Anarchists of Style: Mr. Pearl

 

Corsetry has been the foundation of all women’s clothing over the ages. It’s important that people should not forget this, elegance requires a foundation…. These days people are more fascinated by the complications of a voicemail on their mobile phones than unseen sophistications. –Mr. Pearl

Video: Diane Pernet, A Shaded View

Mr. Pearl, the corsetiere extraordinaire who humbly denies this title. An unseen voice in Diane Pernet’s video, its calm, precise timber evoking calmer and more precise times past; a craftsman known to work corsets until his fingers bleed; a submissive devotee with 18-inch-waist—such details construct the mystery that is Mr. Pearl, a seemingly otherworldly being born of the melding of the corset, desire and discipline.

I am no sadist. Wearing a corset myself means that I can empathize with my client – making a corset becomes a shared experience rather than the imposition of an overly exacting couturier. Perhaps this makes me some kind of feminist?

 

His Story: Surrounded by such mystique, biographic data feels extraneous. Although it seems responsible to report here, it hardly seems to matter that Mr. Pearl was born Mark Pullin or that he is originally from South Africa. Only slightly more insightful is word from his brother, a motorcycle mechanic, who said young Mark was bullied in school and during military service. And, what to make of the words of his estranged father, a toolmaker, who told The Daily Mail, “I knew he was gay from the day he was born.” (There is no word whatsoever from his ex-wife, actress Terry Norton.)

Instead, the inception of the Mr. Pearl as we “know him” can be found in his memories of his grandmother’s long-line corsets—at times recalled as peach, at others as salmon-pink. “When I was a young boy I often helped my grandmother lace herself into her corset….It took a long time, every morning, to be laced into it.” He later described this experience as “a great treat.”

Mr. Pearl was destined to be a citizen of the world’s great cities. From London, which he embraced “as soon I could leave my military service,” he moved to New York City, where he began corseting after seeing a photograph of Fakir Musafar, father of the modern primitive movement. Mr. Pearl was then 30 years old.

Fakir Musafar

By 1994 he was telling Art Forum that he was three-years into receiving “a corset education, among other things” by Jeanette, who the publication called “London’s principle disciplinarian.” Since then, except for when he bathes, he has been corseted 24-hours a day. (Art Forum)

He opened his Parisian headquarters in 2002. His personal vision has lead to collaborations with designers such as Thierry Mugler, John Paul Gautier, and Christian Lacroix. He has helped to shape the images and the waistlines of celebrities such as Dita von Teese, Kylie Minogue and Victoria Beckham.

Dita in Mr. Pearl. On wearing the corset, he says, “the body becomes voluptuous and palpably ‘there’ rather than repressed.”

 

His Style: “To wear the corset all the time, the way I do, is my true discipline,” he explained to Verbal Abuse magazine. He defines his relationship with the corset in no uncertain terms. “It is the corset that is the dominant. If you give yourself over to it, in wearing such a garment you are giving yourself up, losing yourself in the discipline.”

Dita and Mr. Pearl

He described the feeling of being corseted as a “permanent embrace,” and it is clearly one that he has come to rely on. “You feel quite vulnerable without it,” he said, “like a beetle without its shell.”

Let’s think about it: Mr. Pearl’s consistent wearing of the corset, combined with his fastidious, dapper appearance separates him from the average man on the street, one who may be dashing off to the local Target in disheveled khakis.. Yet he is a reluctant celeb, shying away from blatant fashion stardom—a bit unexpected for someone whose style naturally garners more than a few passing glances. Initially, research on body modification seems applicable; and there are fabulous scholars in our field, such as Assistant Profs (and friends of WT) Theresa Winge, who has focused on subcultural body modification], and Francesca Granata, who has written on Leigh Bowery. Rather than head toward the idea of body modification as group identification or as distinction from others Pearl heads a little closer to some of the research on fetish, of which there’s been some grand writings including Valerie Steele‘s benchmark book on the subject.

Yet the concept of “symbolic self completion” may be most apt in this exploration. Although research in this area is frequently used to discuss fulfilling the performance of a role in society—such as wearing luxury items to be a high roller or a suit to exemplify an ideal worker—in Mr. Pearl’s case it works in its purest form. He is taking the idea of completion out of the social sphere and moving it internal. He’s ignoring societal expectations and focusing, first and foremost, on his own sense of self.] There is symbolism wrapped up in how Mr. Pearl wears the corset and what it represents to him. It’s about how he sees himself and how he feels thoroughly expressive. It’s only through the action of dressing in a corset and its role in his self- presentation that he feels he embodies his true self. That’s unusual I think, as many of these theories are about doing something with others in mind, and yet Mr. Pearl seems to be doing this solely for himself. This makes him an ultimate Anarchist of Style.

(Lisa and Monica collaborated on this post.)

 

Reading List

Collcutt, D. A fat chance Kylie! Mail Online, April 3, 2005. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-343547/A-fat-chance-Kylie.html

Couture Lab. The Talented Mr. Pearl: Corsetier to the Couturier. http://magazine.couturelab.com/article/mr-pearl/view/?category_page=1

Drier, D. Tie me up tie me down–the corset. Art Forum, Oct. 1994. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_n2_v33/ai_16315378/

Forrest, E. Tighten up corsets. The Independent, London, Nov. 24, 2001. At:  http://www.corsetheaven.com/corsets/articles/tightenup.asp

Pernet, D. My conversation with Mr. Pearl. Diane, A Shaded View of Fashion. http://dianepernet.typepad.com/diane/2007/07/my-conversation.html

Stern, A. A corset moment with Pearl.Verbal Abuse Magazine. Issue 3. http://www.mothernyc.com/verbal/pearl.html

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