London has been stunned by the news that last weekend it lost one of its most popular and talented fetish creatives, with the death of corsetière Velda Lauder in the early hours of Saturday March 16.
Rumours of her passing first reached us on that Saturday afternoon. But despite putting out enquiries to a number of people we hoped would know more, it was Sunday before we got what seemed like reliable confirmation, and Monday before any additional facts surfaced.
At the time of updating, information is still very patchy. All we knew for certain when the original version of this article was published in the early hours of Tuesday 19 was that Velda had died while on a visit to Dublin — a trip she had joked about on her Facebook profile, in what tragically turned out to be her last posts on the website.
For some people, the timing of the designer’s death so soon after the death of her long-term partner Sam was a cause for speculation, and several friends we talked to expressed their hopes that the two events were not connected.
But suggestions that she might have been in a fragile state of mind do not seem to be supported by the tone of her Facebook posts from Southend Airport on the morning of Thursday 14, when she was en route to Dublin.
Her airport dialogue (no longer visible) began with the comment: “Is this the smallest airport in the world?”, sparking several amusing exchanges with burlesque artist Vivid Angel that were typical of Velda’s humour.
“So far it’s great! I think the planes to Dublin are tiny so that’s gonna be hilarious!!” the designer quipped, later adding: “Apparently the solo cabin crew hostess is like Mrs Doyle outa Father Ted!”. There seemed little doubt from this that she was in a happy frame of mind as she headed for the Emerald Isle.
So it was a great shock to learn that Velda apparently died in her sleep early on Saturday morning. There have been rumours that the cause was food poisoning or a virus, but this can only be regarded as conjecture until post mortem results are known.
Stories of her death spread quickly via several key Facebook threads on Sunday and Monday. Many friends and admirers expressed their shock and disbelief on the site, though in comments beneath one particular picture there were also jokes, indicating that some people had misread the subtext of the post.
Then finally in the early evening of Monday, this simple message on Velda’s page made it all tragically official:
“Very sadly Velda Lauder left this life on Saturday 16th March. She will be hugely missed by all who loved her and every soul she touched.
“Her family and dear friends would ask that everyone respect their private grief at this difficult time.” The post finished: “Satnam — Love & Light — Namaste”.
This announcement prompted a flood of comments from a veritable Who’s Who of the fetish and burlesque scenes and beyond — a sign of Velda’s amazingly wide circle of friends (4,355 on FB) and also of the very broad appeal of her designs.
Oldsters like me remember the early cyberpunky/gothy corsets in silver plastic and other fabrics that brought colour to the London fetish and goth scenes in the early-1990s when she launched her original Pagan Metal company here.
But many other fans know her better for the more classic luxury fabric styles that were to become her enduring trademark, opening up major markets for her beyond fetish — in burlesque, mainstream fashion, music videos and haut couture.
For some years Velda had worked out of a small studio at the top of the building on Holloway Road that today is best known as the HQ of designer Atsuko Kudo.
Simon Hoare at Atsuko Kudo said on Monday afternoon that all Atsuko’s staff were stunned to learn that the friendly designer they shared the upstairs kitchen with would not be coming into work any more. He said he was not even sure that Velda’s assistant Elaine, due in on Tuesday, had heard the news.
Whenever I dropped in to the Holloway Road emporium and Velda was around, she was always happy to chat, and always had something thought-provoking to contribute to our conversations.
We would also chat whenever we bumped into each other at the London Erotica shows. She had been an enthusiastic exhibitor at the Olympia show for years because, she explained, the Erotica crowd represented a much bigger market for her corsets than the fetish scene, however much she loved kinksters.
As well as working hard as a designer and producer, she was a tireless PR for her brand, and unlike a lot of her contemporaries, found the time to send out frequent press releases. These always seemed to be reporting on some exotic show in Paris she had just participated in, or drawing attention to a new American outlet or to her latest editorial in a glossy fashion magazine.
