Queen of corsets cinches up another racy exhibition
When it comes to antique-corset collections, Melanie Talkington is the undisputed champ. By her estimates, she has the biggest catalogue of authentic waist reinforcers in the world. In addition to her thriving line of vintage-inspired burlesque designs, the self-taught corsetier has more than 200 antique corsets that date from 1780 to the 1950s. That’s more than the Metropolitan Museum of Art has in stock. So who better to set up a corset museum? That’s why on Sunday (May 27), the queen of corsets is hosting her second annual Parisian Antique Corset Exhibition at the Hycroft Mansion (1489 McRae Avenue).
The plan is to move her sewing room from the back of her Lace Embrace Atelier boutique (219 East 16th Avenue) to the apartment upstairs from her shop and then turn the back of the store into a museum. And she’s halfway there. All she needs now is the dosh to finance some necessary renos to make this dream come true.
“I have such an amazing collection and I really want to be able to share it,” says Talkington, who took the Straight on a tour of the Hycroft Mansion during the final crunch of preparation for her exhibition. “This museum has been a fantasy of mine since 2003.”
But her love of all things corseted goes farther back than that. Talkington was about eight years old when the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas came on the big screen at a drive-in theatre. Almost immediately, her mom made her lie down and avert her innocent eyes, but not before Talkington got a glimpse of Dolly Parton and Co. prancing around in sweet little bust-defining nothings.
“It was very exciting,” she recalls. “My mother said, ‘If a woman had black lacy lingerie on, she was of ill-repute.’ So I was like, ‘Ahh, well I guess I love black lacy lingerie now.’ ”
Indeed, when Talkington greets me at the heritage home, she looks very va-voom in her vintage pinup dress. The secret to her show-stopping, hourglass figure, she says, is her always-present corset underneath—something she’s decided to loosen up in recent years.
“When I first started making corsets, I was lacing down to almost 18 inches” says Talkington, who made her first Victorian reproduction in 1997. “But I found when I would go to a trade show or something, a lot of people would freak out and worry about my health more than admire the art of the corsetry, so I eased off on my waist-training lacing and I just lace to a comfortable, natural figure. I don’t go too extreme. It is possible to go extreme, but I want to sell the positive benefits of corsetry rather than the unusual benefits of corsetry.”
At the two-part fundraiser for her corset museum, from 11 a.m. to noon, she’s hosting a La Belle Epoch Café Luncheon and an exclusive fashion show for VIP ticket-holders ($100 each). And then there’s general admission ($25, $20 for students) from noon to 4 p.m., which includes a silent auction, cash bar, food, select vendors, access to Madame McRae’s boudoir photo booth (shot by Shimona Henry of Pin-Up Perfection Photography), and of course a firsthand look at Talkington’s stunning exhibition in the Hycroft ballroom. That’s where you can feast your eyes on such beauties as the 1890s black corset with pink brocade and triple-ribbon insertion—the one she bought from a fellow collector in England. Another standout is the apple-green corset with pink flossing, which was made for a young girl between the ages of 13 and 16 during the 1890s; Talkington scored that one at a flea market in England. As well, there’s her red-silk centrepiece, which she outbid the mighty MET for at a New York auction.
And you don’t have to just stand on the sidelines looking at these exquisite pieces, either. To get into the spirit of the event, Talkington would love nothing more than to see guests kick out their best retro garb.
“We’re hoping people will come wearing corsets or garden-party dresses or Belle Epoque costumes,” she says. “We encourage people to dress up.”