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Corsets, cupcakes and bubbly at Hycroft Mansion

"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." - Francis Bacon 

Proportion, when it comes to corsets, refers to the curves of a woman’s body.

In the Victorian Era, the common goal for women’s waists wearing a corset was around 18 inches, with another rule of thumb often used being a 1:2 waist to hip ratio. However, the Guinness World Record belongs to now 75 year old Cathie Jung with her incredibly tiny 15 inch waist with a corset on. To put that in to perspective an average person can produce a 16" circle by touching the tips of their two thumbs and middle fingers together.

In the Victorian Era, the corset was often a symbol of class, with the upper class boasting a large collection of extravagant corsets and the lower class lucky to have one, even if simple and purely for support. Nowadays, well manufactured ones are a rare commodity and not something you come across on a regular day. Unless, you happen to find yourself at a Parisian Antique Corset Exhibition, like I did last Sunday afternoon.  

There couldn`t have been a better place to hold an event to showcase a selection of Melanie Talkington`s corsets. The mansion itself is like stepping back in time, with its iron gate entrance, its elegant dining and living rooms and its large veranda surrounded by lush gardens.

With four hours to peruse the corsets, jewellery, soaps and mansion there was plenty of time to have a sparkling wine or tea outside in the sunshine. There was also a mime to entertain the young and old with his juggling and his balloon-making as well as a photo booth by Madame McRae's boudoir. Cookies shaped like corsets, decadent cupcakes and savory quiche were for sale in the foyer as well as hand-made artisan chocolates from CocoaNymph.

“It will slim your waist I swear,” exclaimed the emcee of the day, Pierre (Mackenzie Gray) in a French accent. After all, the theme of the day was the exaggeration of a “womanly figure” and the hourglass shape a corset can offer. He even used the slimming line in reference to the jewellery, joking that “not only will it slim your waistline, it will slim your wallet.”

Women wandered the mansion in Melanie's corsets, and cancan ladies flashed the crowd; needless to say it was like a disco dance with the flashes from cameras creating a pseudo strobe light. With her efforts to bring an Antique Corset Museum to Vancouver and the support of everyone there that day she hopes to see them being less of a rarity and more frequently seen. The museum is scheduled to open this fall so hopefully her desire will become a reality.  

“Every time I travel to Europe, it’s always a goal for me to do some treasure hunting and find some corsets to add to my collection.”

When she finds the corsets, she doesn’t try the originals on; she purchases them and makes reproductions first. She does this to preserve them, because they are very fragile and the eyelets can pop out or the fabric can tear.

"I've seen many exquisite and beautifully made corsets ruined by people trying them on." She lamented.

Once in Paris, when she was in her late 20's she made one of the first French antique corsets she ever bought, one of the favorites in her collection. She found it at a little antique shop and upon  spotting it she said she “died and went to heaven”, falling quickly in love with its color and embroidery. She spent four hours there (boring her grandma who was with her) and left with six corsets. She claimed she spent the most money in that one shop that she’d ever spent in one visit in her entire life.  

Mid-way through the day, Melanie guided us through a mini museum of corsets that were presented in the downstairs of the mansion. Her collection contained many export corsets, as well as a lot of French corsets. They varied in design and year made, but the one thing that was consistent was their ability to cinch a woman’s waist, increase her bust and accentuate her hips.

"I tried to keep the exhibition as colorful as I could, to show off how French fashion would’ve been. I looked in French magazines and they really liked to have a lot of color in their lingerie."

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