The Pechuga Blog / Vintage fashion restoration
A Year in the Making
Monday night as I lay down to sleep I told myself tomorrow was going to be a better day. Something didn’t feel right, however. Was it really going to be a better day? I had to say it out loud. So I said it out loud in Spanish. Mañana será un día mejor. I found that more comforting.
Being the owner of Pechuga has been tough. I expected the work. I didn’t expect the paperwork, however. Nor did I expect the legal doings and the amount of people that were going to be involved in making this business not only successful but profitable. Oh, right, and a pandemic. I don’t think anyone was expecting that this year. After all wasn’t 2020 supposed to be the year of clarity? But I digress.
I woke up Tuesday from a DM from Steven La Fuente, Ashley Graham’s stylist, with a link and little heart emojis. The link was to Graham’s “7 Days, 7 Looks Feature” in Vogue, one of my pieces was in it. Tuesday did turn out to be a better day, indeed.
Any time Pechuga is mentioned anywhere I count it as a blessing (I got called a snake the other day by an anonymous user in the DM’s and even that was a blessing, it means they were thinking of me, I mean they took the time to write the message right?). But any time I’m mentioned in Vogue I’m always surprised. Pechuga, in Vogue? However, this time it wasn’t just any piece that was highlighted in Vogue and it wasn’t just on any person.
This was a piece a year and a half in the making.
In the Beginning There Was Rosé
July 2019, 2 bottles of rosé deep (fine maybe three, but who was counting), Jesse (the corset maker behind my Vivienne Westwood corset restorations one and two) was in his studio blasting Saweetie and working on our second project. I was taking pictures of fabrics, labels, I had just approved a $600 DHL customs and fees charge (heads up paying your bills drunk is the best way to go, it’s akin to falling flat on your face after a night of drinking and not feeling a single thing) for another Vivienne Westwood corset.
This Vivienne Westwood AW90/91 “Portrait” corset needed customs clearance (she would later sell for $12,000, by the way). That’s when I had another idea. The corset trend was in full throttle, Pechuga was spearheading the busty movement forward with rare Westwood corsets that at this point were locked up in museums all over the world but now suddenly found themselves in my hands (in Koreatown out of all places).
“Why don’t we make our own corset…?” I asked Jesse.
“Sure.” He said rather bluntly.
I continued, “…Because, see, I found this dress.”
Pechuga's White Whale
When I used to work for Vivienne Westwood there was a piece in the shop that I remember being completely enamored by. It was this red lurex corset with the most ostentatious bejeweled appliqués in peridot hues. It was from Vivienne’s SS13 Gold Label show, if I remember correctly it was around $2-3,000.
The corset was purchased by the daughter of a 70’s rock legend and I have never been able to find the corset ever again. In my weekly quest to locate the red number seen above, I stumbled upon a diamond in the rough.
Those appliqués! I knew this dress had to be from the same season as that red corset from the shop, I went ahead and purchased the dress and that’s when the wheels started turning. Now you may be wondering why this took a year and half to make? Well because with as much that piles on a daily (mind you, Jesse himself as a full time job) there needed to be a reason to push the project forward, after all I was going to be funding this all by myself (in the back, Shangela’s infamous Drag Race “Sugar Daddy” speech plays softly).
Finally in September of 2020 I got a call, a client needed a corset made for a project she was working on. There were two requests, the corset needed to be a size US 16 and preferably with sleeves. That’s when I called Jesse and we hit the ground running.
Let's Get to It
I wanted to use as much fabric from the dress as possible, purchasing the dress was a risky investment already. Ruining it by cutting it up was going to break my heart. However, Jesse said this was feasible, he would take the bottom part of the dress and use it as the side and back panels. As soon as we got the measurements from my client, Jesse started to make the muslin.
