An interview with brand Abilletage

Holly Walder (Gunma)

While the storefront in Ura-Harajuku opened in Febuary 2023, the history of Abilletage spans over a decade. The creator, Designer Bambi, graduated from the Bunka Fashion College in 2004, and started the brand “Succubus”, focusing on fetish-style corsetry. The brand was created by Designer Bambi in 2010 with sights to pair corsets with everyday clothing. A store was opened in Shinjuku in 2011, followed by the Laforet Harajuku store in 2016, before relocating to where it stands today in Ura-Harajuku. I had the opportunity to speak to shop manager SUI-sama about abilletage, the brand’s influence on corsetry in fashion, and what’s next for the store.

Interview with SUI-sama

First of all, why is the brand called abilletage?

Abilletage is a word we coined to mean “shine bright without being asked”. We want our customers to enjoy dressing up and having fun with their clothes. It was designed to look like a French word, but I don’t think it is one.

Author’s note: it looks like the French word “billet” meaning banknote or ticket, but I can find no direct reference to this word, so it does appear to be an invented word with inspiration from the French language. But neither of us speak French, so if you have greater understanding, let us know!

What characteristics makes abilletage stand out?

I think that one of the characteristics is that corsets are made right here in Japan. Even before creating abilletage, Designer Bambi has another corset brand, and had made corsets and costumes for a long time. Then she wanted more people to enjoy fashion. Then with this brand she decided to take the corsets that she makes and make them fit in with everyday wear. 

How is abilletage different to Designer Bambi’s other brands?

Yes, one of them is called “Succubus”. In terms of cut, it is more like fetish fashion than the costuming of abilletage. Now there is more of a victorian slant to her design, but at the time it was more like cool bondage. 

What is the style of abilletage? Is it Lolita?

Maybe? Some customers might call us a Lolita brand, but we don’t think of it that way ourselves. As a brand, we are not particularly conscious of adhering to a specific subcultural style. Rather, we cater to a variety of styles that wish to incorporate corsetry, so I hope that customers can enjoy our brand without feeling like they need to be confined by such categories.You don’t have to wear lolita fashion in particular to enjoy the clothes we sell, and we offer a wide range of corsets in style including more sporty styles, and things to go with more usual clothes. Everyone is welcome.

What is the appeal of corsets?

Corsets are a great addition for people who want to try something new and express themselves. I think they are like a magic item that truly transforms an outfit. They make me more confident in myself, and see my more ideal version. And there are so many different ones to choose from that you can find something you like even if you’re not trying it for those reasons.

Corsetry has been a major trend in Western fashion in recent years as well. Often it is integrated into dresses and shirts, but when you are buying corsets there, they are often full-cup style corsets, but I noticed that the abilletage corsets are a little different?

We have 6 types of corsets and 5 of them are underbust, but it all comes down to is that the corsets we make are not to be worn inside as shapewear, but outside an outfit more like a belt. You could wear our corsets on the inside of the outfits, but it would be a waste to hide the cute designs. We want there to be a good balance between the corset and the outfit, and we want the corsets to be comfortable for long periods of wear, so that is why they are styled to be short. They are also easier for someone to put it on by themselves. Some people wear them instead of a kimono obi belt. People also wear them in Lolita outfits that have full skirts, so a longer corset would make the skirt collapse. We have nothing against overbust corsets, but underbust is more popular because of the needs of our customers

Designer Bambi has written several books, including a short series called “Kawaii corsets”… do you think that they are ‘kawaii’?

Hmm… I think you could say they are kawaii. They are quite elegant, in a Victorian style, but I think there are some that are kawaii. Kawaii can be used in many ways. People say “aa, kawaii!” when they see them. I think it’s a way people show that something is appealing to them, but I’m not sure if I would call it “cute” in English- the meaning is different.

Please tell me about your personal style.

It is hard to choose. I first started dressing like this in Junior Highschool when I was around 14. I already liked lolita fashion, punk fashion, and all sorts of other things. So far I had only worn pink and frilly clothing. Then, I started liking more gothic fashion when I was in college, and discovered corsets. I like corsets, and since I made clothing myself. I like dark clothing. Cool clothing; I want to look cool., like a gothic witch. 

Can I have a teaser of any new products coming out?

Soon we will release the “Designer’s Public Series” with patterns by William Morris and French General. The textiles for each corset and skirt was designed by the same designer. We are also making berets now as well. It is the first time the brand has done something like this-its a new challenge- so it’s very exciting for us. 

We are also collaborating with an illustrator to create keychains with corset designs on them. It has a design on the front and the back. We are excited to make more casual items. Last year, there were 30°C days in May in Tokyo, so we are bringing out short-sleeved blouses again soon. And we are making parasols now, too. We had made them in the past, but this time we are making one with a different design. 

All the corsets are handmade, right?

Yes. This is important to us. We take care to match the patterns together perfectly. It is not just slapped on random, but carefully fitted together. This is not limited to our William Morris and French General series, but in the patterns and colour matching on our other corsets as well. They are all made here in Japan by Japanese tailors who sew with a real sense of taste. And since they are all handmade like this, customers can completely customise them. They can choose to alter the metal fittings, or the colour or length. It’s all made by one person who oversees all these little details to achieve a corset in the best taste possible. Each of them are classy and unique. They are very durable, and you can wash them at home. I don’t think that there are many brands that can say that. 

Abilletage has Japanese and international fans. Do you have any plans to do anything abroad?

Before the Coronavirus outbreak, I went to a Fashion Expo for Lolita and related J-fashion. We get a lot of calls from America, and this year in May I plan to go back to France for the first time in a while. I’m not entirely sure about the details of the trip to Paris yet, but there will be sponsored protjects. There are a lot of overseas fans coming over here as well, so I want to do things overseas as well. We would love to see more [visitors from the international community, such as the readers of CONNECT].

Why did you decide to open the new store in Ura-Harajuku?

In August 2016, we opened the Laforet Harajuku store, and we have been there for six and a half years. But as a brand, the number of products we offer is increasing rapidly, and that shop was small, and customers were finding it difficult to walk around the store, so we decided to move to the current Ura-Harajuku store in March 2023.

Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know?

Everyone is welcome to come and try out our stuff, we are looking forward to it!

SUI-sama has been the store manager for the abilletage store in Ura-Harajuku since it opened in February 2023, and had worked for the company for 12 years. She has attended events with abilletage in China and Paris and continues to work on new projects.