Hubert Barrere - Cosset the Corset

Corsets are tough to wear and tougher to make. Corsetiere Hubert Barrere talks about his passion for the garment, its new meaning and his India inspiration

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: January 10, 2011

Corsets are tough to wear and tougher to make. Corsetiere Hubert Barrère talks about his passion for the garment, its new meaning and his Indian inspiration.

Sensual and seductive – that’s how corsets make you look. This historical garment is slowly but steadily making its way back into mainstream fashion. Corsets initially had a connotation of submission for women. So are old times coming back? No. Apart from lace and silk, metals are defining the new-age corset! Women now wear corsets to look good and genuinely feel empowered!

For those who are not too aware about this ‘magical’ garment, a corset is worn to mould and shape the torso into a desired shape. The most common and well-known use of corsets is to slim the body. It emphasises a curvy figure, by reducing the waist, and exaggerating the bust and hips.

Corset making is also an art – and not a simple one at that. And neither will you find many designers venturing into making this garment. But corsetiere Hubert Barrère loves to take control of the ancestral techniques of corset making and experiment with new materials to transform this ‘object of torture’ into an ‘object of pleasure’. 

Barrère is one of those who emphasize a woman’s body without imprisoning it. He says, “To say the truth, I make not only corsets, but clothes that show off femininity. My work is a conversation on femininity and corsets are my favourite topic. I make corsets that flatter femininity rather than hide or mistreat it. It’s an ally of femininity - an ephemeral form of plastic surgery.”

The makings of a genius
It was with costume designer Vicaire that his passion for corsets was developed. “I worked at the beginning of my career for the Vicaire House, which makes costumes for theatre, international circuses and cinema. Naturally, I had the opportunity to work on old fashioned costumes, which, when French or European, depend greatly on corsets. I had always known I wanted to work on feminity, so the corset was ideal,” Barrère says.

Today, Barrère is the artistic director of Hurel - the oldest House in the field whose archives show prestigious collaborations with Charles Frederic Worth, Léon Bakst and Miss Chanel.

He designs corsets and other clothes as well for brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce&Gabbana. Hence, the iconic Dolce&Gabbana metal corset-dress was born. Photographed all over the world as it appeared on the catwalks, it is now a part of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 2009, Hubert Barrère collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld for ‘Collection Blanche’ (White Collection) for Chanel Haute Couture. He has dressed celebrities like Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Sarah Jessica Parker. That’s quite a number of highly prestigious testimonials!

This humble corsetiere acknowledges the thrill it gives him to create objets d’art for these fashion powerhouses. He says, “As I am one of the few designers left who combine several artistic techniques like corsets, embroidery and sewing, people come to me to create original dresses that are made with a mix of methods. I am one of the lucky few who collaborate with these houses and have a close contact with the designers. It’s so exciting trying to make their desires become reality.”

Corsets and others
Corsets today are not just a simple garment. Barrère gives them sensuous, luxurious and intense colours, textures and look. Corset-making is of course very different from making any other apparel. “The difference between making a corset and making any other item of clothing is the great technique complexity. The most important thing is to respect the female body - body that one needs to be curious of and study. One needs to know the thousands of details in the body. The corset must perfectly fit the body’s curves and respect them, not damage them. The corset should be like a second layer of skin. Then, as per what one wishes, one modifies, erases, adds here and there, to create the ideal silhouette. A corset worthy of name should have all these qualities.”

He looks for inspiration in the smallest of things for his beautiful creations – “One cannot command inspiration, it comes instinctively, intuitively. It’s a question of intellect. It can come at any time and under any form. It’s about having the right idea at the right moment. I believe it’s important that my creations have meaning. So my inspiration can come from art, architecture, fashion, or even the car industry! Fashion inspires and is inspired by culture. It’s full of entwined references.”

The eastern connection
Barrère recently had an exhibition in China where he was invited by the Government of China to showcase his art form. The exhibition met with fantastic response from the Chinese media, fashion fraternity and fashion enthusiasts. Barrère talks about his China experience – “It was incredible. I love China. I had already been there several times, and I even had the opportunity to organize a fashion show there once a few years ago. There is so much energy to be found in China. This time I was there to present the exhibition in the Bund, Conversation, a real dialogue between my work and Asian art. Chinese art is very impressive, whether because of its long history or its specialized disciplines and materials. An example is Shu wood, that I discovered thanks to Jaques Barrère who allowed me to find inspiration in the exceptional objects kept in his Parisian gallery.”

Who could link the European corset to the Indian saree? Only an innovative thinker like Barrère. Indian culture, statues and the quintessential saree has enthralled him. “Indian art interests me very much, mainly because of the exaggerated femininity of some of its statues, like the Gandhara ones for example. I love the notion of femininity conveyed by these statues. The poses and movements are planned very carefully. This gives the statues a haughty look sometimes, and a sensual or thoughtful one to others, but always full of alluring femininity. Each time I travel to India, I am filled with wonder by the strong femininity of Indian women dressed in saris. This outfit sublimates the female body. It’s very moving to see,” Barrère says. 

Barrère believes that collaborating his corset with the Indian saree would produce some stunning results. “I would find it interesting if my French corsets interest the Indian women as an add on to the fashion which they already wear, specifically Indian. I am very interested in this diversity, but I don’t want my French fashion to become secondary to other creations. On the contrary, I am interested in the identification, the individualization, the customization of fashion. What I propose is French fashion, but specifically international. And these creations should interest Indian women who are looking for a different look associated to their own fashion,” he says.

Barrère, who has been travelling to India for the past 20 years for work and pleasure, would love to have an exhibition here too and is looking for avenues for the same. And if any of you are interested in buying his creation, you can do so by contacting him through his website, and then scheduling an appointment in India or in France.

The art form of corset-making is not dying. Barrère, in fact, points out that the garment is increasingly being demanded more. When asked about his personal favourite from his bank of creations, Barrère surprisingly said, “As soon as I create something, I forget it at once. I am only interested in the one I will make tomorrow. It is more exciting.”

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