After a couple of days the body of the piece was starting to take shape. Jesse had boned the stomacher and the back. The appliqués had all been rearranged to flatter the shape of the corset better and now it was time to make the sleeves. For the sleeves I asked Jesse to send me some reference images. From the images he sent over I chose the sleeves from a 1770 stays.
I particularly loved this 18th century piece because of the soft ribbons at the shoulders. Plus this meant options with our new corset. The wearer can choose to take the sleeves off simply by untying the silk chiffon ribbons. I love having options when I wear certain pieces. My clients should have options as well.
Jesse was successful in using most of the fabric for the side and back panels. However we did need to make two more runs to Downtown LA to purchase more fabric, for the sleeves and for the ribbons, and lastly for the zipper closure. I wanted the zipper closure to be sturdy but I also wanted it to look expensive and dainty, I went with a metal teardrop ("Metal Teardrop" is also the name of my new metal rock band, we only wear Westwood, look us up).
An Emotional Rollercoaster
From start to finish making this piece was no easy task. There was a pandemic that we had to tip-toe around, fabric stores were operating at irregular hours, zipper shops were essential businesses but somehow trimmings weren't. Throughout the whole process, however, I had my client's expectations in mind and making her happy was really the end goal here.
The corset was a success, the client was happy, I crossed off another task on my never-ending bucket list of things I wanted to achieve for Pechuga: design an upcycled piece for the shop.
This is what the original SS13 dress looked liked
...and this was the final result
7 Days, 7 Looks with Vogue
In mid-November I received another DM, it was a pull request for Vogue's newest series, "7 Days, 7 Looks". Ashley Graham was going to be the model featured and they needed looks sized US 14. I always get a bit nervous pitching pieces to clients. My thoughts sometimes betray me. What if they hate my options? Or worse yet, what if I send over options and they tell me that it wasn't what they expected it?
The Pechuga corset needed some mending, some of the metal boning was sticking out. I was a bit embarrassed to send over a piece with that slight imperfection. But as they say, time waits for no one and when Vogue and Ashley Graham want something uh, you better send.
The end result was nothing short of fabulous. Thanks again, Steven, for letting me be a part of this, Ashely for looking stunning, Jesse for bringing my vision to life. Hope you enjoyed the post, fellow reader!
Until next time.
Pechuga Corset Restoration 101 from Mangy to Marvelous
On the Off Chance:
Last year in April (when the world’s mood was decidedly calmer and Corona was still just a beer) I got a DM one evening. It was a colleague in the business and she had a very interesting question.
I was in Paris at the time, on a buying trip for Pechuga, and I remember I had had a bit too much wine that night. I didn’t see the name of the person who had DM’ed all I saw was a mangled corset.
“Oh, that looks fake.”
As a rule of thumb when I come across something that doesn’t sit right- I immediately have to brush it off as a fake. It’s hard to authenticate an item when you’re presented with only pictures. Feeling something, studying the make, the stitching on garments, or the plating and weight (if it’s a jewelry piece, for example) will never take the place of an image. Especially if the image is that of mangled corset on the floor.
Pechuga the Autodidact
I learn everyday. As I work and source pieces I’m simultaneously doing research. Just because I haven’t seen something before doesn’t mean it didn’t exist or that it wasn’t made, does the authentication of something become harder when the edition is 1/1? Sure. But this is why research is so important.
Two months went by after I was presented with the image of the corset above- in my mind it was still a bad fake. I was going through some pictures one night in June doing research for Vivienne Westwood menswear and I stumbled upon an image of this : a Vivienne Westwood men’s suit from Spring / Summer 1991, “Cut N’ Slash” from the 2016 “Reigning Men” exhibit at the LACMA. (Side note I helped source a pair of shoes for this exhibit).
And then I went down a rabbit hole of printed floral appliqué until I found as many references of this printed floral colorway on anything Vivienne Westwood related. That’s when I found this: another coat from VW "Cut N’ Slash" SS91.
