Apart from a few broken fingers and arms resulting from "a very sporty youth," Marina Hoermanseder’s personal experience with hospitals and doctors has been relatively limited. It was during a coveted—and incredibly fruitful—three-month internship at Alexander McQueen that the Austrian designer developed a somewhat unlikely fascination. Corsets, specifically, caught her interest. "I liked the way they embraced female forms," she tells Co.Design. And thus began a deep, sometimes twisted dive into the structural undergarments.
It helped that the famed fashion label offered an all-access, behind-the-scenes experience. "There was nothing we couldn’t see or touch," she says. "I’ve never learned so much in my life; specifically, the importance of working very precisely, and not to give up on something even if it takes you a lot of tries—a hard but indispensable lesson."
Her extensive research introduced her to the first orthopedic corset from the 18th century, which became the starting point for Ilpox, her own collection. Further investigation into medical literature revealed a wealth of body deformities and cures. "Their pictures attracted me a lot—and if this was not enough, I also found inspiration in serious skin conditions such as smallpox and neurodermitis. I remember friends and family being pretty deterred by my mood pictures and what I was working on," she says. "I think nobody could imagine interpreting these morbid images into a beautiful, fashionable way."
Taking cues from both archaic methods and more modern techniques, she completed Ilpox in a whirlwind five months, resulting in a mash-up of showpieces and street wear (for the adventurous). Helmets, straps, buckles, and studs keep limbs supported, while ruffled sleeves and hoods represent various forms of dermatitis. The collection makes apparent her genuine affection for people with these afflictions. "Orthopedics don’t have to be a style no-go," she says. "I think handicaps shouldn’t be left out of sight—not on a catwalk—and I hope this will increase awareness."
Now she plans on starting a brand to continue her unconventional experiments in leather, a material that never ceases to stimulate the imagination. "The accessories will add a little edge to any style you would wear out," she says. "I think this gives a special spice—and we all have this little fetish side in us, don’t we?"
[All images by Bernhard Musil]