Aimee Belle Johnson is the 23-year-old emerging corsetier and designer celebrating female sexuality and femininity through fashion. With a growing following in the UK, she has already racked up nearly 11, 000 followers on Instagram since her transition from completing a uni degree in fashion design to selling made-to-measure custom corsets via Instagram. With her brand Immoral London, she has loaned out her designs to indie alternative musician Molly Payton, emerging lo-fi pop artist BYFYN, and YouTube star Nella Rose for GUAP Magazine’s Black Renaissance editorial – a highlight in her career so far. “That was a proud moment for me,” she tells us via Zoom from her family home in Kent, over a cup of English Breakfast tea.
So, what is an ‘immoral woman’ exactly? According to Johnson it is someone who is, “completely unashamed of being her true authentic self. I think she’s honest, resilient, ballsey, and she doesn’t feel the need to conform. She just says what she wants, and she probably gets it.” An ‘immoral woman’ defies the systemic conventions of patriarchy and misogyny, but Johnson’s work isn’t necessarily so serious. “I like to have a tongue-in-cheek play on these stereotypes. Instead of demonizing promiscuous women, I just own it.”
Historically corsets were objects of oppression designed to eradicate the ‘natural’ body. Worn underneath clothing, they aimed to distort and illude – a hidden oppressor. In recent years, corsets have been reclaimed as outerwear. “It’s not to cinch in our waists and make us look like something we’re not anymore. Corsets used to be hidden and so did women’s bodies. Now there’s this big trend to wear them as tops and that parallels how women are showing off their bodies the way they want to,” Johnson says. With Immoral London she aims to liberate women in their sexuality and dismantle the stigma surrounding corsets by celebrating the female form.
“I grew up in a family of a lot of strong, bold women,” she explains. This fundamental aspect of her upbringing has proved to be a major source of inspiration. Johnson’s mission is to create a safe space for women to explore their sexuality and to be celebrated. “I would just love to empower all women to wear whatever they want. Women of every size, sexuality, background, to embrace their femininity, their sexuality, and to not feel the need to conform.”
I would just love to empower all women to wear whatever they want. Women of every size, sexuality, background, to embrace their femininity, their sexuality, and to not feel the need to conform.
Aimee Belle Johnson
From a young age the designer was completely emersed into the wonderful world of fabrics and clothing by her nan, a market stall holder. Growing up working-class – or “a bit skint” in her own words – is what drove Johnson to seek alternative methods to express herself that didn’t necessarily break the bank. She learned to make clothes as a method of self-expression.
Johnson then found a passion for creative writing. She was drawn in by the stories of people, particularly those “which weren’t told so much throughout history”. This love of storytelling translates into her work now as she describes herself as “quite muse driven”. Finding a muse is actually the first step in her creative process.
The designer usually sources materials from London fabric shops or markets, but sites like eBay and Etsy where she can easily collect vintage remnants and deadstock fabrics remain a favourite. She lives for car boot sales where she hopes to find “someone’s old curtains or something” that she can upcycle.
Johnson built her brand in the midst one of the most life-altering events in history – a global pandemic. She began taking commissions through Instagram and then through Depop as well. Johnson says that selling on Depop is something that might be seen as a “no no” by some people in the fashion industry, but that she just loves it.
It was the advent of lockdown, and her final year of uni being cut short accordingly that convinced her to start her career this way. “Without lockdown I probably would have just applied for a job in the industry and wouldn’t have had the confidence to create my own,” she explains. “I would’ve wanted to wait a few more years before I felt I was ready to go it on my own.“ This seems to be the case with many young creatives. Opportunities are far and few right now – as brands lay-off employees and furlough the rest there is hardly space for emerging creatives to take off. “Lockdown has pushed so many people to really have the balls to do it by themselves and just wing it,” Johnson says. “The rules seem to have gone out the window.”
It seems to be a strange time to build a business in corsetry when loungewear is all anyone is interested in, but according to Johnson the ‘immoral women’ that she targets are not restricted by the bounds of isolation. “I just feel like an ‘immoral woman’ will just wear one eating dinner, she’ll wear it wherever; she’ll find any excuse, and I just love that.”
The closure of universities left many students to their own devices, and in Johnson’s case, to her own opinions. When she had to leave The University of East London and relocate to her family home in Kent, she felt completely dumbfounded by the lack of guidance she had available to her. “I was like, ‘Oh! Only my opinion matters now, and I don’t even know what I think!’”
With a love for the authenticity often captured by street photographers, Johnson found inspiration in the work of Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm, known for his images of 1950’s nightlife. “Street photography is just so raw and beautiful, that’s what really inspires me.”
The corsetier’s most recent project was a collaboration with Honey Dripping Prints, the indie brand making post-modern, hyper-feminist prints. The parallel between both brands is undeniable. Together they made two creepy Halloween corsets – along with an editorial video, filmed by Sarah Ejionye. Taking inspiration from mid-century pin-up girls like Betty Page, and the horror driven, softcore aesthetic of Mimi Wade, they created a sultry teaser for the collaboration.
“In five years, I’ll be 28. Hopefully I’ll still be working at Immoral London. Maybe I’ll have a small team and a lovely seamstress. (…) I never thought this would be possible, I’m just absolutely grateful for where I am now. So even if things stay like this, it’s all calm.”
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