Men's Coat from "Cut N' Slash" SS91, Vivienne Westwood
But another image of a men’s coat wasn’t enough - I needed to know if the floral printed appliqué was ever represented on womenswear. When lo and behold! The image that I had been waiting for.
Photo Montage of Vivienne Westwood SS91 "Cut N' Slash" Show
I work backwards a lot when I’m doing research and I didn’t study fashion design or art history (I studied economics and foreign languages in college) so a lot of what I encounter is really brand new to me (not to mention the fact that I was still in elementary school when all these shows came out). Through different sources I was able to narrow down the piece I was presented to Westwood’s “Cut N’ Slash” collection. Granted it’s not rocket science what I do for a living but it does take a level of skill (and maybe more obsession) to go through endless amounts of images, videos, and books.
After doing a fair amount of research one night at around 9:00 pm I shot my shot.
The seller and I affectionally called this piece a “Frankencorset” because my initial thought (based on the photos) was that the stomacher (the front of the corset) had the fabric sewn on from another garment and stitched onto a plain satin corset (it only took 2 months to prove myself wrong). To my surprise when I DM’ed the seller asking if the piece was still available she said it was still with her (no one wanted to buy a mangled corset, go figure). When I saw the corset in person I audibly gasped. It was misshapen, the side panels were torn and stained, the straps had signs of fraying, and there was boning coming out from the bottom.
Putting in the Work
I’ve worked on another Vivienne Westwood corset prior to this one. I believe the last one I restored was from “On Liberty” AW95, a gorgeous white lace piece that my corset maker, Jesse, and I totally reworked and restored. This SS91 piece was going to be another challenge so I got on the phone again with Jesse and we started scheming. Here’s what went down.
Bubble baths...but make it fashion
There’s always a risk when you’re handling a piece, especially one that’s almost 30 years old. Dealing with stains is a bitch (for lack of a better word). Dealing with 30 year old stains? Now that’s a bitch and a half. My main concern with the corset I was handling was the stomacher- fortunately for me the stomacher didn’t have any major stains, the side panels and the back were the real issues but something told me that there was hope. The floral design was printed on silk and embroidered onto silk satin, I figured that if there was any color bleeding then it would’ve happened during the course of 30 years, right? So what could possibly go wrong from here? I delicately hand washed the piece and it gets ruined further? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
To my surprise the majority of stains were lifted. I used a liquid detergent diluted in cold water and let the piece air dry flat on a white towel turning it every hour. Now that the piece was as clean as it could’ve possibly been I noticed the side paneling and the stomacher took on a different luster. This piece used to be gorgeous! Seeing it sort of come back to life compelled me to continue with the project (yeah not gonna lie I almost gave up) and then we really got down to business.
Putting in the Work
The Fabric Shopping
Silk satin vs. silk chiffon
Jesse and I made a date to go to Downtown LA and source materials for our project. In the sourcing process we took into consideration several factors. What size did we want this to be? I looked at my sales though and based on that 4/6 US (Italian 40/42) was the best selling size for me in Vivienne Westwood corsets. So we went with that. Fabric composition was then chosen, in order to conform to the body we needed something with stretch but that was going to also retain its shape, we went with silk stretch satin. Color. Did we want to pull a wild card and pick a color that matched the floral print embroidery? Or did we want to stay true to the color of the original piece? I’m a purist. So we went with a champagne color, I wanted this SS91 piece to remain as true to its form as possible. She was getting a face lift after 30 years fitting that it was all being done in Los Angeles.
No these are not the same color
We then visited another shop to pick the exact same color thread to match the same color fabric we had just chosen and then we bought the boning. As for the zipper in the back we decided to keep the original (hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it).
2 yards of champagne, silk stretch satin, por favor
I’m a perfectionist (surprise) but I also let those around me (the experts) take control. Someone once told me: would you take your computer to a mechanic to get it fixed? Obviously not and now I apply that simple logic to everything I do. So I listened to Jesse and the sales assistant at the fabric store and together we all made the best judgment for the piece at hand. I’m still a business and ultimately it was going to be my job to sell this piece. However, there is a degree of creative freedom that I needed to hand over to Jesse and trust that he will do his best to make my vision come to life.
