Season 2 Coming Soon!
Dec. 3, 2020

Transforming Lives with Autumn Adamme


The Godmother of Modern Corsetry, Autumn Adamme, shares her thoughts on uncommon beauty, radical inclusion, and living outrageously. Learn more about her perspective as we discuss:

  • the transformative power of a corset
  • outrageous costume balls
  • feminist thoughts on embracing corsetry
  • Autumn's dream to transform lives all over the world

Guest Biography
Autumn became known as the Godmother of Modern Corsetry after launching Dark Garden in 1989, reviving corsets for a modern body and audience. Growing up on the Renaissance Fair circuit, Autumn made her first corset at 12. Shortly after reaching the age of majority, she turnednthe carfting of custom corsets and ensembles into a groundbreaking business which established many of the techniques and standards observed by corsetmakers across the world today. Her devotion to supporting uncommon beauty through the practice of radical inclusiveness has brought her both job satisfaction and a dedicated international following who appreciate the welcome that she and her team offer to everyone who visits either of her two boutiques.

Connect with Autumn:

Episode References

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Lady Grey is an award-winning international entertainer and educator. She has been at the helm of numerous performing arts organizations and has performed everywhere from Broadway to the Sydney Olympics. She currently serves as Artistic Director of Lady Grey's Lovelies and continues to work as a mentor and empowerment coach.

Connect with Lady Grey

Transcript

Autumn:

I was getting this message from all media that my feminine curves were bad. And I rebelled against that.

Lady Grey:

Hello, you lovely humans. Welcome to the live outrageously with Lady gray podcast. I'm your hostess lady gray. And I have had the great honor to interview a number of super inspiring world changers about how they live outrageously. So we're going to share about how they push boundaries. They fight for change, and how they seriously shake up the status quo. I could not be more excited to introduce you to my very first guest. Autumn Adom, she became known as the godmother of modern corsetry after launching dark garden in the late 80s, reviving corsets for a modern body and a modern audience. her devotion to supporting uncommon beauty through the practice of radical inclusion has brought her both job satisfaction and a dedicated international following, who appreciate the welcome that she and her team offered everyone who visits either of her two boutiques. Welcome, welcome. Welcome, autumn. It is so great to have you on the show.

Autumn:

Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here with you.

Lady Grey:

It is a huge honor to have you here and to get to dialogue with you about your outrageous life. And for those of you that don't know, Autumn and I know each other, we've worked together before on some fantastic projects. So this will be a really fun dialogue, because we're also friends and we have a lot of things in common. And hopefully we can dig into those things and give you a little bit of a peek into autumns everyday life. So let's start with a little background about you and your corsetry so people can get to know you better. you currently have two shops, is that correct? That is correct. Can you tell us a little bit about those,

Autumn:

I can tell you about my two shops, I began dark garden in 1989 out of my garage, and that grew very gradually into a sewing business. And that then grew into being a corset company. And then that grew into my having what we call the flagship store in Hayes Valley in San Francisco. And there we also do our production. And then a year and a half ago, I opened a second location, just a boutique in New Orleans.

Lady Grey:

So how in the world did you get trained? Are you self taught? Have you had mentors that you've had or people you've apprenticed

Autumn:

for the most part? Yeah, for the most part, I'm self taught. And when I started the business, I was fascinated by courses coming from a historical standpoint, I studied costume history, I worked as a second hand to an historical costumer, and she made courses so I learned a little bit from her I learned a little bit from other historical costumers that I knew. And then I started really honing in on corsetry specifically, and learned as much as I could from existing historical garments. And there's a book called corsets and crinolines at the time, it was basically the only book that had anything, any information about corsetry. And I just experimented, I dug in, and I practiced and practiced and made a lot of courses for myself. And I'm going to say that my first 10 courses were pretty crummy. And then I started getting pretty good at it. And they started becoming more comfortable. And I learned more about the body modification that I was able to do on myself. I learned what was comfortable, what wasn't what I was willing to withstand what I wasn't, and I'm someone I really don't like being uncomfortable. I like being fancy, but I don't like being uncomfortable. So I just kept at it until I created a course that that I felt good in. And more and more people were asking me about the course it's that I was wearing because they looked so different from anything else that was available at that time. And then that led to this company that I'm part of now. I have had a mentor, actually a few mentors, to be honest. One was more about being a sewing professional and then the very corset focused mentor is Mr. Pearl and he was kind enough to let me come work with him for a month and Paris. And then he came in worked with me in San Francisco for a few months. One of the things that I learned from him was how much I already knew, which was really eye opening and validating honestly,

Lady Grey:

what would a day in the life of one of the top corsetieres in the world look like?

