Artrepreneur: Corsets and a Hunger for Colour

It’s spring. For Cori Giacomazzi, that means busy.

I had the chance to visit this Canadian garment artist in March at her home in Skagway. I had seen her work at the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival in Dawson City. I had admired the conceptual corset made of old paint-and-glue-stained Carhartts and the one she was working on last summer of a sheaf of leaf green and fuschia silk shards.

Giacomazzi has three main enterprises: she works as a curator in the privately owned Historic Brothel Museum located above the Red Onion Saloon on Broadway; just off Broadway, she owns and operates the Wandering Wardrobe; and she also does selected commissioned work.

These activities provide her with a way to gratify her hunger for colour and texture.

“Starving in university, I looked at my stack of fabric,” she said. “That could have paid for my whole semester.”

In Sherwood Park, near Edmonton, Giacomazzi’s mother taught her the basics of sewing when she was six years old.

At about age nine, for a girlfriend’s birthday present, she made designer Cabbage Patch Kid diapers using pin tucks in flannel.

Her Home-Ec teacher said she’d never be a designer, when she decided to use a contrasting colour on the pockets of their assigned plain elastic-waist shorts. Ha.

She got into sewing because she knew what she wanted, but it wasn’t available off the rack. She sewed her own clothes in high school, but found that patterns never fit properly. So, in Grades 11 and 12, she attended night classes in tailoring and pattern drafting at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

She designed and sewed her own graduation dress. She made friends’ grad dresses, too. “That led to people asking me to make things for them.”

Giacomazzi graduated from the University of Alberta in textiles, clothing and culture. She aced costume history. She loves it. This is why she works in a brothel. As a curator.

Like many people, after university she came to the North, fell in love with it and stayed.

From Whitehorse, quilt shop owner Jan Nardone brought her to Skagway as a graphic designer. She began to design quilt patterns.

Giacomazzi’s infamous Corset Shows evolved as a benefit and a way to showcase her work. The first went to benefit the Little Dippers Daycare, the second for a local community breast cancer fund to help women who need to go out and get treatment.

Money is raised at the door and from wine and sometimes truffles sales. A percentage of corset sales around the time of the auction are also donated to the cause.

The corset models are all volunteer local women. Giacomazzi loves to watch them put on a corset.

“They make the clothes look good. Otherwise, clothes are 2-D. They add shapes, curves, deliciousness … most women, they feel alive, dangerous, intelligent and desirable” when they model these corsets.

When I visited Giacomazzi at the Brothel Museum, she was framing antique and water-stained fragments of wallpaper. The thin board walls of the historic building house a collection of framed abstracts in muted colours and textures she has made by showcasing these scraps of wallpaper, marked by time.

Giacomazzi worked as a tour guide in the museum for two years. Then she “hung up her bloomers” and now just does special tours for visiting dignitaries. She makes all the costumes for the guided tours of the Brothel Museum, as well as other costumes for local businesses in Skagway.

Last year, she added The Wandering Wardrobe to her life and it did well enough to embark on another summer.

She finds she gets an even mix of cruise ship crew and passengers as well as locals and folks from Whitehorse. The store sells different stuff from what you find on Broadway, the main strip.

“It’s young and hip and doesn’t have Alaska written all over everything,” she says.

When I visited the tiny unheated wooden shop, it was full of totes from Giacomazzi’s recent purchasing trips to France and Morocco.

The shop also serves as a showcase for Giacomazzi’s corsets and unique bags. With each cloth bag she tries to “challenge people’s sense of colour. Pink with orange, blue with black. Red and green does not always equal Christmas.”

The shop also features original jewelry designs and photographs by other artists which she finds interesting.

Besides all this, the shop serves as a place for people to discuss commissions. Giacomazzi takes these on selectively, depending on how busy she is.

Jan Nardone’s quilt shop, Changing Tides, has moved to Juneau, Alaska, but she still carries Giacomazzi’s patterns. So does Bear’s Paw Quilts here in Whitehorse.

The Wandering Wardrobe is located near 5th and State, less than a block from Broadway.

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