Rosie Evans, a Welsh designer, now residing in Brighton, is breathing new life into genderless corsets and revitalising the previously negative historical context behind bodices. Corsets, since the fifteen and sixteen hundreds have always been kind of a ‘taboo’ subject, from the dangers of tight lacing, classism, sexism and a whole litany of health problems from posture to poor digestion. Women then and now are being told what to wear. But, Rosie Evans leaves behind any historical notions of corsets as oppressive.
Rosie Evans specialises in corsetry and Elizabethan bodices, but that doesn't stop her from creating beautiful jumpers, skirts and blouses too. Her pieces encourage her audience to shop consciously and put the emphasis back on individuality that fast fashion put to death. Rosie leaves no stone unturned when searching for extraordinary fabrics to create exclusive and unique bodices - she creates from vintage materials, french tapestries, and previously owned curtain drapes. She even up-cycled her grandfather’s old houndstooth car cushion he kept since the nineties! Everything is put into artistic use. During her adolescence, Rosie's father used to teach children about the importance of recycling and sustainability. This might have nudged her into the direction of slow fashion that is not intrinsic to her brand.

Rosie Evans is an ethical luxury fashion brand, fused with elements of fantasy and traditional craft. After studying drama, art and fashion textiles at the University of West England in Bristol, she solely focused on the art of knitting for the second and third year. Her creative essence is inspired by many historical associations, like literature and films from the seventies, and cult British classic films like Heathers, and more recently The Souvenir. But at the height of her imagination lies Shakespearian poetry, and not to forget Welsh poets like Dylan Thomas.
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Hi Rosie! Could you tell us a little about who you are for those that don’t know?
Hi! I’m Rosie Evans, I founded and run the brand Rosie Evans, which is a high fantasy sustainable brand. I grew up in South Wales, studied fashion design in Bristol and currently live in Brighton.
You are highly inspired by historical fashion, film and fantasy. Apparently, Shakespeare is a favourite of yours, how has Shakespeare specifically influenced your work today?
Forever a favourite of mine, I find the way Shakespeare writes about people, love and pain is still so true in today's world. Once you get a hang of the language you realise how many of his plays and words are meant for the everyday audience, even the more fantastical stories have a grounded truth to them. For example, when it's quite fantastical and far out, you can still understand Prospero’s drive for revenge and Macbeth’s misguided ambition. My last collection was heavily inspired by The Tempest, and how it resonated to our feelings during the first lockdown, everyone was in this weird liminal state and getting cabin fever.
You mix historical fashion with contemporary elements. Why did you decide to mix these two themes?
I call Rosie Evans a ‘high fantasy brand’ because I wanted to bridge the gap between dressing up and everyday fashion, I’ve always loved the escapism of playing with more feminine and fantastical styles of clothing and forgetting the real world. Also, I used to be really into historical costume, but I have always preferred the silly over the top anachronistic costumes of fairy tale cinema, Czech and French fairytale film in particular. I’m not interested in historical accuracy or designing replicas of antique clothing, but creating clothing with links to history. Corsets are obviously the main draw of my brand, specifically elizabethan stays and bodices, I love how they have much more of a process than other garments for how you put them on and how tailored they feel.
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Corsets and bodices have a long history full of controversy, once seen as an example of the restrictive roles placed on women. As well as being a symbol of power, classism and health concerns. From underwear to outerwear, it’s all there. How do you think the views on corsets have changed today?
I find this a really interesting issue because so much of society's views on corsets are based on misogynistic myths and lies perpetuated by men in the victorian times to shame women for wearing them. Women were ridiculed for wearing corsets and shamed for choosing not to wear them, similar to how women are shamed for high heels or makeup (or basically everything) nowadays. Myths of surgically removing ribs or tight lacing were found to come from satirical magazines, and I think it does a disservice to women of the time to see them as stupid or vain for wearing corsets which were essentially the bras of their day, maybe not always the most comfortable but just part of life. The issue of class is something I was quite conscious of when starting to design corsets, I wanted to look at how working women wore corsets, and how you could make them comfortable and movable, by using different construction methods than one worn by upper class women who opted for aesthetics over practicality. I think now that we’ve entered an age of maximalism, where dressing up is more exciting than wearing loose all black fits, and more people know the history of corsets, they became the perfect trend for the 2020’s - we’re all dressing up for the club and never leaving the house!
Corsetry is much more than an aesthetic development. It’s a modification of the body. What role do you think identity has to play in regards to bodices?
Body positivity has be interestingly linked to corsets, I think the mere fact that they’re adjustable, you can wear it loose or tight and it still fits even if your body changes, as they do, make them a really unique piece in fashion. Most trend items often look really great on skinny sample size models but don’t translate to the average consumer, but corsets flatter any body type. You don’t have to be a perfect hourglass or straight as a pin or a size whatever to look and feel good in them. There’s also been such a change in how we view body modification, artists like Michaela Stark are showing that the extremes of corsetry, showing the rolls and folds, aren’t ugly but beautiful.
Jean-Paul Gaultier is one of your favourite designers. He has a lifelong interest in evoking traditional Western styles of femininity using corsets, but also evolving ideas of masculinity and femininity. How do you think the barriers of dressings norms and gendered fashion are changing and do you see your brand on this spectrum?
I made the conscious choice to keep my brand genderless, despite designing what’s seen as very feminine clothing, I don’t want to needlessly gender clothing or create confines to who can wear them. Growing up, I wasn’t brought up with the idea of boys and girls clothing and it gave me a sense of freedom with expression when it came to dressing; as I got older and went through puberty I felt there was so much pressure to be a ‘girl’ the right way and play by the impossible rules of ‘femininity’ and it wasn’t until I got into fashion design that I saw how stupid it all is. Now, as a world, we’re more aware of the broader spectrum of sexuality and gender and gender expression through clothing, theres more space and market for genderless clothing that plays with the extremes of masculinity and femininity.
