In the market for a custom-made bra or corset?
Leslie Menagh, owner of Underpinnings, a Peterborough, Ontario, lingerie shop, can help.
“I’ve sewed my whole life and have a background in corset making and had really loved making custom corsets for people,” says Menagh, who graduated from Nova Scotia’s College of Art and Design before moving to Peterborough.
“I studied bathing-suit and bra construction. I had all these skills; it made sense to create my own work,” she says, while remembering with frustration her teenaged struggle to find the perfect bra.
“My mom could tell several stories of attempts to take me shopping. I would end up sobbing. I couldn’t find the right thing.”
Shopping at Underpinnings is the opposite experience. Menagh invites clients to come to her cottage-style studio, nestled beside Peterborough’s Jackson Park, for a custom fitting and a conversation about design.
“It’s a really intimate process where inevitably, you share things about yourself,” she says. “Hopefully, by and large, people feel better about themselves. They’ve done something nice for themselves. We’ve talked about their body. It’s very validating. It feels like a healing process. It’s a really personal, kind of self-celebratory experience.”
Menagh says she was first intrigued by the complicated history of the corset while she was an art student.
“Organ displacement, discomfort — it’s laden with that history,” she says. “It’s also about the way it makes a person feel, how sensual it makes them feel. I was trying to reconcile all those negative aspects, and the oppression of women and our bodies, and how it makes women feel pretty sassy and inspired, sensual, sexy and empowered.”
Corsets aren’t exclusive to women; Menagh also works with male clients looking for custom-made corsets.
She says her company’s name was inspired by the definition of the word underpinning: a system of supports, a foundation or basis for a structure.
“I had always wanted the garments I made to contain ideas or thoughts or even something written,” she says. “To be literally found on the cloth or in the pocket, so that there were thoughts, ideas, sentences or phrases contained in the garment. I’m still experimenting with that artistically.
“It’s also an architectural term. The underpinnings of a house refers to the frame, the thing that holds that structure up. Garments are also architectural. In some ways they are more complicated: they have to be flexible, they have to move with the wearer. So it was the perfect term.”