Maya Hansen's corsetry is both sexy and prim, provocative yet oddly innocent – the precise point where Victoriana meets fetishism.
Quite simply, there’s been nothing like it. Corsetry, of course, is as old as the hills – the earliest on record dates back to 2000BC (yes, BC). That example was worn as an outer garment, just as Hansen’s extraordinary confections are today.
Maya Hansen has raised corsetry to an art form that is peerless in the world of couture. Her work is gloriously original every single time: she never creates the same thing twice, and her craftsmanship is utterly sublime, like the work of an impossibly accomplished seamstress who has spent 40 years perfecting her craft in a Paris atelier. And yet Hansen – blond and creamy-skinned, the perfect poster girl for her product – is still only 34.
The look she has made her own is a pastiche on burlesque, executed to a technical standard stratospherically beyond the sternest requirements of any master craftsman, living or dead. Exacting and time-consuming, its sheer theatricality points to a feverish imagination. This is the designer who, on the one hand, gives us her sweetly girly ‘Cake’ range, its color palette drawn from the adorable world of cupcakes, ice cream and candy; and on the other, her darkly gothic Heavy Metal collection, featuring tattoo-style illustrations that include skulls, leather and crosses associated with thrash metal bands like Metallica, Kiss and Iron Maiden. In between, we’ve had the richly embroidered Queens of Spain: dramatic silk corsets digitally printed with images of Renaissance royalty; and SteamPunk, a fantasy collection once described as ‘corsets for mad scientists’, made with leather, buckles and straps. But no list is complete without mentioning possibly the costliest item of all from her futuristic Knotted collection: the Crystal Corset, made with 6,000 crystals that took 100 hours to hand sew.
Crystal functions as more than shiny, sparkling decoration – it’s also a means of enhancing shape in corsetry. Along with satin and lace, crystal was one of the defining elements of Hansen’s soigné 5th AVE collection right from drawing-board stage. Her access to SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS’ most creative people is hugely valuable to her: “When the brand’s creative director in Spain sits next to you, explaining the various methods of applying a material that’s new to you, it really opens your mind.”
The daughter of a Danish art gallery owner and an Argentinian musician, with a brother who is a painter, creativity was bred in the bone. Having initially enrolled to study Fine Art, she switched to design; but the world of corsetry didn't cross her mind until she walked into a corset shop in Berlin in 2006, and the exquisite magic hit her like a coup de foudre. Her label grew in step with her relationship with journalist husband, Chema Antón, who developed the marketing side of the business, including her stunning website. She also works with photographer Marcelo Aquilio to create the eye-popping, expertly styled imagery that promotes her collections.
The proof that you have truly arrived is surely an email whose subject line reads: ‘Lady Gaga x Maya Hansen’ – it was from Nicola Formichetti’s team, ordering clothes to dress the star. As seals of approval go, it’s pretty hard to beat. “It was great to know that they had visited my site and taken an interest in my work,” she says. As a last passing comment on the subject of celebrity clients, she adds that she’s also in touch with Madonna’s stylists.
Everything is designed by Hansen herself. The creative process begins with the materials and the results unfold organically – what starts off as one thing often ends up another. Chaos is the essential ingredient that ensures nothing is pre-determined, although she does have Dita von Teese and Sophie Ellis-Bextor in mind when she designs. And she also admits to being obsessed with the ’80s: films such as Back to the Future and The Dark Crystal; artistes such as The Cure and David Bowie; and the great Roberto Capucci, whose fashion design raised couture to an art form that is enshrined in museums worldwide.
Maya Hansen is both a curator and practitioner of European historic design techniques. Her work is an exciting paradox: dainty yet kick-ass, retro yet contemporary, romantic yet saucy, every detail painstakingly crafted with phenomenal precision. With such a staggering canon of work to her name after only six years in business, we can only gasp at the thought of the delights to come.