In one such release towards the end of 2010, she announced excitedly that she was about to become a published author for the first time, with the imminent release of her first book, Corsets: A Modern Guide.
We took the opportunity of this collaboration with her photographer friend Regis Hertrich to run a sizable Fetishistas fashion portfolio based on the book, under the title Corsetière Velda Lauder on the art of getting waisted.
And almost exactly a year ago in March 2012, after yet more titillating press communiqués, we revisited the house of Lauder for an article about her new Purple Heart collection, again photographed by Regis. We called that one Corset queen Velda Lauder embarks on her purple reign.
I’m sure she groaned at the puns her work inspired us to come up with. But I’d like to think she also knew that while her corsetry stories allowed us to indulge in a degree of headline flippancy, it was all done with genuine affection for her and genuine admiration for her work.
As a figure on the London scene for more than two decades, she sometimes liked to call herself an old-timer, but to the end she seemed as youthful, energetic and hardworking as when she had first arrived here.
One thing’s for sure: with her passing, the worlds of serious figure training and casual philosophising will never be quite the same again.
Monday, 25 March 2013
EDITOR’S INTRO: The Velda Lauder biography below was supplied to us to use as part of the article we ran at the start of 2011 celebrating the publication of Velda’s first book, Corsets: A Modern Guide.
However, after its publication in our original tribute article a week ago, our attention was drawn to the fact that the bio suggested Velda’s career in London started in 1996, when in fact several contemporaries of hers said they thought it dated back to at least five years before that.
Suspecting they were correct, we turned to our old issues of Skin Two mag in order to check when Pagan Metal, Velda’s first fetish venture in London, was first listed in the Guidelines section at the back of each magazine.
We found that first listing in Skin Two Issue 10, which was published in 1990. Her entry read: PAGAN METAL Dramatic Warrior Woman Designs by Velda Lauder. 1st Floor, Kensington Market, London W8 (081 674 1076).
This info is at odds with that in the bio reproduced below. But we’re pretty confident that the Skin Two listing is correct, that Velda had indeed started up in London by 1990, and that the start-up dates in the bio are therefore wrong.
There is probably a perfectly innocent explanation for this — perhaps something as simple as a typographical error in the original bio. But in attempting to provide a record of someone’s life, it seems wrong not to bring the discrepancy to readers’ attention.
VELDA LAUDER OFFICIAL BIO: A graduate of the College of Marketing & Design in Dublin, Velda Lauder cut her teeth in the fashion co-ordination and display team at the Brown Thomas & Co department store.
After winning the prestigious Smirnoff Young Designer of the Year Award, Velda joined the creative design team for premier Ibiza nightclub Ku.
Relocating to London in 1996, she worked as a stylist for Tatler and Opera Now while designing clothing for rock stars and royalty.
Her first UK collection, Warrior Woman, was featured at London Fashion Week with Wayne Hemmingway’s Red Or Dead label.
Her design company and Soho-based store, Pagan Metal, provided the platform to launch her ground- breaking corset collection Vanity in 1997, employing for the first time her unique Uber-Curve method of corset construction and tailoring.
Velda designed for the Coco De Mer Couture Collection, and was commissioned for one-off pieces by Karl Lagerfeld, Victoria’s Secret annual TV shows, Dita Von Teese, Courtney Love, promo videos for George Michael’s An Easier Affair and Robbie Williams’ Love Light, plus stage costumes for Pete Burns, Sarah Brightman and burlesque stars including Lily White and Polly Rae.
FOOTNOTES: The biography above was first published as part of The Fetishistas article Corsetière Velda Lauder on the art of getting waisted, based on her book Corsets: A Modern Guide.
A link to that article may be found below, along with a link to the more recent Corset queen Velda Lauder embarks on her purple reign.
At time of writing, Velda’s Facebook profile is still live, which gives an opportunity to view the comments people have left since her death, and leave a comment yourself if desired.