The Countess of Couture
Veronica Hull threads her tales of corsets, cutouts and creations
Veronica Hull remembers the craft table she would frequent each summer in her childhood years. While some hung-over teenager stood by, an eight or nine-year old Hull would be bouncing in anticipation to glue, cut-out, stick-on and create.
Forty years later, Hull still has that twinkle in her eye when she sees a new fabric or hears about a potential project. Now the owner-operator of her own business, V.H. Studio Designs, Hull is proving that her zest for creating isn’t going anywhere.
“I was always encouraged to design, and it’s kind of the way I look at the world,” Hull says.
Hull grew up in Edmonton, and lived there until she was 30 before coming to the west coast. Her dad was a carpenter and, though he had no sons, he would often involve Hull in his designs. In Grade 9, Hull dropped out of school to get into hair design, then later went back and got a trade degree in floral design.
“I can remember racing home from hair school to sew — grad dresses, wedding dresses, duvets, curtains — and then back to hair again.” Hull was a hairdresser for 30 years before she became really serious about sewing. “I don’t think you could plan the path life takes you on. It’s just a natural progression, and suddenly you’re there.”
For those in the Victoria area, most know Hull as the local creator of glamorous corsets seen in trade shows, Sagacity events, the Victoria Erotic Arts Festival, select shops and from her own studio. Her styles have been featured through Miss Pole Dance Canada via Crystal Lai, as well as fundraisers for PEERS, the Belfry Theatre, and — perhaps most significantly — Victoria’s Cheesecake Burlesque Revue. For Hull, the ability to create something so chic, erotic and often glam is a real throwback to what fashion used to be.
“The whole attitude around fashion really fell off in the ’90s, and it was devastating. We were stuck with these bland tans and browns,” Hull says. “Then, in the early 2000s, pink came back. And it was like this little fashion beacon, and suddenly it was possible to create again … Now, I can do the most incredible designs, like a Fem-Asian-Steampunk ensemble.”
While V.H. Studio Designs specializes in entire wardrobes, costumes and couture, corsets remain one of Hull’s pet favourites. She’s thrilled to see the use of corsets come into mainstream wear, since she says this brings fashion back to its senses.
“You don’t sew a corset, you build one. It has to maintain a stressing point of weight, and it takes a lot of engineering,” Hull says. “In the end, though, it’s all about the fashion, about creating shape and about taking the bedroom out of it. This is clothing, plain and simple.”
Hull’s creations are anything but plain or simple. Champagne Sparkles, one of Victoria’s favourite Cheesecake Burlesque Revue (CBR) performers, says that she’s actually a jeans-and-hard-hat kind of girl — at least in her working life as a biologist. But after meeting Hull six years ago, Sparkles had a whole new outlook on the comfort of corsets.
“Performing is hard on an outfit, and it demands the ability to hold up, fit tightly, loosen quickly and look great even when it’s lying on the ground — it needs to be able to perform on stage,” Sparkles says. “It does make me sad to see women starting in burlesque wearing off-the-rack costumes, because they just don’t last, and it can be very discouraging to someone starting out. After you get a corset that fits you like one of [Hull’s], it’s very hard to go back.”
One of Hull’s favourite tests, in fact, is that if her corsets hold up for the Cheesecake ladies, they’re sure to maintain other people’s pressures. Hull uses a new type of boning throughout her corsets with technology that allows the material to flex with a person, but be strong enough that it won’t kink or break.
“To know your costume is inside-out made for you, and to know that when I go out on stage it’s going to be there supporting me and working with me, is extremely comforting,” Sparkles says. “Veronica was even able to redo an old corset I had to bring it up to fit where I’m at in life now and what my style is.”
Sparkles is what you could call a frequent customer. The Cheesecaker has at least 10 corsets from Hull, ranging from subtle numbers she uses in her personal life to the loud productions an audience of 300 could see on stage. Sparkles and the CBR crew are now officially sponsored by V.H. Studio Designs — which means the ladies keep in costume, while Hull stays busy as a spider. Next up, the CBR will be unveiling a new production during the July Pride Parade. Hull is slated to make stylized costumes in pink and red.
“Only I would be excited to have 60 metres of fabric dropped in my lap,” Hull says with a laugh. “It is impossible to fit everyone in the same outfit, so it’s really important to me to match each design to the woman’s style. She has to feel her most confident, and that only comes from knowing who you’re making the outfit for. I’ve really grown with the girls.”
The common thread
Hull believes that every woman has the capacity to be a “showgirl,” but the real trick is feeling confident in what you’re wearing.
“I love working with clients and maybe pushing them in a direction that would be great for them and what they wear — styling them, so to speak,” Hull says. “I’m very hands on with my creations, and that comes from a lifetime of design.”
While the CBR has been keeping Hull busy, she’s had a range of other responses from people. She’s even had women leave her shop in tears, saying they never thought they could look so sexy.
“Empowerment comes from feeling strong and beautiful in your clothes,” Hull says. “Every woman has her weak point, but the trick is to find her strong point — even if it’s a certain colour she loves wearing — and emphasize that. That gives her power.”
While Hull is a huge proponent of fitting style to the woman — your clothes are hired to work for you, she says — she also encourages everyone to step out of their same-old comfort zones just to try a little flare every so often. After all, that’s where Hull gets a lot of her zest.
“People often wait for that masquerade to dress up how they really want, but it’s when you put yourself out there that you make some of your best memories,” Hull says. “I say, all life’s a stage, so get on it.” M