The Christchurch corsetière with a famous fanbase

16 November 2016
By Fashion Quarterly

Lady Gaga in Forge Fashion posture collar

With a fortified construction, corsets can be seen as restrictive and repressive. However for shy corsetière Abbey Hardwick, corsets are strong, enduring and beautiful.

Hardwick has been hooked on difficult and daring corset designs for over 20 years – even though she does not wear corsets herself. Her brand Forge Fashion is named to reflect the time and energy she quietly puts into the dramatic, hand-made pieces at her home studio.

The corsets can take up to 50 hours to make but Hardwick relishes in the design challenge. “I love armour and the beauty of historically created swords and weapons… corsets feel to me a little like armour with their metal bones and fortified construction,” she says.

Her leather corsets are particularly difficult because they require 48 panels, all with lining, and once you puncture each piece of leather the marks are there forever. But that doesn’t daunt the corsetière, who is currently making a bespoke white leather corset for a wedding.

corset images

She also works with coutil, a heavy weave fabric that lines corsets to ensure they don’t stretch over time. In most cases she then fuses bold printed material on top, such as a print of Van Gough’s Starry Night.

ADVERTISEMENT — ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW
ADVERTISEMENT — ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

“I’m very visual so anything I see can inspire me,” says Hardwick. “I’m a Libra.”

Seeing a pair of heels in a magazine or shop front is enough to set her off on a design journey and she admits she “can barely keep a handbag without cutting it up.”

Forge Fashion’s yearly corset collections have previously been eclectic, yet Hardwick is now focusing on “costume-y and Victorian” pieces – an aesthetic that sits well within the corset community.

Corset celebrity and model Threnody in Velvet wore Hardwick’s very first piece, a patent black leather stunner with dropped beading. It was a career highlight that even outshone Lady Gaga wearing a Forge Fashion posture collar as the Countess in American Horror Story: Hotel. As the name suggests, posture collars ensure the wearer’s head is held high and with Hardwick’s intricate designs they are a stunning feature piece.

corset detail

Although having her designs picked up by the likes of Vogue Italy is a “dream come true”, support from the corset community is most crucial for the Christchurch designer, who is relatively unknown in her home country.

The success of fantasy TV shows, such as Game of Thrones, has incited an increase in cosplay and dress up the world over, and this fits with Hardwick’s darker aesthetic. “Corsets are a luxury item, not an everyday item… it’s definitely a fantasy.”

And although the designer has noticed fashion’s current love affair with corsets – worn decadently over fashionable outfits – she is cautious when talking about tightening views on corsets. “The Kardashians don’t give corsets a good name,” she firmly believes.

Waist Trainers promoted by celebrities like America’s aforementioned reality TV royalty are cheap and portray unrealistic ideals, she says. Although her own corsets are not typically for body modification, she does know that wearing one is “serious business, not a stretchy belt”.

The designer says many of her clients are surprised at how comfortable her corsets are when they first try them on. However that shouldn’t be surprising, seeing as they are made to fit.

Hardwick is used to working behind-the-scenes having been involved in film and theatre many moons ago. Although she can’t bear to stand on a stage herself, she delights in seeing others put her corsets on show. “The creations come alive when you see them on people,” she says. “It shows courage.”

Corset by Forge Fashion

Words: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photography: Robbie Hunter
Stylist: Jessica-Belle Greer
Model: Teagan from Unique
Hair and make up: Heather Vette
Corsets worn with Mahsa blouses
Jewellery from I.V Jewellery and Bread and Butter Letter

Subscribe & Become an FQ VIP

As a Fashion Quarterly subscriber you enjoy exclusive content, giveaways, invitations to VIP events, and more.

Subscribe & Become an FQ VIP

As a Fashion Quarterly subscriber you enjoy exclusive content, giveaways, invitations to VIP events, and more.

Sign up to the FQ newsletter and WIN*

Get the latest fashion, beauty, and lifestyle news delivered straight to your inbox each week.

*Ts&Cs apply.

Find out more at fq.co.nz/fq-newsletter