Autumn:

a day in my life generally begins with some self care, I'm really dedicated to Pilates. And that is followed by checking email and all of my internal communication, because, again, I have two locations. So making sure that New Orleans has what they need, and my production team has what they need, and also my retail staff has what they need. And then I sometimes get to go into the studio and do some creative work. And sometimes I do you have to interface entirely with social media or other forms of other forms of communication. I feel like these days I'm focusing so much more on communicating about my work than actually doing my work. But I think that's that's a piece of the current world, that with the pandemic, I'm just scrambling harder to, to make things go because the world is so different than than it was a year ago.

Lady Grey:

Right and and are you finding that you still do a lot of custom work right now? Are you designing things? Are you actually sewing things? are you man? Oh, my are you managing stores?

Autumn:

Yeah, my days are full in a variety of different ways. And I will say that the work that makes me happiest is getting to work directly with clients. And then to also do hands on work, whether that is pattern drafting, fitting or actual sewing. I don't often sell our courses. I have a very, very skilled couple of seamstresses. I do embellishment when we have really, really fancy corsets or wedding ensembles. I am still getting to do custom work as still getting to design with people.

Lady Grey:

Speaking of fancy ensembles, and corsets, can you tell us a little bit more about the very outrageous costume balls that you participate in?

Autumn:

My favorite costume ball in the United States, actually, it's a tie. So it's a tie between the Edwardian ball here in San Francisco and the labyrinth ball in Los Angeles. And both are gigantic events now. And people just really express their creativity and create imaginative, wild, wacky, gorgeous, sexy, funny, dark, scary, all of it, just a little bit of everything at these events, and the performances are fantastic. I think it's a fantastic place for inspiration to start. When, when you are a costume creative. I think it's a rare person that just wakes up and says, Well, today I'm going to make a green dragon costume with purple wings and, you know, lulla lulla, most of us need to be inspired by a reason to wear said garment. And these events are perfect for that. The events that we go to in Venice are fantastic for inspiring creativity because the event organizers put a lot of time and effort into creating themes for these events. So some of them are themes that can be very widely interpreted and some of them are very narrowly interpreted. And I love them both. Because again, it's like a jumping off place for for creativity.

Lady Grey:

That's incredible. I am so looking forward to being able to get back to going to balls and just generally being around people again. In light of that need you just described for inspiration. How are you, I guess inspired to create on a day to day basis.

Autumn:

I am going to narrow in on the thing that brings me to work every day and on those days when I don't want to pull myself out of bed what I focus on so that I get going and that is the work that I do. The garments that I create are transformative and being A person who gets to transform people's lives with a very, very simple object is incredibly meaningful to me. And so the kind of interactions that I have with my clients, I feel really good about that. And it's not what I started out to do. When I was 12 years old and decided that I wanted to make pretty things. I didn't realize that making pretty things was going to then make people feel pretty. And if, if you were to ask me kind of earlier in my life, like well, isn't making people feel pretty kind of superficial, it's kind of shallow, I would have said yes. And through my time working with people, I have learned that it is actually incredibly important. And as we all struggle with feeling, unattractive, ungainly, uncomfortable, whatever, like all of these things, those moments of transforming into a butterfly, even if it's only momentary, that is so vital, and kind of vital for us to be able to do greater work. So if we're feeling kind of awful about ourselves, just in our own physicality, changing that up, can then mean we get a little more focused again and could carry on.

Lady Grey:

That's beautiful. So I really love the sense of empowerment and strength that I feel like I walked away from dark garden with Personally, I'm curious, because I feel like this maybe is something that people who are listening to this that are really unfamiliar with, all their red flags suddenly go up.

Autumn:

Absolutely.

Lady Grey:

And especially, especially our feminist friends out there who struggle maybe with the idea of being a feminist and embracing corsetry. I feel like this is a big topic that we could probably talk about for hours. But what is your perspective? Or do you have anything that you want to share with people about, I guess, modern corsetry and how it interacts with feminism and strength.

