Designer Spotlight: Copper Lune
“I love turning people’s dreams into corset realities,” Kirk Whitmer, Copper Lune
I met designer Kirk Whitmer about a year and half ago at an Underfashion Club networking event. We were both relatively new to the organization and looking around for familiar and friendly faces to talk to at the event. We crossed paths and chatted about our shared passion for intimates and corsetry. I was excited to hear about his upcoming collection. Back then, he kept details close to his custom-made vest. But the way he talked about his designs, aesthetics and what he wanted to accomplish all hinted at something spectacular. I couldn’t wait to hear and see more! Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. Right at the end of 2012, Kirk sent me an email announcing the launch of his long-awaited brand – Copper Lune: Neo-Victorian & Steampunk inspired Corsetry & Lingerie
So, I am excited to share with our readers Kirk’s passion and dreams come to life with this intimate Q&A:
You’ve been working on your collection for several years now, correct? Can you tell us what Copper Lune is all about?
Well I guess first and foremost it is about corsets. When I was in school I quickly found that the garments I most enjoyed designing and creating were corsets. The basis of all Copper Lune collections is the corsets. Initially in designing corsets for my friends and family I loved surprising them in how comfortable a corset could be, and even empowering in how it enhances the silhouette and posture. The other lingerie pieces, and soon accessories, are initially designed to complement the corsets, but the final designs are also intended to stand on their own as beautiful lingerie.
What are the distinguishing characteristics of Copper Lune?
The corsets and lingerie of Copper Lune are primarily inspired by design elements, fashion, and literature from the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian periods. That said, Copper Lune is not about costume, but rather creating thoroughly modern lingerie for today’s woman.
Neo-Victorian helps establish and time and look for anyone reading the description on your brand’s site, but Steampunk can encompass a wide range of time periods and genres. Can you expand on how Steampunk inspires or is incorporated into your collection?
Actually the inclusion of ‘Steampunk’ in the brands description was one that I pondered for quite some time. The Steampunk aesthetic as well as its literature is something I have been inspired by even before the term ‘Steampunk’ was coined. So of course it influences my designs. That said, I never sit down and try to create something purely Steampunk for Copper Lune. Still I feel that many Copper Lune pieces will enhance any Steampunk look and it just felt like good business to actively reach out to this community.
“Maybe it is because I am a lingerie designer, but my first consideration is a woman’s figure and how my design will complement it, or even enhance it.”
I have always been fascinated about how to incorporate fasteners into my garments so that they become a part of the design, even a prominent part, and not just a last minute addition to allow one to get in and out of a garment. This might be laced up eyelets, frogs, buckles, oversized hooks and eyes, exquisite buttons, or anything else I might discover along the way. All of these elements figure prominently into the Steampunk aesthetic. And then there are those beautiful pre-steel age metals: brass, sterling, bronze, and of course copper.
What is the most important thing you take into consideration when designing your collection?
Maybe it is because I am a lingerie designer, but my first consideration is a woman’s figure and how my design will complement it, or even enhance it. If the garment does not flatter the figure then for me it will never look good, no matter how exquisite the detailing and workmanship. And in intimates a lot of this comes down to fit. Fittings for my corsets and lingerie are probably the thing I worry about the most. A woman will not want to wear it if it does not feel good on her body.
Your corsets are all custom made, correct? Could you talk to us about the corsets in your collection?
Yes, all of the corsets are custom cut to fit the dimensions of the customer. I’ve thought about doing standard sizing, but I really believe that the majority of people claiming that corsets are uncomfortable are either misinformed or previously wore a corset that was not properly fitted.
Currently there are two basic models in the Copper Lune line: the Countess Olenska, a classic overbust with a sweetheart neckline; and the Ms. Adler, a peak front waistcincher. They both employ a moderate amount of waist shaping to provide a maximum of comfort, although a customer can request greater waist shaping as desired. Each comes in basic fabrics as presented on our website, but we are more than happy to work with customers to find the perfect fabric for them should they not see something they like. We also have a number of new models in the works. In addition to these we also create full custom corsets to a customer’s design specifications.
What can someone ordering a Copper Lune corset expect?
Amazing fit and comfort. Really. The ordering process can seem a bit daunting, but the better the measurements we get from the customer the better their garment will fit. In that a corset is such a fitted garment and lacking in any stretch, it is important that the garment is designed to fit her body. As many women can attest, they are often one size up top and another down below, plus there can be a fair amount of variation in torso length. A corset that does not address these fit issues will place uncomfortable pressure on various parts of her body. We also offer in person measurements and fittings at no additional charge for anyone who happens to be in the NYC area.
