Art Beat: Dita Von Teese's Corset Maker on Sculpting the Body and Ethical Underwear

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Kate Conger

Autumn Adamme is a soft-spoken woman, whose arched eyebrows and curtain of long, black hair are slightly reminiscent of Carolyn Jones' Morticia. Like The Addams Family matriarch, she exudes a quiet yet palpable strength that's no doubt served her well over the course of her career. For the last 20 years, she's been earning a living as an artist in San Francisco -- no easy feat. She's the proprietress of Dark Garden, a boutique nestled in Hayes Valley that specializes in custom-made corsets. Over the years, she's laced up Dita Von Teese, Christina Aguilera, Pamela Anderson, and Kelly Osbourne, as well as thousands of San Francisco residents -- both women and men.

In the first of an ongoing interview series with local artists, SF Weekly spoke with her about how she started out, how she's mixed business with creativity, and how she stays inspired over the years.

See also:

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Kate Conger

How would you define your work? Is it fashion design, or tailoring, or something else?

I ask myself that on a regular basis. When I started making corsets I was focused on historical costume and, at that time, fashion design intimidated me because of the quick turnover. Historical fashion is based on the past, so you don't really have to be that forward-thinking. I create personal design, but I'm not necessarily designing a look that I expect a lot of people to wear. So I don't really know how to define what I do.

Almost everything I do is very informed by the body, whether I'm making corsets or a wedding dress or a costume. I'm always starting with the person I'm making it for -- what's going to flatter them the most, what's going to express their personality in the way they want it to be expressed. It's very individualized design.

How did you start making corsets in the first place? What attracted you to that specific garment?

My interest comes from my background at the Renaissance Fair. As a kid, I grew up out there. I made my first corset when I was 12. Again, the human body comes into play in that I really like sculpting the body. I'm endlessly fascinated by what our bodies are capable of and also what we can do to alter them.

Did you know how to sew already when you made your first corset?

I started sewing when I was eight. My mother sewed; my grandmother sewed. Rather than coloring books, I played with scraps of fabric and thread. I've always been pretty hands-on with fabric. I made clothes for my dolls, of course, and clothes for myself.

What are some of the differences between a corset that you make and one I could pick up straight off the rack?

There are a lot of differences. The really obvious one is that a corset you get here is made here in San Francisco by people whose well-being we're looking after. But as far as the quality you will experience, the materials used are high-quality. We use steel boning; we don't use plastic. The patterns I've developed, I developed on bodies as opposed to dress forms. I'm not using the fashion standard at all. I'm using people that I've worked with; I have measurements of everyone I've ever made a corset for. And that informed the standard that we use. If a person has a 26-inch waist, chances are they're going to have a 30 inch ribcage and 36 inch hips. There will always be some variation in that, but it really is based on people who wear corsets. I think the corset-wearing public is different than the jeans-wearing public. Each of us gravitates toward clothing that interests us, and that is somewhat based on our body type. If I were making sportswear, I have a feeling that the people I'd be working with would have slightly different proportions.


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