The School of Corsetry within the Leicester College of Art (predecessor to DMU) was founded in 1947 by the Corsetry Guild of Great Britain as part of a post WWII effort to inspire an upswing in local designers.
Leicester has long been regarded as a city of industrial importance, with factories for corsetry, textiles, hosiery and boot and shoe manufacturing booming from the 19th century.
Garment design on the other hand was traditionally dominated by fashion houses in France and in subsequent years the United States. As such, training opportunities for employment within the UK corsetry industry prior to the 1940s were largely limited to factories where the pieces were made...
...so much so that it took the Corsetry Guild two years to find a suitable candidate to teach corset design, further demonstrating how small an occupation it actually was within the country!
Leicester College of Art’s one year programme, entitled Foundation Wear, was the first corsetry course of its kind in the United Kingdom and combined the excellent reputation of British workmanship with subjects focusing on innovation and design.
Now known a BA (Hons) Degree Course, Contour Fashion has become widely praised by industry experts and is considered to be one of the best in the world.
This exhibition will revisit some of the programmes most memorable moments as well as showcase pieces of contemporary student work.
"Pleasant to think that a whole school of students are figuring out how to help us keep out figures in!" - Illustrated Leicester Chronicle, 25th October, 1947.
'What good news it is that corsets are now in better supply!' begins an article from The Illustrated Leicester Chronicle reporting on the launch of the new corsetry course. This statement hints at how badly the corset trade, like many others, was hit during WWII as materials were needed for other purposes. As the country's position improved, so did the industry. Fred Burley, President of the Corsetry Guild, was responsible for creating this revolutionary course which covered subjects such as anatomy, pattern cutting, making-up, methods of machining, design, sketching and embroidery.
Lingerie mogul, and DMU's most successful alumni to date, Janet Reger enrolled on the course in 1953. She was quickly identified as one of the most promising designers in her year and upon graduating was a freelance designer for major industry players including Marks and Spencer and Slix swimwear before developing her own brand in 1966.
Her bold, seductive style was a stark contrast to the functional designs of the time - yet set against a backdrop of social change and female emancipation the brand flourished with international acclaim and a celebrity following.
The popular course was officially renamed Contour Fashion and converted into a three year BA (Hons). New subjects introduced include swimwear and leisurewear design as a response to evolving fashion trends and fabric technology.
Du Pont and Lycra sponsor several collections in foundation and leisure wear, some of which were showcased across the UK for their revolutionary designs.
Social attitudes towards active lifestyles and exercise begin to strongly influence the industry and sportswear was introduced as a new subject. Leicester Polytechnic (now DMU) is considered a leader in leisure fashion design.
Student intake increased to 25 students per year with the course offering modules in bodywear, swimwear, dancewear, lingerie, structured underwear, sportswear and leisurewear. The degree continued to be unrivalled as DMU remained the only university in the UK to offer this type of course.
2010 - Contour Fashion holds its first London catwalk show
2012 - DMU is chosen as the first stop of the Queen's UK tour to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. Contour students host a catwalk show for the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge during the visit. The course also wins the prestigious Triumph Inspiration Award and students are able to choose between an aesthetic or technical design route for the first time - opening up potential research for specialist areas such as plus sizes, menswear, mastectomy, maternity, etc.
2014 - Beyoncé wears alumni Nichole de Carle's bodysuit to the opening of the Grammy Awards.
2017 - A Contour Fashion and Communication BA (Hons) course is introduced to meet the changing requirements in industry. Gillian Proctor (Associate Professor and Subject Leader) is one of 10 individual listed in Lingerie Insight magazines 'Industry Influencers'.
The Contour Fashion course was instigated by the intimate apparel industry in 1947 and the relationship with influential partners continues to guide educational activity today.
Without the ongoing sponsorship from key companies across the globe, students could not retain their unwavering energy and enthusiasm to create. Thank you to the following partners for their support and generosity: Stretchline UK Ltd, Boux Avenue, Triumph, Underlines Magazine, Invista, Debenhams, LF Intimates, Next, UKFT, Clover, Ace Style, Curvy Kate, Euovet, Lingerie Insight, Tommy Hilfiger, Wacoal Europe, Crystal Martin HK, Figleaves, Coco de Mer, Shadowline, F&F, Apm, Bordell, Contour Specialist Fabrics, Sue and Malcolm Vagg, Concepts Paris and Tutti Rouge.
"It is such a privilege to meet the talented young students - they are the reason that we have such a strong lingerie industry in the UK, an industry which will only continue to prosper with DMU’s continued support and passion." - Lucy Litwack, CEO, Coco de Mer
DMU graduates can be found working for clover, Calvin Klein, Gossard, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, Aubade, Curvy Kate and Stretchline, among others. Alumni have gone on to create their own labels, causing a sensation when their work has been worn by superstars including Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Rita Ora and Paloma Faith. On display are examples of student work, excelling in design and technology.
"It is our opinion that the DMU Contour Fashion course is the best in the world for intimate apparel technical design. Stretchline are proud to be sponsors - here’s to another successful 70 years." - Norman Collier, CEO Stretchline and President of the Intimate Apparel Institute at DMU
"DMU Contour - shaping tomorrow today. Celebrating 70 years of remarkable achievement on a global stage." - Pamela Scott, Managing Editor, Underlines Magazine and the Swimwear Yearbook.
"We are the architects of fashion, we evolve, redefine, restructure and refine the creative process.
Our role historically is to formulate the foundations of outerwear fashion, providing the underpinnings to make the desired silhouettes achievable. Today, the strength of Contour Fashion is see to be its ability to encourage cutting edge design and to drive technological advancement, creating pioneering developments and adapting to industry demands.
As the course enters its eighth decade, it continuously looks towards the future ensuring students stand out as leaders in their field. Our alumni have never failed to push the envelope and experiment, contributing to the evolution and accomplishment of this celebrated programme." - Gillian Proctor (Associate Professor and Subject Leader)
Exhibition Curated by Elizabeth Wheelband (Museum Curator) and Steven Peachey (Assistant Museum Curator).
Special thank you to the following for their support:
- Gillian Proctor (Associate Professor and Subject Leader) and the entire Contour Fashion Team
- DMU Special Collections and Archives
- Robert Harris (Graphic Interpretation)
- Jim Birchwood (Museum Fitting)