‘Coiled’ corset

  • The Overlook
  • Autumn/Winter 1999
  • Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen. Aluminum

McQueen was fascinated by the female torso and designed several showpieces which emphasised its form and distorted its physical properties.

The ‘coiled’ corset from The Overlook (Autumn/Winter 1999), combines meticulous craftsmanship, radical body adornment and was a unique collaboration between McQueen, Kees van der Graaf and jeweller Shaun Leane.

The corset is made of 97 handcrafted aluminium coils and has a 15-inch (22 cm) waist. The construction is similar to that of the cuirass (historical leather body armour designed for the torso in which the breastplate and backplate are fastened at the sides). In McQueen’s version, the sides are screwed together, with the wearer inside. Kees van der Graaf created a plaster of Paris mould of model Laura Morgan’s torso, onto which Leane then fitted the coils.

This was a physically demanding piece to make; Leane was only able to craft eight coils in a 16-hour day, curving, shaping, hammering and polishing the aluminium to achieve the final result. Laura Morgan modelled the piece, which took 15 minutes to put on, and almost as long to take off. The corset limits motion due to its high neck and extension to the upper hipline.

Two years previously, Leane had made a coiled neckpiece for McQueen’s collection It’s a Jungle Out There (Autumn/Winter 1997). The piece was inspired by the coiled brass and copper neckpieces worn by Ndebele women in South Africa, their elongated necks indicating wealth and status. The ‘coiled’ corset is an expansion of this ideal, scaled up in size up to include the entire torso.

McQueen and Leane took part in the V&A’s Fashion in Motion series in 2001, and showed a retrospective of their longstanding collaboration that had begun when McQueen commissioned Leane to create the fob watch chains for Highland Rape (Autumn/Winter 1995). Around 3,000 people filled the Museum’s main entrance to get a glimpse of the designs, which also included the yashmak from Eye (Spring/Summer 2000) and a mouthpiece from Eshu (Autumn/Winter 2000). The ‘coiled’ corset proved a highlight, with many visitors Museum marvelling at how the model managed to get into and out of it.