Autumn:

Early on in my career as a corset maker, I was at an outdoor vending event, and I was wearing a corset, and a woman came up to me, and she said, Oh, you should be ashamed of yourself. I did all of this work, so that you wouldn't have to wear these. And this is just terrible. And I blinked and took a deep breath. Because it wasn't, I didn't see what I was doing is counter to what she had done. And said, immediately, thank you so much for doing that work. Because that means that I can wear this when I want to, and I never have to. And additionally, so I started the company in 1989. And that was coming off of the heels of the 80s when women were really trying very hard to find their place in the workplace, and we're having to be very, very masculine. And our supermodels were basically androgynous. And I was getting this message from all media that my feminine curves were bad. And I rebelled against that, and, and went kind of the other direction and got ultra feminine. But I've never felt that being feminine means that you aren't strong, ultra femininity is incredibly empowering, and puts you in a place of strength, when our bodies are in a posture of confidence that feeds into our emotions, and we actually become more confident. So that is, in fact then counter to being anti feminist.

Lady Grey:

But and I really truly believe that the message of strong women has has very little to do with what we do or don't wear, right, I mean, it right? Personally, we make choices and like you said, You think to the woman for giving you the ability to make those choices, right but, but ultimately, in the end it's mindset, and it's how we, how we think about ourselves and how we feel in the clothes that we do choose. So I'm reminded that red lipstick and heels are just as powerful as combat boots and overalls, whatever it is that shoes as you are quote unquote, uniform, right? Speaking of mindset, the pandemic has obviously been really difficult for retail businesses and their owners. So how is that impacting dark garden? And you personally,

Autumn:

perfect timing, let me tell you, there's nothing better than opening a second boutique right before a global pandemic. feeling really good about that when.

Lady Grey:

And and you know what it's been, it's been fascinating to talk to people about their pivoting and diversifying and like all the things that they've had to do to manage through this. So I can imagine that you've probably had a similar experience.

Autumn:

Yes, yes, definitely. This is one of those things that is, for those of us that are continuing to live, we are getting stronger and differently resilient and accessing our ingenuity in new and different ways all the time. So and I will say that I'm finding silver linings, in many places. And I think a lot of other people are as well. And that's human nature, right? When when things are tough, we learn to laugh, when things are really rough, we look at the one bright side so that again, we can carry on and do good work, if that is what we are drawn to do. Oh, that's beautiful.

Lady Grey:

Thank you for that.

Autumn:

Through this pandemic, and one of those silver linings has been really meaningful conversations that I have taken the time to have. And one of the conversations that I'm reminded of right now is with one of my artist friends who lives in Paris, and she said, you know, because we're creatives because we create everything that we are thinking of, we have to keep thinking about the best possible outcome of all of this and keep focusing on those tiny positives, because we'll create them. And because we are so creative, if we are thinking too much about our nightmares and our worries, we're going to make that world come true. So we are beholden as creatives to think positively whenever possible,

Lady Grey:

right? And in that we're transformed. You were talking about transformation of other people before through your garments, and everything. But as artists and creators, our mindset and our manifestation of all those beautiful creative things, then transforms us precisely. So let's stay on dark garden for a little bit. Because I know you kind of describe your business philosophy or personal philosophy as being focused on uncommon beauty and radical inclusion. And I'm really in love with those terms. But what specifically does that look like for you? So how does that directly relate to this idea of transformation.

Autumn:

So our tagline "supporting uncommon beauty" came from this ethos of seeing the beauty in each person. And sometimes it's, in fact, often it's easier for others to see our beauty than it is for ourselves to do so. My focus with my two boutiques is that everyone that walks through the door feels welcome, and feels seen. And you know, of course feels heard if if they choose to really speak, the dedication to being radically inclusive probably comes from my rather unusual childhood, and also mostly growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has always been a haven for people that aren't finding a comfortable place for themselves in the world. San Francisco is a place where rebels have always gravitated towards. And so being surrounded by these people from a young age gave me a sense that the world is very open and saying that somebody is weird means absolutely nothing because no one is actually normal. Again, my dedication to being radically inclusive is being the safe place for people that are marginalized.

Lady Grey:

So I would imagine then, that the people who are your clients are generally living outrageous lives as well.

Autumn:

Is that accurate? I believe that our clients are living outrageous lives and sometimes they don't even know they want to live in outrageous life until somehow they get talked into trying on a course it and suddenly they realize that that's something that they want and need.

