On Her New Corsets.
Hardly a subtle title. But one guaranteed, you suspect, to stir the emotions of a certain audience demographic. The accompanying description of the films ‘plot’ is an early example of ‘doing what it says on the tin’ marketing, announcing, not that the discerning movie goer needed any more persuading to come along that they were to be treated to a scene in which, “...a very large woman, wearing a shift, stands beside a bed and tries to put on a corset. After failing to get it around her, she calls her husband in. He stands behind her holding the corset and reaches around her so she can grasp and begin to tie it in front. He tightens the laces in back. She's done, and he's done in, collapsing onto the bed as she laughs and laughs at him”.
But would curious devotees of the pictures at the time have been attracted by its comedic element?
Few actresses from Hollywood’s golden era, those decades which immediately followed World War Two were considered quite as able to portray the strait laced lady as Marlene Dietrich. So it seemed hugely appropriate that audiences found Dietrich literally applying herself into the role in the 1956 adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel Around The World In Eighty Days.
The book itself is a masterpiece of social etiquette, upstanding moral behaviour and the distinctions between the social classes at the time. Yet the Michael Todd Company, which produced the film knew that they could not push it onto a mass audience without a little added glamour.
Hence Marlene Dietrich being squeezed into corsetry at must what have seemed as every available opportunity.
To Verne, the corset would have been that great unmentionable. To Hollywood it was a great opportunity to furnish its stars in silk to be seen on the silver screen.
She and the corsets other leading ladies would never feel faint else swoon due to its perceived restrictive nature. Indeed, if anything, depictions of the corset and corsetry in general during the early days of film helped throw off the imagined shackles rather than tie them ever tighter.
Something which, you suspect, came to the attention of a certain singer back in the 1990’s, a performer who didn’t as much re-introduce the corset to the modern world as perpetuate a form of glamour and style which had already been celebrated on film for nearly a century.