An interest in alternative and historical fashion prompted Suman Bharti to start a corset manufacturing company

“You like pain? Try wearing a corset!” fumes an angry Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. That’s a little while after, gasping for breath as a result of wearing one, the lady suffers a convenient fainting spell.

“People have this misconception that corsets have to be worn tight. You wear one till the point it’s comfortable,” says Suman Bharti, founder of CorsetWholesale, an ISO9001: 2008 company, and online corset store CorsetDeal.com. (While CorsetWholesale is based in the U.S., the manufacturing is in Gurgaon in India.) That’s the present.

Traditionally, corsets, which are said to have their origins in 18th Century European clothing, have stood for many things, none of them too complimentary (and rarely associated with comfort). A tangible symbol of women’s quest for that perfect hourglass shape, they’ve often been criticised as justifying the no-pain-no-gain philosophy of female vanity. The health problems corsets are said to pose have also been the subject of debate.

Whalebones are now gone, and corsets — in a lighter, lung-friendly version — have again become a part of contemporary fashion, used by everyone from Jean Paul Gaultier to Versace.

It was an interest in alternative and historical clothing that prompted Bharti, an alumnus of Pearl Academy of Fashion, to launch CorsetDeal.com in 2005 (The store specialises in steel-boned corsets). “Ashish Gupta was my mentor during my final collection. He’s the King of Sequins. He inspired me, got me interested in historical costumes. I designed corsets for my final collection, where we were awarded the ‘Best Innovative Collection’ award,” Bharti recalls.

A reconnaissance trip to the U.K., where he worked briefly to study the market, led to the discovery that corsets sold for as much as 200 to 300 GBP in stores. Bhatia returned to India and started selling a few pieces through eBay. Starting an online store instead of brick-and-mortar retail, of course, meant lower overheads.

For something as body-specific as a corset, how has the online model worked? “I did start with customised corsets on eBay; corsets generally aren’t something you can buy off-the-rack and wear. Sizing is crucial. Suddenly, after we found distributors, the corset field started booming. Eventually, people started wearing more affordable corsets, which resemble authentic corsets but where patterns are such that they suit medium or small torsos. It was a problem in the beginning, coming from customised to off-the-rack, but slowly the price factor kicked. If you wanted to experiment with a corset for the first time, while one would have had to pay 300 to 400 GBP from a brick-and-mortar store, here you could get it in around 70 to 80 GBP. Gradually people started understanding the sizing,” Bharti explains.

The corsets, which he says are more scientific in the current form, weigh 1 kg onwards and cost anywhere between USD 20 and 280.

What about the safety aspect? If you’re healthy and don’t have a breathing problem, and do not suffer from asthma or any cardiac problem, and have not had an operation, it is safe,” he says.

The company now plans to launch an exclusive range for Indian women, set to be launched in August-September.