Each customer will receive a beautiful corset that has been constructed with the greatest attention to detail and even hand finishing, a detail that is often reserved only for couture garments. Our corsets all feature three layer construction: an English cotton coutil lining, an internal cotton layer for a little more structure, and then the fashion fabric on the outside. This fashion fabric ranges from exquisite silk brocades and solids, to coutil brocades, or our signature suiting wool. For those not familiar with corsets, coutil is a densely woven fabric that is the most traditional of all corset fabrics. We employ only stainless steel boning and busks. These ensure a smooth line throughout the garment that lesser materials cannot provide, as well as a lifetime of wear.
When did you first become interested in lingerie, corsets and textiles?
I once had this conversation with a French woman on the topic of lingerie. She explained to me that she virtually always wore beautiful, and often expensive, lingerie because no matter what else she was wearing she felt beautiful, secretly knowing what was next to her skin. This was in contrast to what I had heard from so many American women who seemed to only pull out their beautiful pieces for date night.
I loved this idea of wearing something beautiful purely for oneself and it really got stuck in my thoughts. Plus I thought it was amazing how such a small piece of clothing could transform one’s mood, posture, and confidence. Not to mention that the proper choice of lingerie, along with a good fit, could transform the line and silhouette of one’s outer clothing. It’s something I am often consider; what type of garments would go best with a piece of lingerie I am designing.
My interest in textiles didn’t actually develop until I started creating garments. Very quickly, however, I found myself trying to learn as much as possible about the properties of each fabric as this would allow me to use the fabric in a way to complement these characteristics. For me it is has become an integral part of the design process
Were you always on track to become an intimates/corset designer? What lead you to intimates and corsetry?
I actually started my working career in science as an oceanographer, but once I decided on fashion design I pretty much knew I wanted to design intimates. I love the idea of designing the first thing a woman puts on each day and how it can affect her mood, silhouette, posture for the day as well as enhancing the line of her outer clothing.
As for corsets, when I lived in New Orleans I had a friend who was the corset expert at a shop specialising in them and I learned a fair amount from her. I found myself fascinated by how they were constructed as well as their long history in fashion. It was when I took a course in corset design and construction, however, that I learned how much I love making them. It’s just what I found I was best at.
You live here in New York, what is it about this city that inspires you?
I am almost afraid to admit it, but to be honest, very little of my design inspiration comes from New York. I mean it is an amazing place to be as far as materials and human resources. There are very few places in the world where one can one find such a large selection of fabrics and lingerie notions, plus so many other materials one might need. Equally important is the sheer number of other people working in the fashion industry in NYC. There is just so much knowledge and expertise that can be gained from just talking to any of these people, and so many are happy to share. It is a certain energy I have never experienced elsewhere in the U.S.
“Each customer will receive a beautiful corset that has been constructed with the greatest attention to detail and even hand finishing, a detail that is often reserved only for couture garments.”
Despite the outsourcing of factories and skilled garment workers, there are still a lot of resources here in NYC for designers, have you found the resources here in NY helpful in launching your collection?
Up to this point I have been doing virtually all of the garment construction myself, but as my sales expand I know I will have to outsource at least some of the production work. I have already started to look into my options and it reassuring to see how many options I will have. It is important to me that my garments are made locally: It permits better quality control. It supports the economy that I live in. And it is a greener approach, as opposed to shipping things to remote parts of the world simply to have cheap construction costs.
Do you listen to music when you work? If so, what?
Music is one of my lifelong loves. And yes it is playing any time I am working. My music collection is quite varied and I am always looking for new sounds that catch my attention. The latest finds that are dominating my listening are The Joy Formidable and Unwoman. When designing I play music that fits the mood of the collection I am working on. For example I was mostly playing Mogwai, Nick Drake, Woven, and rockettothesky for my first collection. When I am doing construction work, however, it is much more likely to be old favourites, like Bauhaus, Joy Division, Hüsker Dü, Fugazi, The Decemeberists or even traditional Celtic music. Note you can look for a Celtic themed line in the not too distant future.
What would you be doing if you weren’t designing?