Lady Grey:

So I guess I'm really curious about autumns role in the world of corsetry for those Have you that don't know, she's known as the godmother of modern corsetry, which is no small title. But I'm I'm curious, I guess about you mentoring kind of a next generation, of course a tear. Are you doing that? I mean, I know you have seamstresses, and obviously you have people sort of in your atelier that are learning your craft that way. But are you? Are you teaching classes? Do you share information? How does that move to the next generation?

Autumn:

That is such a good question, because I pioneered so many techniques. I feel that that's probably where that particular moniker came from. Because I was one of the most enduring corset makers in the 90s. Yeah, I figured so many things out. And I did teach a few classes early on, and discovered at that point that I was training my own competition, and I wasn't really excited about that. Right. Right. And then also, at that point, at that point, corsets were such a niche garment, there really weren't too many people wearing them. So it really did matter more that I was potentially training my own competition. These days, corsets have made their way into the lexicon of clothing in a different way. So I mean, they're never going to be as ubiquitous as jackets, for example. But I think that as long as people are approaching their offerings with their own creativity, and each of us is specializing, and there is a lot of room for, for as many corset makers as want to be out in the market.

Lady Grey:

So at one point, you mentioned the book course, it's incredible, and and Rumor has it that you might be beginning to think about writing a book.

Autumn:

The rumor mill, yes, it's true. It's true. And one of the things that I am often asked, I speak to a lot of different fashion students and classes come through from time to time. And I talked to them about my experiences and things I wish I had known and what I would do differently, and like little tidbits of advice. And I realized that I wanted to share that a little bit further than just the people that were able to come through dark garden. And so I began working on a book, specifically about being a sewing professional and what it takes. And it is entirely coming from my own experiences, and the many, many lessons that I've learned along the way. You know, I've made plenty of mistakes. And I've inadvertently done a bunch of stuff, right? I just wanted to share that and hopefully save a lot of people pain and agony, and also encourage people to live their most creative and outrageous life. But do that in in the smartest way so that creating can be joyous rather than agonizing.

Lady Grey:

I love that, of course, because you're talking about outrageous living. So. So I'm looking forward to reading this book, even though I am about as novice a seamstress, as you can imagine, but I'm curious, in addition to this book, you have any other passion projects were outrageous dreams. Is there a big dream that's sort of on the horizon? A little ways off? Is there something that you know, if you had unlimited resources of time, money and people you would absolutely do what what else is brewing in your head there?

Autumn:

I would like to say that the dream that made me decide that opening a second boutique was a good plan is this dream of having boutiques in many different cities, and each one having the specific romantic flavor that that city has in our imagination? And I'm going to back that up and talk a little bit about opening the boutique in New Orleans. Because everyone says to me autumn Why do Orleans it's not very close to San Francisco. Are you from there? Like what's what's the story? And it's because New Orleans has this deep, dark romantic vibe. So the first time I visited New Orleans, I was super excited to be there and I had this imagination of what it was going to be like and it was very romantic and lush and sexy and just you know and I got there and I was trying to find that And I, I couldn't find it. It was all in my imagination and in the pages of anreise. True story dark garden is named after concept in the vampire Lestat, the Savage Garden. And I was saved from myself by someone else nabbing that name. And so I named it the dark garden instead, villas. So this big dream is that each of these boutiques would be like the Buddha or have a sex symbol from each specific city. I hope that I hope that the world changes in a way that retail like brick and mortar retail is viable, so that I can continue that and it really can be the lifestyle brand that I dream of. I don't know if I can really paint the picture but like my my dream boutique, you walk in, and it is like you're walking into, for example, mae Mae West Blue duar. And there is her beautiful bedstead and a gorgeous gilt mirror, and her Marabou slippers in her dressing gown and addressing screen and I don't know her, her makeup brushes. And obviously, of course, it's, you know, the The list goes on. But all of this is has this aesthetic and romance to it. And then you can buy all of it and take that feeling home with you. This is such

Lady Grey:

a beautiful dream, to be able to transform lives in cities all over the world. So I am onboard, you let me know, the next city that I need to be ready for. Okay, let's transition into autumns outrageous advice. So this is a program where I ask on behalf of my listeners, if you have a piece of advice for how they can make their lives more outrageous. And so that could be a day to day thing. Or it could be a one time thing, but something that you recommend to them that you think would make their lives more outrageous.

