Michaela Stark's Lingerie Challenges Theories of the 'Grotesque Body'

Michaela Stark's Lingerie Challenges Theories of the 'Grotesque Body'

Long before the release of her first collection, Michaela Stark has been quietly honing her craft and catching the attention of stylists and artists thanks to her corsetry and lingerie that accentuates all sorts of body types.

She'd create custom orders for models and musicians while working as a seamstress for luxury brands in Paris and London to support herself. This time spent building her aesthetic and brand identity culminated in Collection One, her first line of made-to-order clothes which she recently previewed at a showroom in Paris.

"I’m glad I took my time because I am really happy with collection and can see how far it’s come since the beginning," Stark tells PAPER. "I still feel like I am at the beginning though."

The lookbook features Stark modeling her own garments, which celebrate curves rather than hide it. Each fold, tuck, tutu and ribbon placement accentuates different parts of her body that aren't normally highlighted, from the roundness of her belly to breasts.

There are delicate silks, touches of denim and lingerie accents such as garter clips, French lace and chiffon, organza, bridalwear and ballet motifs. Stark twists and turns her body as the corsets are tightened to extreme measures.

Below, Stark shares more about her first collection and and her journey as a designer up to this point.

What was it like to show this collection during Paris Fashion Week for the first time?

It was really exciting. I first moved to Paris at the age of 20, having just secured an internship in a fashion showroom. It was my first ever introduction to Paris Fashion Week, which was crazy exciting for me at the time as I had just graduated from a university in Brisbane, Australia and Paris seemed like such a far away place.

I remember working there looking at all the designers showing their collections during Fashion Week and wishing that I could one day do the same. So it was really nice to see that moment come full circle and to have the opportunity to preview my first ever collection in a showroom during the shows. I was happily surprised to see that the showroom was quite busy and was able to meet many amazing people who stopped by to see my collection.

Can you describe the journey it took to release this collection you've worked so hard on?

I feel like I have been working toward launching my brand for years now! Like many fashion students, when I started I had the mentality that commercial was bad and true creativity lies in the uber-extravagant, almost wearable art side of fashion. I view this as a great starting off point because when you’re not thinking about commerciality you can let your ideas run freely and create pieces or artworks that are purely conceptual.

In this time, I developed the aesthetic that you see today. I was interested in theories of the grotesque body, and the intersection between grotesque and beauty. I was also very interested in corsetry and lingerie, and the socio-political roles of these garments through history. I played for a few years alone in my studio creating garments and imagery around this theme, while working as a seamstress at luxury brands in Paris and London to support myself.

I then had the challenge of taking these conceptual ideas and turning them into a real, commercial fashion line. That process in itself took a couple of years. I really took my time, experimented loads and learned how to make proper corsetry: I wore my own pieces many times and also worked with many other bodies to understand fit and sizing for different shapes and sizes.

Why was it important for you that this first collection be made-to-order?

My work has always been about celebrating the body of the individual. The pieces in this collection are designed to shape and mold the body, framing the stomach or the boobs. I wanted the garments to fit like a glove and cut in all the right places. I feel like this is a really special part of my practice, so it was important to me to stay true to that in my first collection. Whenever I made a corset for myself, the most special part is how personal the process is.

I really feel beautiful in my pieces, because they were made to honor myself. I wanted to give that same experience to my customers, in hope that they can feel the same when wearing one of my garments. I am working to creating a ready-to-wear collection though! But that’s to come later.

How have your experiences creating custom looks and working with stylists/talent for shoots and music videos informed your approach as you designed your first collection?

Creating custom looks and styling editorials with models and music artists is how I got so much of my experience in pattern cutting and understanding fit and design. I have worked with a vast array of body shapes, sizes as well as different personalities all with completely different ideas on how they want to be portrayed. In fashion school and while I was working as a seamstress in fashion houses, I was only making clothing for sample-sized models. I was very rarely making garment for someone of my own size, let alone anyone with more curves. And so I never had a chance to develop the skill. I think this speaks volumes for the industry that we are in, and what body shapes are still considered the most beautiful or acceptable.

I think, almost as an act of rebellion toward this mentality, I became heavily inspired by the curves and squish of the body, and how each body has a completely unique shape. I wanted to be able to make clothes that celebrate that shape, even accentuating it. I am really grateful to the models and artists that have trusted me with their body and allowed me to experiment with them as I do on myself. Having that experience has helped me develop my skills in pattern cutting and design and an understanding of what flatters different people, as well as makes people feel sexy and confident.

What are some of your favorite/signature pieces from this collection?

That’s a hard one. I kept the collection small because I wanted to be in love with every single one of the pieces. I wanted to establish my signature aesthetic through this collection, and plan for all the shapes that are released to be my staples in the years to come. So I love them all haha. But if I had to choose maybe the tutu or the green corset with the lacing.

Photography: Raga Ayala Munecas