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Corsetry is an intimate interaction between the body and the garment. Since working with corsets, has the relationship with your body changed at all?
Definitely, I’ve always struggled with insecurities about my body, I wasn’t the ‘pretty one’ growing up; and after putting on a lot of weight due to my medication for a chronic illness I didn’t feel like my body was mine. I always felt too big and awkward to dress in out there clothes. Then after loosing a lot of weight at university, I felt that people were only valuing me because I was smaller and chose to cover up more. Corsets made such a difference in how I viewed my body, the simple act of lacing myself in, standing up straighter and feeling the stiff fabric around me, it felt like something was supporting me. Especially with Covid preventing me from getting in models for every new product, I’ve had to be more comfortable sharing images and videos of the garments on myself which has really helped my confidence.
Corsets remind me of the movie Marie Antoinette, by Sophia Coppola. Getting dressed in the morning was heavily calculated (for the noble, at least); every individual had a specific role. From waking her, bathing her and undressing her. How do you think our connection with garments and the act of getting dressed has changed?
I love that scene where the noble women all wait in line to dress the queen, it is so funny and painful to watch. For so long the process of dressing was solitary and private, I’d struggle with zips and clasps because I felt too conscious of my body to ask someone to help. But now I think social media and the body positivity movement has helped with that. We see a much more diverse range of bodies than we did 10 years ago, and it changes the way we see the barrier of over and under garments. Corsets especially, which unless you’re double jointed like me, are hard to lace yourself into, and you need a friend to pull you in which creates an intimate connection.
You mentioned that some materials, like acrylic fabrics, gave you eczema. The source of many skin problems may be fabric itself, which can also lead to other health concerns. Has your experience changed how you source your fabrics?
Before I started Rosie Evans I wasn’t as clued up on the importance of fabric contents. I knew natural over synthetic was better for the environment but not how it affects your personal environment aka your body. I would get really painful eczema during the winter and not understand that wearing a tight acrylic top throughout wasn’t helping. In 2019 I worked at a wool mill for a while and I learnt a lot about the benefits of natural wool and lanolin, to the environment and to your skin too. Sourcing fabrics for Rosie Evans, I look for natural fibres and soft textures that don’t irritate the skin but are also sustainable, often dead-stock or vintage silk, cotton and wools.
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Being an ethical and sustainable brand is very important to you: from your dad teaching kids about sustainability to you only using vintage materials for your garments. However, the term sustainability has lost its meaning over time. As a consumer, how are we supposed to know what exactly we are buying?
Greenwashing and faux sustainability is a huge issue at the moment, a lot of bigger brands have tried to monetise on a very real desire from customers to shop sustainably by making an organic cotton line but still pumping out thousands of unsustainable and unethically made garments each week. Also, I appreciate that running a small label, despite trying to be as sustainable as possible, isn’t going to save the planet from environmental disaster, as much as I wish it would. But shopping from independent brands, who are open and honest about their production and making a conscious effort to use sustainable materials and reduce waste is a step in a much better direction. As a consumer who wants to shop consciously asks brands to back up their claims of sustainability, be wary of brands that can pump out huge amounts of products a month in ‘organinc’ or ‘eco-freindly’ materials with no info about ethical production.
As I mentioned before, you use a lot of vintage and deadstock materials. From leftover cushion fabric to French tapestries! What are some of the most unusual fabrics you have integrated into your designs and why?
I look for unusual and unique textiles from the past, as I wanted to combat the already huge amounts of beautiful fabrics being left to sit in attics unused for generations. Vintage tablecloths, silk curtains, tapestries and silk table runners are some of my favourites to use but I also ask for old upholstery donations from friends and family. A recent donation was my grandad’s old houndstooth car cushion, that he had kept since the 90’s to use for kneeling on when setting his log fire, and after unpicking, washing the wool and repairing any holes I turned it into 2 corsets to be sold at 50m. I’m always open as to where the fabrics come from, giving as much history on the materials as I can find, and I find customers are more interested in a piece when it has a story behind them.
You did a gorgeous knitwear collaboration with Rabbit Baby, featuring faerie crochet ‘granny squares’. What was the vision for this project?
Lovely Sophie! She contacted me over Instagram about collaborating on a project last summer while I was working on my A/W collection. I knew I wanted to bring in knitwear, which I studied at university, and I’d designed a patchwork jumper with each patch being a different stitch. Sophie is amazing at crochet and together we designed 4 flower squares, trying out 3-d methods of crochet to make deep textured pieces. The jumper is one of my favourite in the collection, with thick heavy wool and all different knits and colours. Next winter collection I’m going to be designing more knitwear pieces so keep your eyes peeled for them.
You mentioned growing up in Wales you never really had an artistic or creative community or scene to connect with; and that Welsh brands weren’t really a ‘thing’. How have you seen the Welsh scene evolve until now?
I’ve never been more happy to be proved wrong in my life, over the last year having to move back to Cardiff due to Covid, I’ve met so many amazing Welsh designers and creatives. 2020 proved that location and connection to big cities isn’t what makes you talented and creative. In my AW collection I worked with the wonderful Meg Winstone and Charlotte Wilcock for photography and art direction, and collaborated with Ophelia Dos Santos, an incredibly talented embroidery artist on a collection of tarot inspired corsets in the summer. One of the positives of lockdown was that I’ve discovered more welsh artists and creatives through social media, and I’m really excited to get to work.
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 12.jpg
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Rosie Evans Metalmagazine 13.jpg