This is me having a vision…
The Panels and Pattern
In college I took a sewing lab class which consisted of me in the dungeon of my university’s costume department. I don’t know why we had a costuming department (it was called "The Enchanted Cellar") in an agricultural college (I went to UC Davis) but there I was 3 hours a week thinking I was going to be the next Valentino Garavani. Jesse, my corset maker, on the other hand knows all the technical sewing and pattern making procedures. This is what he went to school for.
I love watching Jesse work. He’s so patient and knowledgeable and seeing him makes me proud to know him. He’s Salvadoran like me and being around him feels like family. He has funny quips that he says when he’s not working but takes on a very serious demeanor when I ask him to explain to me what he’s working on next. With this SS91 piece he first started off by taking off the side panels with a seam ripper.
Boning & More
Now that we had the fabric and all the corset accoutrements Jesse sketched out the patterns and then started the preliminary steps in putting the SS91 piece back together again.
Let the boning begin
We had to rebone the back panels, stitch the side panels to the stomacher, rebone the stomacher, then hand-sew pieces that needed to be sewn, and then put the zipper back in place. Seeing as how I don’t know how to do any of those things I decided to pop open a bottle of chilled rosé and pour a glass for Jesse and myself and then let Jesse take the wheel. I saw a lot of steaming, I heard a lot machine sewing sounds, and then the occasional “ouch”.
As Jesse was taking the SS91 corset apart I noticed two very odd things. The corset had the label sewn inside of the strap, every single garment I’ve come across has always had a label sewn on the outside. A tiny square piece of fabric with a name is sometimes all you need to start a hunt. In this instance I always wondered why the label was hidden on this garment.
Side note: When I read Vivienne Westwood’s autobiography I remembered that around 1994/95 Westwood moved her manufacturing to Italy (there was a blip in time where some pieces were even made in China!) The label inside of the Vivienne Westwood SS91 piece we had said “Made in England”, this coincided with the time period and collection I narrowed it down to.
Omg what is that (as said in Cardi's voice)
Then as we really started taking the piece apart I noticed another thing. Tape! Masking tape on the ends of some of the boning. The piece must have been made in a hurry or it may have been made as a representation only. Was this a sample that I had in my hands? Again I referred back to Westwood’s autobiography and I remember reading that Westwood didn’t have much money in the early 90’s (she actually went bankrupt around this time) and pieces were being assembled backstage before hitting the runway. Could this have been one of those pieces? Could Westwood have touched this piece herself? Who knows. I build a story around every piece in my head with every piece I get and this SS91 piece seemed to be extra special.
The Final Product
No Pechuga restoration would be complete without finally going through the master himself, Johnny the tailor. The piece that I had waited off on buying and had done research on, the same piece that had been stripped down to its bare blocks, was almost, almost done.
Pre-pandemic, non socially distance sussing
There was just one last part that needed to be fixed that Jesse didn't feel comfortable in mending, there was a fraying that needed to be taken care of one one of the straps and Johnny was the guy to do it. Once this was done it was time to document the piece.
Jesse took the SS91 piece from this :
After three buying trips, two evenings of research, 48 hours of actual labor, and one visit to the tailor she was done! I photographed the piece, I allowed it to go out for one pull (it wasn't worn), and sold it a collector for $2,100 USD. Given that I had to pay to acquire the piece, purchase all the materials to restore it, pay Jesse for his labor, and finally pay Johnny I thought that this amount was a reasonable price to ask.
Ultimately I was very proud of the results, the finalized VW SS91 corset proves wonderful things can be achieved with the right team, trust, and a positive outlook. Moreover, there's nothing that compares to the feeling of seeing something you've envisioned come to life.
Until next time, mes amis.