Desert Orchid Corsets
Bethan Billingsley stopped by for a chat today to talk a bit about what they do at Desert Orchid Corsets. They are primarily makers of custom corsetry, carrying some basic styles that can be altered to suit the wearer (with a more dramatic curve at the base or a straight top, etc). The buyer can choose from a range of fabrics on their website, and if they don't have exactly what you are hoping for, they will go and look for it for you! They can also make a corset in the buyer's own fabric, and have enjoyed making "heirloom" pieces from a piece of clothing left by a parent or grandmother.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft. Bethan.
I started making corsets at the age of about 12 or 13 when my friends and I discovered the amazing world of gothic culture, and also realised how overpriced all the clothing is! Being two young girls with a bit of patience and a sewing machine, we started patchworking old jeans and cobbling very revealing tops out of scraps of lace and ribbon- they were awful, but we thought they were amazing, which was all that mattered, and on the plus side there was never anyone else dressed quite like us! though we were the only goths in our school anyway, so there was little chance of any copycat styles!
I started Desert Orchid almost 3 years ago at the age of 19, when I left my illustration degree halfway through the first year! At that point I had just been introduced to the world of live action roleplay, or ren fairs, where fabulous historical costume was being used, I was really enchanted by the escapism and drama, and with the good humour and sweet natures of the people involved with the events, and decided to start making my own costumes for them- This didn't really work out as planned though, as the first thing I started making was bodices and corsets, which sold so well I never had a chance to start the shirts and doublets and gowns I originally wanted to include! It wasn't for some time that I managed to evolve the pieces into the historically inspired and well crafted items they are now though- I spent a long time researching the Victorian pieces, with all the precision and focus on detail they include, and fell head over heels in love!
What's going on in your shop right now?
Our main "showstoppers" at the moment are our seven deadly sins collection in our Madame Dulcibelle range "starlets, sinners and suspenders!"- which is our high end bespoke section, made to the very highest standards and a whole range of measurements to ensure a perfect fit. The pink piece on our home page is "sloth" based on a Marie Antoinette theme (currently being re-shot) and bringing in lots of frivolity and sillyness! (and plenty of yummy cupcakes!)
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Luckily for me, its probably making corsets!
The closest thing to it in my heart is tattoos! I'm fascinated by the process, design and cultural impact they've had over time- I hope that soon I would be able to balance the business vs life battle, and make time to do a small apprenticeship with a local artist- I would have no interest in running my own parlour, but I would love to learn more and have a go at doing it myself! Designing my own body art has brought me back to the drawing skills I pretty much had to abandon once I started sewing full time, which was really positive for me!
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your shop?
At present the biggest challenge is keeping up with demand- From day one I've never been that short on orders, but in the past two years as word has spread I find I'm constantly fighting back the waiting list! this hasn't coincided with the "get rich quick" dream my parents had for me, as I'm no capitalist, but it does mean that I have plenty for the rent, even in these troubled times! The result of this has been the struggle to keep back some "me-time." I start my working day at 8am, often with little or no lunch hour or other breaks, through until about 5pm home time, at which point I spend my evening handsewing and packing the orders ready to be posted in the morning, or answering emails till about 9 or 10pm, Sometimes this includes weekends as well, and if I'm running courses, the workload is even more intense! Factoring in holidays, breaks and days off can really fall behind on priorities.
What item in your shop would you most like to receive as a gift if someone were shopping for you?
Oooh!! Well it would be the item I wear most often at the moment- the Nouveau underbust from my Madame Dulcibelle collection- its exceptionally comfortable, and the shape works equally well as smart outerwear with a skirt and some seamed stockings, or as underwear to give a really controlled figure.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Lol, like most kids, I wanted to be everything under the sun at some point or another- it was generally either a gardener, illustrator/author, seamstress, or a princess. I guess I kind of come under the seamstress category! Most of my high school and college years were geared towards the illustrator category though!
What other shops or artists out there do you love?
Oh so many!
My corsetry heroes are people who put in the effort and the detail like Cathy Hay- She also runs a fabulous costuming website called your wardrobe unlock'd!
I have also recently discovered an amazing shop on etsy- www.vintageopulence.etsy.com she uses mostly recycled vintage items to make the most stunning girdles and bra tops- Oh for an excuse to wear them!
When it comes to art, I'm a faery lady- I'm hugely inspired by Brian Froud, conceptual designer from the dark crystal and labyrinth, and illustrator extroadinaire! I'm also a passionate fan of Grayson Perry the ceramicist for a bit of contrast!
Ive recently become utterly entranced by burlesque, and I love the pin-up aesthetic- I'm pretty sure you can classify what they do as art! Its a carefully crafted image, an intricately planned performance and choreography, and a really involving thing to watch! I really enjoyed Scarlet Fever's performance recently, and Crystal Cupcakes was also very impressive!
What does your future hold?
Hopefully, more of the same! I really look forward to growing the business, expanding our range and our customer base, and to finally finish our seven deadly sins range! There is a project in the pipelines with a pin-up model, A sponsorship of a major burlesque performer, (Beatrix Von Bourbon) and several new ranges of photoshoots! Watch this space, as they say!
Visit desertorchidcorsets.co.uk or desertorchid87.etsy.com to see more of their stunning work. They have just appeared alongside The Thomas Shop at "Wonderwool" in Builth Wells as well!
They are also always running workshops teaching people to make their own corsets. They cater to all skill levels and abilities, and most of their teaching is one to one, which means you get a really unique and focussed insight to the addictive world of corsetry!