Since opening up shop on Magazine Street in 2019, handmade corset purveyor Autumn Adamme has relied on flexibility to stay strong.
New Orleans has inspired generations of artists, designers and costume creators almost from its very beginnings, and corset designer, master fitter and founder of Dark Garden Corsetry and Couture Autumn Adamme is one of them. Adamme has translated that New Orleans joie de vivre into a successful line of handmade foundation-wear and a fantastic, and fantastical, 32-year long career.
Dark Garden Corsetry opened its flagship location in San Francisco in 1989. Thirty years later, in April 2019, the store expanded into New Orleans at 3528 Magazine Street, and ever since has been providing custom corsets for international celebrities (such as Jennifer Lopez and Dita Von Teese), locally celebrated Mardi Gras krewes, brides, couture and costume creations, and anyone just interested in fashion and style.
While Halloween and Mardi Gras are understandably popular times for sales, Dark Garden clients aren’t just looking for dramatic apparel, a fact that has kept the boutique businesses busy for three decades.
“Our clients really run the gamut,” Adamme said. “We have people who come in for all sorts of needs – medical compression, opera and theater, shapewear to wear under your clothing, statement pieces to show off, full head-to-toe ensembles for weddings or special occasions, corsets for the boudoir or to spice up the bedroom, and costumes for burlesque, Halloween or Carnival. But all of our clients come to us because they’re looking to invest in a piece that will deliver in quality, durability, beauty as well as comfort.”
Adamme said her journey to the Crescent City was a long time coming, but has been worth the wait.
“New Orleans has long inspired me with its magic, history and creative spirit,” Adamme said. “The name ‘Dark Garden,’ which I landed on back in 1989, was in part motivated by my love of this city even then. I’ve also spent a lot of time in New Orleans professionally. In 2009, I worked with The Sirens to conceptualize and design the costumes for their Mardi Gras krewe and made their corsets exclusively for eight years. We’ve also created many corsets for The Merry Antoinettes since their inception. It had long been a dream of mine to open a location here, and I was finally able to make that happen with the help of my boutique manager, Annabelle, when she too fell in love with the magic of the city.”
Since its local brick-and-mortar debut, success has been steady, although Adamme and her team have had to navigate an unprecedented retail market with quarantine and COVID-19 restrictions.
“We certainly weren’t expecting to celebrate our first and second New Orleans anniversaries in quarantine,” she said. “Though we’ve been a brand for over 30 years and built a name for ourselves in San Francisco and beyond within the corset community, we were relatively unknown in New Orleans. Our [two-plus] years here have been spent in part getting to know the New Orleans communities we serve and having them get to know us, as well as navigating the challenges of the pandemic. We’ve adjusted our in-store offerings, played with live-stream selling, increased online events, sponsored local charities, and I’ve even joined the Magazine Street Merchants Association board.”
All of Dark Garden’s corsets are hand-made by artisans at the San Francisco boutique. Adamme’s team consists of a tight-knit studio dedicated to creating the highest quality product.
“We are proud to employ a local, women-led, queer-inclusive staff who are paid a living wage,” she said. “Dark Garden is unique in that we have the talent and vision of a couture house, the agility of a small design studio, but also have brick-and-mortar stores where we can build a head-to-toe brand image and interact with clients on a personal level,” she said. “Besides myself, there are 10 people in production, including my other two designers, and three people who work in the San Francisco boutique, though one of them is part-time on production. We have four people in New Orleans, and two contractors in other states, so that’s 19.”
Corsets may be ordered remotely via the company’s website or in person at the boutiques, with an emphasis on proper fitting for both comfort and style.
“We offer three levels of purchase, both online and in-store,” explained Adamme. “Pre-made, ready-to-wear corsets for sale in our boutiques start at $495 in our signature black cotton, and can go up to around $1,400 or so depending on the silhouette and fabric. With personalized design, the client can select one of our standard silhouettes and design their own corset, choosing among many customizable design elements. Depending on fabric and hardware selection, fit alterations, and add-on details from pockets to piping, the prices can range quite a bit. These corsets take about six weeks to produce.”
For those looking for the ultimate in corsetry, Dark Garden also offers a bespoke experience.
“These corsets are completely made to measure over the course of three to six months,” said Adamme. “They include an initial designer consultation, extensive measurements and at least two mockup fittings before the corset is made. The final piece is perfectly fit to your body with the highest level of tailoring. These corsets start at $2,995.”
Consultants work with clients via email, video consultation and in person to properly fit each corset to the wearer. Dark Garden also hosts private fitting parties for bachelorette parties or krewe costume meetings; for example, for groups of two to six prices range from $100 to $500 per event, and can feature personalized fittings, private access to the boutiques and celebratory refreshments.
In a market of quick and cheap options, Dark Garden caters to those who demand quality and craftsmanship.
“We hold ourselves to the highest standard in everything we do, including the materials we select, construction techniques, fair labor standards, inclusive sizing and marketing, our boutique experience and customer service,” Adamme said. “Our patterns and techniques are informed by over 30 years of real experience fitting corsets on actual bodies. With mass-produced corsets, you don’t get the benefit of trying items on in-store, consulting with an expert fitter, personalizing the fit of your corset or even designing the construction yourself. You are certainly not likely to get quality materials or comfort in a mass-produced corset.”
According to Adamme, this particular undergarment holds a lot of power.
“They are transformative garments,” she said. “They improve your posture and enhance your silhouette, boosting your confidence and transforming how others perceive you.”
Fun Facts About Corsets
Corsets as a separate shaping undergarment first appeared in the 16th century.
In Europe in the Middle Ages, waist-shaping garments were worn by both sexes. Some men also wore them in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Andy Warhol was said to have worn a corset to support his back after being shot in 1968.
Young children were often fitted with corsets in the 19th century in the belief they would ensure a straight spine and a good body shape later in life.