Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Tight-laced, not strait-laced

Turning a corner I encountered a mysterious new portal with the letters M&G emblazoned on it in an art-deco logo.

Now, anyone who knows the Mail & Guardian, and is acquainted with its nickname, the M&G, will know that this newspaper does not have its headquarters in that space. Our offices were once in an adjoining office park, but that was over eight years ago.

The M&G in question, full name Mechant & Gentil, is a purveyor of luxurious local lingerie. Inside, in a darkened showroom, you will find gold mannequins wearing, in the shop's own words, "corsets, merry widows [also known as torsolettes], girdles and suspender belts". There is even a line of haute-couture nipple caps.

It was the range of corsets that caught my eye. That most stigmatised of undergarments in the Western woman's wardrobe is not something one sees in abundance on clothing racks every day. With its tapered sides and lacing, and with its frills and florals, the corset is, supposedly, a deceptively wicked attempt to reshape women's bodies against nature's will.

On inquiry, I was told that the range is designed and manufactured by someone known simply as Arwen – Jo'burg's finest corsetiere.

My journey to find Arwen took me to a boutique in a house on 6th Street, Parkhurst, where, behind a high wall and in a darkened studio I met the rather vampish designer, a platinum blonde with impeccable taste and a talent to go with it.

Arwen shares all aspects of her life with her partner, photographer Ben Skinner. Together they head up the manufacture and marketing of Arwen Garments, a truly unique range of dresses and corsets for very discerning dressers. 

There are Michelle Obama frocks with boat necks, sculpted bridal gowns, vintage-style dresses à la Marilyn Monroe, boleros and of course, a full rack of corsets for can-can girls and industrial-style ones for sci-fi neo-robots.

"Anything anyone has ever told you about corsets is a myth," Arwen told me before trying on her favourite, sleek grey cincher. "Women did not die from corsets, women did not faint from corsets. Corsets were not forced on women by men.

"Men actually tried to get women out of corsets because corsets accentuate a woman's sexuality and sensuality. And in the Victorian era men were petrified of a sexual woman. 

"You look at the image of a woman in a corset and you can't possibly look at her in the same way as a pregnant woman, or a housewife in the kitchen. Corsets didn't make women helpless, they empowered them."

Regardless of whether you believe her or not, Arwen is a rare creature keeping alive a specialised set of skills. The only thing she is dead against is defining herself as a designer of fetish wear. If you accuse her of that you may well find yourself out in the street.

 


Mechant & Gentil, Shop G3B, 44 Stanley Avenue, Braamfontein Werf, Johannesburg. Website: mechantandgentil.com Arwen Garmentry, 61 6th Avenue, Parkhurst, Johannesburg. Website: arwen.co.za 

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Matthew Krouse
Guest Author

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

R350 social relief grant not enough to live on

Nearly half of the population in South Africa — one of the most unequal countries in the world — is considered chronically poor.

More top stories

Young and jobless? Apply for one of 287 000 education...

Education department urges young, jobless people to apply for teaching assistant vacancies

Officials implicated in arts council mismanagement will be brought to...

The National Arts Council vows that every cent from the sector’s Covid-19-relief programme will be disbursed to artists, after auditors uncover maladministration

Covid-19 vaccine mandates: a constitutional balancing act

South Africa’s laws allow the government to implement mandatory Covid vaccinations but, if it chooses this path, it must do so responsibly

Popularity will not guarantee mayoral selection — Ramaphosa

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has promised a more rigorous mayoral selection process, which will involve the party’s top six
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×