Mr Pearl (born 1962) is a noted corsetmaker of the late 20th and early 21st century.
Early life and career
Mark Erskine-Pullin was born in South Africa to a working-class family in 1962. The young Erskine-Pullin was fascinated by corsets from a young age, particularly after his parents divorced and he was sent to live with his grandmother, who allowed him to help her lace up her corsets. He undertook two years military service, and for a period of time, was married to the actress Terry Norton. After his marriage failed, and finding life in South Africa stifling, Erskine-Pullin went to London.
Upon moving to London, Erskine-Pullin became a dresser and costume designer for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. While there, he collaborated with Leigh Bowery on costumes for Michael Clark's ballet Because We Must, first staged at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1987. Erskine-Pullin became Bowery's assistant and made costumes for his nightclub performances, also becoming a regular nightclub attendee under the alter ego "Pearl." Isabella Blow would later remame him "Mr Pearl," the name by which he has been known ever since.
As corset maker
Whilst attending the 1989 Love Ball in New York City as a human bustle to Bowery's costume, Pearl was introduced to the designer Thierry Mugler. This led to a productive friendship and working relationship with Mugler and Pearl working together on the designer's fashion collections, and Pearl moving to Paris.
Pearl subsequently went on to collaborate with others, including regularly returning to London to work with John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and Alexander McQueen. Pearl met McQueen in 1995, and was asked to walk in the designer's 1995 Spring-Summer collection, The Birds, his only catwalk modelling role. He ended up creating only one corset for McQueen, a purple silk and black lace one worn by Honor Fraser in the designer's Autumn-Winter 1996 show. This piece was subsequently exhibited in the McQueen retrospective, Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
One of Pearl's most widely publicised creations was the Galliano-designed corset worn by Kylie Minogue in her 2006 tour Showgirl. The jewelled corset was widely reported in the UK tabloid media at the time as having a 16 inch waist, although these claims were exaggerated and Minogue herself disclaimed them. A full length corset dress made for Jean-Paul Gaultier in 2001 is now in the collection of the Metropolitan.
By the 2000s, Mr Pearl was regularly described as a corsetière. He had earlier stated in a 1993 interview that he did not yet consider himself a corsetière, but a designer who used corsetry and lacing in his work, and aspired to become good enough to rank alongside the handful of true corsetières remaining in the world.
Pearl eventually settled in Paris full-time, where he works on a made-to-order basis for private clients such as Dita Von Teese. Von Teese is one of his most famous wearers, regularly wearing his corsets in her burlesque performances. For her 2005 marriage to Marilyn Manson Von Teese wore a Mr Pearl corset under her Vivienne Westwood gown.
As corset wearer
In addition to designing and making corsets, Mr Pearl is notable for wearing corsets himself. At the age of 30, he was inspired to start doing so after seeing an image of Fakir Musafar with a tightly corseted waist. The designer subsequently became a dedicated wearer of waist-training corsets, removing them only for bathing. Over 22 years he gradually reduced his waist measurement to eighteen inches. In 2013, Pearl noted that he enjoyed the physical experience of wearing corsets, particularly the effects on his breathing, circulation and the pressure on his organs, and that these had an effect on both his physical and mental awareness. Other commentators have noted that Pearl, as a highly private, publicity-shy individual, uses corsets and tight-lacing to embody his true self and personal identity, rather than imposing his theories and appearance on others for publicity and self-promotion purposes.
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- Sklar, Monica; Santandrea, Lisa (20 January 2012). "Anarchists of Style: Mr. Pearl". Worn Through. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
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- Lester, Richard (2013). Dress of the year. Antique Collectors' Club. pp. 141–143. ISBN 9781851497256.
- O'Carroll, Lisa; Robson, Michael (22 March 2005). "Corset's not true". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
- "Jean Paul Gaultier evening ensemble made by Mr Pearl. French, spring-summer 2001". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
- Lauder, Velda (2010). Corsets: A Modern Guide. A. & C. Black. p. 157. ISBN 9781408127551.
- Koda, Harold (2004). Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 99. ISBN 9780300103120.
- Stern, Mistress Angel (1993). "A Corset Moment With Pearl". Verbal Abuse (3: New Religions). Retrieved 19 May 2016.
- "Dita Von Teese's wedding dress, 2005". Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 19 May 2016.