The Dressage Project

Dressage, And The Art Of Disciplined Lacing

Last year, I was approached by a client who was nearing the end of his current commission about an ambitious future project that had been on his mind. We were working on a pair of locking corsets for him at the time, his first bespoke pieces, and as with so many of us, he was utterly bewitched by the process. Even so, I was surprised and delighted when he suggested that we look at a creative freedom corset with little more than the theme of “Dressage” to go on. This quickly expanded to a pair of corsets with a line that hooked my imagination. “Training in deportment and control” Both of these starting points gave me a feast of inspiration and I began to explore ideas and possible details or techniques I could work with.

A little about creative freedom projects or “surprise” commissions, these can cover a wide variety of scenarios, but typically it means that a client wants me to design for them while having little or no input into the process themselves. Sometimes they’ll talk to me about a feeling they want the corsets to evoke, indicate a type of corset they want, a practical requirement or lay out certain colours they do or don’t want used, and sometimes they will want to see a design before I start, sometimes not. But this proposal was a new level even for me!

My client expressed that he wanted me to make the corsets I usually don’t get to, to showcase the best of what I can do with a generous budget to accommodate this, and he didn’t want to know anything about the details till they were finished. A dream for any maker! But also a challenge to inhabit the tastes and preferences of another person on such an intricate project, it’s very high stakes. There were a few guidelines, for instance, one of the corsets should be practical enough to be worn under clothing out of the house, and I had a list of colours he preferred not to use, but to all intents and purposes they were to remain secret, even through the toile fitting process!

I put together some writing to accompany the handover of this commission, and I’d love to share that with you here alongside the images.


The dressage theme is a rich seam to mine. A disciplined art form that is about unity and esprit de corps between mount and rider. A practice that is abundant with ritual, perfection, precision and finesse. To take these elements and place them in a sphere of fetish inspired design and BDSM play is a movement so natural that there is barely a transition. But they also apply so beautifully to the skill of the corsetiere, where meticulousness is a necessity for flawless results and grace on the body of the wearer. 

“Piaffe” / Torri Tonnau- Breaking Waves

A corset dress that creates stillness and collection in the wearer, that can be built up or reduced as the moment demands. And while the structure of the corset resists motion, the design creates movement, with tumbling arcs that roll over the hips and ripple across the bust. The froth of lace spilling over the shoulders of the capelet, the slightest gesture causing pearls to shiver and shimmer. The Piaffe movement in dressage is about the illusion of staying in place while moving forwards, the corset and accompaniments create the illusion of movement while forcibly staying in place.

Close up of pearl string detail

The ensemble consists of four elements, the corset dress, the posture capelet, the thigh band and the arm cuffs. All are designed to add different sensations of restriction, and to be buildable and worn separately if desired. The corset dress itself immediately holds the wearer in stasis. Only considered, small steps may be taken, there can be no bend from the waist, yet it remains at a length where the wearer can self lace with relative ease. The thigh band offers options for extending the restriction to near the knee, making walking all but impossible, with an intriguing “cut-away” effect where it joins to the corset that is unique and enchanting. 

Locking arm cuffs with joining strap

The posture capelet adds softness and femininity with its draping lace and pearls, while encouraging the chin to be held aloft, and proper bearing ensured. The enclosure of the throat is sensuous and not harsh, though it serves as a reminder of the confinement of the whole assemblage. Lastly, the pure silk, luxuriously padded arm cuffs are teamed with a joining strap, inspired by a martingale bridle, to restrict arm movement, and to restrain the wearer within a very limited sphere of movement. The quilt stitching is a nod to elegant dressage saddle pads, a flash of sumptuous luxury surrounded by gleaming hardware and controlling devices. The arm cuffs can also be joined to each other in front or behind the body with the double ended snap clips for a more severe effect.