Autumn:

As a corset maker, I have to say that I think everyone should, should try on a course it especially one of mine, because they are so transformative. But they are really, really inspiring garments. And it is fascinating for me to watch the change that comes over people when they put these on and who each person becomes. And I think we all need to from time to time see who else is living inside our skin with us that isn't accessible on a day to day. So like on a day to day I just I'm a corset maker that sounds a lot sexier than it actually is. But I also of course it were and that person has a whole lot more fun.

Lady Grey:

I love that. I love that. And I could totally concur. Having actually tried on and worn your courses. I absolutely agree. It is a it is definitely something fun and it is outrageous. So before we wrap up, do you have any shoutouts to your outrageous supporters or clients or fans? If you have a fan base? Is there anybody you want to recognize or say hi to while we're here?

Autumn:

At this moment, I want to recognize two of my clients, Christina and Nancy have amazing supporters and corset wares. Nancy is an incredible artist and I worked with her back in the 90s and she painted a portrait of me. That was just fantastic. And she has returned as of course a customer recently. I'm watching her unfold, unfurl and blossom in a meaningful way. There's another really really sweet person who has been wonderful for me. I definitely gotta call her a fan. name is Laura Lee. She came to me post breast cancer and put on a course it she's a school teacher. By the way. She teaches High School Shakespeare classes, high school drama, she came in and was like clearly not feeling so so fantastic about her being and we put a corset on her. She completely transformed and has said just the kindest, sweetest things and also made me realize again that the work that I'm doing is not shallow because the change that has made in her life not just in that moment but ongoing has been really really meaningful for her and my knowing that means that I sold her on when when business is really hard because I know that there are more with Men like her that need the same thing.

Lady Grey:

So I am not sure if people who are listening to this know or not, but I am one of those women. I just had a double mastectomy about a year ago. And that was after the beautiful wedding ensemble that you designed for me. Yeah. So I do think at some point, I'd really like to bring you that garment and transform it into something, something new for my new body. Because I know the power that it has. And I understand there is magic that happens. And it really does. It really does have the ability to change your life.

Autumn:

Completely agreed.

Lady Grey:

How can people find you? Let's make sure that people know how to connect with you and see all those fantastic pictures and maybe visit your shop.

Autumn:

Yes, one of the best ways is on our website, dark garden.com. We also have a really beautifully curated Instagram, which is darker than corsetry. And then also our New Orleans store has their own Instagram, dark garden underscore Nola. You can find us on Twitter, I think dark garden San Francisco is our Twitter handle. And you're welcome to follow me if you want to see pictures of my beautiful cat. I miss start garden on Instagram. We also have a Patreon and I share some some fun stuff there. And that's patreon.com slash dark garden. And I highly encourage people to support us and encourage our behavior, their

Lady Grey:

behavior. I love it. Outrageous behavior.

Autumn:

Absolutely all artists need encouragement.

Lady Grey:

Well, autumn, it has been such a privilege. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. And for sharing some really deep and beautiful things with us.

Autumn:

Oh, so much. My pleasure. It's really a joy to speak with you always and, and thank you for inviting me and quite honored.

Lady Grey:

Well, you're always welcome anytime you want to come back on the show. Thank you so much. And we thank you for teaching us to live a little more outrageously. Well, outrageous friends. It has been my honor and my pleasure to have you here today. I hope that you took away some outrageous ideas for your own life. If you enjoyed yourself, make sure that you are subscribed to Live Outrageously with Lady Grey on whatever your podcast app is. And you can also connect with me personally on facebook facebook.com/outrageousladygrey or on Instagram at lady.grey. Also be sure to check out our podcast website at liveoutrageously.com. Once again, this is Lady Grey encouraging you to go out and live outrageously.

Autumn Adamme

Godmother of Modern Corsetry

Autumn became known as the Godmother of Modern Corsetry after launching Dark Garden in 1989, reviving corsets for a modern body and audience. Growing up on the Renaissance Fair circuit, Autumn made her first corset at 12. Shortly after reaching the age of majority, she turnednthe carfting of custom corsets and ensembles into a groundbreaking business which established many of the techniques and standards observed by corsetmakers across the world today. Her devotion to supporting uncommon beauty through the practice of radical inclusiveness has brought her both job satisfaction and a dedicated international following who appreciate the welcome that she and her team offer to everyone who visits either of her two boutiques.