By Melinda Munson
Cori Giacomazzi is in the business of breasts. Her high quality corsets have been cradling and lifting the bosoms of Skagway’s working ladies since 2000.
Compared to the rest of the country, a disproportionate number of Skagwegians are familiar with the ribbons and stays of a corset as they perform seasonal jobs for a town whose economy is centered around portraying the Yukon Goldrush of 1896-1899.
Tamar Harrison wore a corset for her job as a server and “madame” at the Red Onion Saloon and brothel museum for 10 years. She swears corsets are comfortable and is thrilled to be taking a Giacomazzi creation home when she moves back to her native United Kingdom.
“I feel attractive now, in it. I become a different person,” Harrison said when Giacomazzi laced her into a black silk corset with red flowers.
There was slight grunting and flailing throughout the process, but Harrison assured the room she was just being dramatic.
Giacomazzi met her first corset in the mid 1990s while attending fashion school. Her assignment was to make a reproduction of an original early 1800s piece. To date, she has made around 130 corsets.
Giacomazzi said she loves corsets because, “they celebrate the female form.” According to the artist, they are not as uncomfortable as people imagine and the historical idea of an 18-inch waist “was not fact.” (Men, too, wore corsets and some of Skagway’s male residents have donned the contraptions.)
Each of Giacomazzi’s corsets are numbered. The structure of the textiles closely resemble their early counterparts, although Giacomazzi adds three inches to account for today’s taller women. The coutil, or corset cloth, is from England, as is the spring steel which is used for the boning.
“These are made correctly,” Giacomazzi said. They are designed to withstand tugging, pulling, and many, many days and nights of work and play. Some of the patterns are more traditional like Harrison’s red blossomed corset. Another model features Carhartt fabric with pockets.
Giacomazzi’s last corset show was in 2015, which featured local women as models.
“I’m a huge fan of real bodies,” Giacomazzi said.
The show highlighted a corset entitled, “Look into my eyes,” with bold eyes fashioned over the black bodice, complete with eyelashes. Giacomazzi said she designed the piece for her sister, who felt like men were always looking at her chest. A string attached to the eyelashes made one eye wink. The crowd roared.
“They lost it. It was fantastic,” Giacomazzi said. Two of Giacomazzi’s corsets, including “Look into my eyes,” are housed at the Skagway Museum.
Normally, Giacomazzi works for the Red Onion on costumes, graphic design and as museum curator. Due to the COVID-19 downturn, she accepted a job at the library.
“Museum work translates really well to library work,” Giacomazzi said.
The artist also runs Lilith Moon which sells handmade clothing constructed from upcycled materials. She has an Etsy site, but doesn’t sell her corsets there. Each corset takes 8-12 hours to construct and prices start at $360.
“I love to see a woman discover herself,” Giacomazzi said as she told the story of a business woman who ordered a corset to wear discreetly under her business suits so she would feel powerful.
“Everyone should try one,” Giacomazzi said.
Cooper Hays, a recent transplant and new hire at the Red Onion is enjoying her Giacomazzi corset.
“It’s not ideal for breath support,” the singer said, who tried wearing a corset “because it was so beautiful” at a recent show. But Lynn said she enjoys wearing the corset at work and it helps her posture. She sees the piece as a symbol of independence.
“It’s taking back a Victorian misogynistic restraint,” she said.