I guess I could say that I would still be doing oceanographic research, my career before embarking on fashion, but the truth is I left that because it just made me so unhappy. I spent a long time deciding that I would try and enter the world of fashion so at the moment it is hard to consider some other career. I guess I would try and do something that took advantage of the fact that I have such varied interests and love learning new things. Maybe something like journalism, or even teaching. The best teachers I have had told me that they were always amazed at how much they learned from their students. Plus I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences teaching in graduate school and later as an Irish folk dance instructor for adults.
Passions & Inspirations
What’s your favorite piece of lingerie and/or corsetry?
My favourite piece from Copper Lune is the Countess Olenska overbust corset. I have fitted this garment on a number of women of different sizes and have been pleasantly surprised at how well it fit each of their figures. The plunge neckline has demonstrated the ability to flatter busts of different sizes. The actual waist shaping is quite conservative, but the panels have been shaped so that it gives the visual impression of an even smaller waistline, especially if contrasting fabrics are used. I find this to be a rather traditional piece of corsetry, but for me its beauty is in its simplicity and fit.
Probably the piece of lingerie that had the single largest effect on me was a Marlies Dekkers bra from her 2006 collection. I was window shopping soon after I had moved to Brest, France and stumbled upon it in this little lingerie boutique. The bra incorporated pieces of chainmail into the back closure and shoulder straps as well as featuring her now iconic straps that contour the line of a woman’s decolleté. Of course I had seen some of these design elements before, but never done so well and in high-end lingerie. It was a revelation for me as to what lingerie design could be.
What lingerie designers and/or brands inspire you?
As you might have guessed, my first big inspiration was the Dutch lingerie designer Marlies Dekkers. Her designs are both strong and innovative, and at the same time her bras are engineered for a maximum off support and comfort while creating a beautiful silhouette. And to the best of my knowledge her lingerie has never employed lace, the mainstay of almost all lingerie designers. Not that I have anything against lace, but I respect that she has found her own distinctive point of view and you always know when you see a Marlies Dekkers piece. More recently two others who have caught my attention are Shell Belle Couture lingerie and Maya Hansen. Shell Belle Couture also seems to have a strong point of view and I love their promotional shoots. They are the brand that has probably most inspired my own shoot. Maya Hansen is a Spanish corset designer who does a full runway show of her themed corsets each season in Madrid. While initially focusing solely on corsets she has more recently been using corsets as stepping off point for more of a couture type show, but the corset elements are always there. This is a direction I might like to explore someday.
What other passions do you have? How do they affect you as a designer?
Ummm, well there really are so many. I have already touched on music. I have had a lifelong love of books. I almost never leave the house without a book, just in case I find a few minutes of down time on the subway or waiting in line at the grocery. I find that great books open up my imagination, and I am not limited to just the visual for inspiration when designing. My other big love is cycling. I have had always had a bicycle for as long as I can remember, but it was in high school that I started taking it more seriously. Most years I ride 2000 to 3000 miles. Occasionally I take a leisurely ride, but I prefer to spend an hour or two pushing myself to my max, seeing what my body can do. The ability to just leave things behind and head into the countryside, even for an hour, changes your perspective. I always return feeling stronger, calmer, and my biggest challenges feel more manageable. Being in motion always seem to drive my creativity.
The Business of Lingerie
What is the biggest challenge in designing your own label?
Probably in ensuring that you have a clear vision of what your brand is. There seems to be more and more boutique lingerie lines and you need to have a way to distinguish yourself and stand out from the crowd. Once you define this it makes it so much easier to sell you brand as well as know if a piece fits in your collection.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your own brand?
I guess as I am a designer by training, but in wearing all the hats in my brand the hardest part for me has been marketing Copper Lune. I guess in my ideal world I would spend all my time with only designing, creating, and a bit of blogging. I would love to find someone to collaborate with and take over more of the business/marketing part of Copper Lune.
Where do you see Copper Lune being sold here in the US or abroad?
Of course I would hope that Copper Lune would have an appeal to Americans as it is designed and created here in the U.S. And initially most of my marketing efforts have been here in the U.S. I definitely want to expand to Europe and even the rest of the world. I have already begun some preliminary work on translating the Copper Lune website into French and German.
Are you looking at selling directly to consumers or to boutiques?
Currently I am only selling directly to customers. I would like very much to put Copper Lune into boutiques, but since all the corsets are made to fit each customer I am still looking at the best way to do this. It will probably mean only working with boutiques that are experienced with corsets.