Mr. Pearl on Corsetry, Technology and Posession

“The gentleman who has the pleasure of tying the final bow owns you.”
– Mr. Pearl, interview

What strikes me about fetish legend/corsetier Mr. Pearl’s images is how much he looks like a true English gentleman – and how, magically, his 18-inch corseted waist works to enhance that image, the opposite of what one might expect it to do.

Mr. Pearl grew up in South Africa and moved to London at the earliest chance after completing his military service. He spent three years in New York in the early 90s, where he did his most intimate published interview, of which there are few. Already a renowned tightlacer by this time, Pearl treated corsetry with such reverence that he insisted on precision in every aspect of his involvement with it; when his New York interviewer described him as a corsetier, he interrupted. “Forgive me,” he said. “I am a designer who employs the corset and lacings into his designs. I am not a corsetier – I have not attained that specialized knowledge. There are only about five left in the whole world now, who possess that art. I hope one day to be amongst them.”

Fast-forward to the 2000s: Mr. Pearl is a successful corsetier, commissioned by Mugler, Lacroix, Galliano and Gaultier when they need a master to produce their corset designs for the runway. Clients include Dita, Kylie Minogue and Jerry Hall. He lives in Paris, and works out an atelier behind the Notre Dame.

Pearl & his creations. Corsets, BW: Michael James O’Brien, color: Francois Nars.

Despite his success, Pearl doesn’t have a flashy website. There’s no web store to offer plastic-boned corsets that bear only his name, no MySpace page and no blog. He’s known for his aversion to modern technology, and his only web interview was handwritten and transmitted by fax.

“Activities like Pearl’s involve a transfiguration of the self, a metaphysical transaction between self and other in which flesh is deformed to be perfected, as a saint is perfected in martyrdom. Talking to Pearl, I felt myself in the presence of something sacred.” – Journalist Deborah Drier, ArtForum

Pearl by Ali Mahdavi, 1999

In interviews, Peral makes it clear that he feels today’s obsession with hyper-convenience has detracted from our appreciation of the sublime, which to him corsetry embodies. “Corsetry has been the foundation of all women’s clothing over the ages,” he tells the Independant. “It’s important that people should not forget this, elegance requires a foundation. Couture requires it too. People don’t sympathize with that today: the notion of comfort is stretched to one layer of easy care. These days people are more fascinated by the complications of a voicemail on their mobile phones than unseen sophistications.” The theme is also present in his NYC Verbal Abuse interview, in which he dolefully remarks that “both gentlemen and ladies in this modern age have lost the sensibility to appreciate that [the possession that comes with lacing up one another]. The only thing he might lace is his sneaker. ”

Pearl & Sophie Dahl in Pearl-designed corset dress for Gaultier

Another interesting thing about researching Mr. Pearl’s history is the kinds of questions he was asked by the fetish press. They were not your typical “what’s your biggest turn-0n?” lines of inquiry. With the Pearl interviews, you get some really interesting questions that I’ve never seen, such as the following gem:

Verbal Abuse: It has been my observation that many sadomasochists have mathematical ability – especially the more sadistically inclined. I see corsetry as a fetish for number and for measurement. Are you mathematically adept? What are some of your magic numbers?

Pearl: I of course studied mathematics in school and I cannot say that I was at all good at it. In my work too I must work with numbers, specialized measurings … Of course the waist-size magic-number is eighteen. Any number below eighteen becomes extremely potent – yes I would say magical. The smallest I have known is thirteen, so the numbers between 13 and 18 are very potent, each denoting some ultimate point. The number 26 is for me a special figure – but it is not related to a thing physical, but to a time, an age, a special date.

Was it something that happened when Pearl was 26? That’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps this was the age he left South Africa. We know that he started tightlacing at age 30, after seeing a photograph of Fakir Musafar (most likely it was this photo, which did a number on me when I first saw it too).

Disciplined, elusive and talented, Mr. Pearl continues to mystify and inspire. There are very few photos of him, but I hope he continues to wear corsets and that new images emerge as time goes by. I would love to do a portrait of him someday.

17 Responses to “Mr. Pearl on Corsetry, Technology and Posession”

  1. lizzelizzel Says:

    I love that first photograph. The math question was very surprising.

  2. La Môme Néant Says:

    I finally know how this Mr Pearl looks like. I’ve been doing a bit of research with no success, until today!!

  3. Vivacious G Says:

    Inspiring indeed. Nice article. I’ve always been simultaneously fascinated and horrified by corsets.

  4. arabel Says:

    That’s the most elegant man I’ve ever seen in a corset – those pics are stunning.

    I love reading what he’s said – thanks for this one!

  5. Milly von Hilly Says:

    What a very unique and fascinating fella.
    Math is sexy as hell. Especially long division. And fractals. Fractals of naked people.

  6. Vespers Says:

    Out of a suit, he looks a bit odd. Cool, but a bit off. But with that oh-so-closely tailored suit on over his corseting, he looks beautiful.

  7. Zoetica Says:

    The mystery factor multiplied by the sexy factor has led Mister Pearl to the very top of the rarr equation. And thus I second Mil – math is sexy. Especially because much of it is, sadly, mysterious to me.

  8. Mer Says:

    Jiminy crickets! I’d love to see an X ray of this man’s torso. Fascinating.

  9. Sepha Says:

    beautiful photographs. Just looking at them makes it hard for me too breathe though

  10. Kawaiiiii. Says:

    I wonder what his X-ray looks like.

    I didn’t know there was a guy whom did this till today.

  11. Allison Says:

    my my Mr. Pearl must be the best. His corseted waist is exquisite! I would love to own an entire wardrobe of his corsets!

  12. Carole Says:

    What’s the name of the photographer who made the first picture on the top of the article ?

  13. eboutique Says:

    Scary, but fascinating.

  14. Krystyn Lea Says:

    just splendid.

  15. Marcelo Lima Says:

    A real master. Pearl is a legend !

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