Client wearing his dressage inspired corset dress

“Serpentine”

Close up of locking S bend dressage corset

“…Forming ‘S’ shaped loops across the arena connected by a straight line”

The arcs and tight curves of the S bend corset speak easily to the sweeping grace of this dressage movement. The diagonal lines that the horse and rider strike across the arena and echoed in the diagonal seams that traverse the corset body, crossed and joined by sternly straight boning channels housing the flat spring steels that corral the body into its “swan bill” elegance. The S bend corset is all about posture, poise and control, its deliberate tilted hip and straight front mimic beautifully the discipline of the mount’s alignment.

In its precious platinum tones, the Serpentine corset has a cooler, more restrained appeal than the Piaffe and draws more on textures, and playing with light. The hammered effect of the contrasting silk jacquard gleams against the organic slubs of the silk dupion. The cording detail creates depth and offers the subtle tones of the jacquard up to the light. 

 Our ensemble consists of 3 elements, an S bend overbust with locking straps, a choker style neck corset and a pair of thigh garters. All three can be connected together by use of suspenders and straps for a more overwhelming experience for the wearer, and the neck corset is designed so that a lead may be attached, or the neck corset itself can be used to fasten the wearer in place where desired. Or the S bend can be worn alone for a more day-to-day experience with a discreet thrill from the locks.

The S bend or swan bill overbust is an operation in conscious wear and vigilance. The piece is designed to promote the wearer standing picturesquely, with a straight diagonal line from bust to hip, with hips tilted back and bust thrust forward and up. The corset does not force the posture but encourages it, the corset suddenly seems to click into place on the body when you arch and hold yourself just so.

Fittingly, the architecture is the main character in this corset. Functional cording in different sizes undulates and swoops, the rippling effect of the jacquard makes the lighter cording a mere suggestion, rather than rigid corrugation, but the eye is drawn nonetheless. The cording is echoed around the interlocking waist straps at the back, an almost hidden touch for the wearer to discover and enjoy. Meanwhile, the boning channels that intersect bowing seams and godets increase awareness of the intricate structures that work their magic below the surface. The effect is like armour, but rich, opulent, an adornment more than a shield.

The neck corset can also be locked if desired, for an inescapable embrace. Its graceful, plunging shape delves between the breasts and hooks neatly onto the overbust, where it can be adjusted to nudge the head downwards or simply to give a feeling of integration with the whole ensemble. Thigh garters can be laced up snugly and attached with suspenders, or they can be exchanged for stockings if preferred. This ensemble is designed to be the more versatile and “practical” of the two designs, but it doesn’t compromise on detail, complexity and offers a different physical experience than a conventional overbust corset.

My client in his dressage inspired S bend overbust

Our handover was an event of great anticipation for us both. There is always a moment of vulnerability when something you have spent so long making is put into the hands of its new owner, but that increases exponentially when what you’ve made is a complete surprise to your client! I had come to feel that Piaffe, the corset dress was rather a risk stylistically, even though I knew he loved bold vibrant blues. But to my delight that was his favourite piece! And he picked up immediately on the “armoured” effect I had gone for with the Serpentine. Writing after our handover he said “The Serpentine in platinum and locking gives the appearance of body armour which gentle encases the wearer. This is the only s-bend corset I have, and I hope that I can perfect the correct posture
(with its gentle help) to exhibit it correctly.” It was a delight to hear the reception for the Piaffe/ Torri Tonnau as well. “I will now always be in a predicament, wanting to wear the corsets and certainly the Torri Tonnau is beckoning me to wear it.”

“You have certainly exceeded my expectations and bewitched me, especially with the Torri Tonnau, I just have to see this wonderful creation and I want to put it on and lace it up”

The connections made between the work of your hands and another person’s emotions are always humbling and joyful. This is forever the magic of corsets for me. Styles come and go but the transformative moment where the physical sensation of being laced tightly into your corset fires off that euphoric response in your brain… that really transcends times, gender roles, and personalities. Recently a client called me a dopamine-smith and I really appreciated the implications of that. Creating an item that can be called upon when needed for serenity, affirmation, and elevated mood. It’s a small thing in the grand schemes of a world that often leaves me feeling lost and powerless, I can’t heal a broken leg or feed a hungry country. But there are a few pockets of this world where a treasured client can open a box, and make their day better whenever they need to, and that is not nothing. I’ll take that to light the dark.