Katie B. is the founder of Miss Katie – a maker of corsets and retro fashions. Katie spoke with TLP over email in May of 2008.
Q: You have some high profile clients (Immodesty Blaize, others). How do they factor into your business? Do you only focus on the high profile client or do you have a broader customer base?
A: Of course Miss Blaize is one of my best clients. It’s a pleasure to make such intricate and sumptuous show pieces and see them worn to their best effect! She is obviously at the top of the scale but I do everything from an undergarment for a wedding dress to the occasional corset for a man.
Q: How did you step into this line of exquisite costumery 10 years ago?
A: If always loved historical clothing so I scooted of to London College of Fashion to study theatrical clothing and then found a job at Skin 2 and then House of Harlot making rubber clothing. As I started making fabric corsets for myself, others expressed interests in buying them…an age old business start-up.
Q: Do you think there is a lingerie renaissance? Why or why not?
A: I certainly think that all types of underwear have got more exciting and colourful over the last 10 years. Mainly I think to do with the cheap and disposable age that we live in. People can afford to buy a crazy coloured bra for £3 and wear it twice a year. A few years ago, it was a different story where you would buy just the sensible option. Things tend to go in cycles and I’m sure we will see that again.
Q: Certainly there seems to be resurgence in burlesque. Why do you think that is?
A: A small section of this society will always be looking for new music, entertainment and of course style. Again I come back to the cycle issue. The 70’s were influenced by the 30’s, the 80’s by the 50’s and now burlesque is back. We a very lucky to live in a time and place to enjoy it.
Q: How large (geographically) is your market?
A: My customers are mainly from Britain but I do have a reasonable amount from Germany, Finland and the Americas, etc.. They will often tie in a trip to London with coming to see me for measurements and fittings. I do have an American customer that flies over specially and has had film shoots in the U.S.
Q: Can you describe the process from sketch to sale?
A: Quite simply I will talk to the customer and agree with a sketch and details, take a full set of measurements and then make a tuille. With one fitting I then make the corset.
Q: How different is the pricing for the off-the-peg pieces (Toulouse Corset at £300.00) and your bespoke pieces?
A: My custom corsets are really a tailoring service. They are made for the individual, unlike my off the peg range which I sell wholesale to shops. Both sides of my business are equally important and gives a nice variety in my work life. Obviously a made to measure is going to be more expensive due to the fittings, samples and construction time. I seem to have more and more bespoke work to do every year.
Q: Can a large lingerie company move into the custom corsetry space?
A: I think people like to have a specially made piece which can sort out personal tastes and issues. I do it with shoes, I will have a beautiful pair hand made by Natacha Marro but then kick around in boots for work. Its nice to have a cherished piece in your wardrobe. If Marks and Spencer start doing made to measure corsets I’ll eat my socks!
Q: Do corsets have a season? I’m in love with the Burgundy and Cream waistcoat. Can I buy this any time or will you retire this design?
A: Hmmm…Don’t worry, at this point I have no plans to throw out that pattern! The main problem is finding a reliable source of fabric which doesn’t get discontinued, this would be the main reason that a style would be dropped. Of course I may get run over by a bus tomorrow, at which point my death might seriously jeopardize a style…..or two.
Q: In your gallery pages, I see some pieces are shown with Buttress and Snatch bras. You’ve told me that Atsuko is a friend. Are you friends with many designers? Do you consider any business partnerships with them?
A: I’ve been hanging around clubs in London for an awful long time now. Along the way friends have started businesses and I’ve met established designers. I also worked at the Dior studios on behalf of House of Harlot, you just have to make the most of opportunities when they arise. At the end of the day we all just trying to earn a crust doing something we enjoy. Its good to see small businesses surviving, its not easy.
Q: Have you thought about a diffusion line?
A: I’ve toyed with the idea of sourcing production from the Far East, but I’m still struggling with my conscience with that. I would like my corsets to remain as a special purchase that will be treasured instead of ending up in the pile on the floor.
Q: Do you think that Miss Katie is as successful as brands like Lascivious or Playful Promises?
A: How do you measure success? I hardly advertise as I’m terrible at promotion so all the work I have finds me. I’ve got as much on as I can manage and the next step is to expand.
Q: What has been your greatest success so far? How about your greatest hurdle?
A: Still doing what I do. Its very difficult for small businesses to start up with very little help. Hopefully in a couple of years Miss Katie will be a few more leaps on.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: Well, I hardly look at magazines, fashion or the internet so I’m not sure really. Maybe I have a monkey on my shoulder whispering ideas to my subconscious….