With his 18 inch trained waistline, Mark Erskine-Pullin famously known as Mr. Pearl is something of a 21st century genius and a mysterious father figure in the fashion world. It is not just his commitment to his beloved craft as a corsetier - he wears a corset 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (relieving himself of the garments only to bath) - that he really skyrocketed to fame but rather the fact that he is arguably the most iconic, talented and sought-after corset maker in existence.
Born in South Africa in 1962, he grew up in a working class family and lived a modest life there with his father Neil, an English toolmaker and his half-English, half-Dutch mother Yvette. Upon their divorce however, he was sent to live with his grandparents Hetty and Ruben Searle. Falling in love with corsets and the art of waist training at a young age, his fascination was encouraged living with his Grandmother, where he would lace her into her corsets upon her request and, loving every minute of it, so his journey into the fashion world was born. Feeling under much pressure to conform, Pullin married a South African actress but later ended it before moving to London, where he found his freedom. He worked as a dresser and costume designer for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden by day and by night he was a regular nightclub attendee and performer - going under his alter ego “Pearl”; it was later that Isabella Blow named him “Mr. Pearl”, which has stuck ever since.
After a stint working under the legendary performance artist, fashion designer and club promoter, Leigh Bowery, Pullin moved to Paris to pursue his career as a corsetier after meeting designer Thierry Mugler at the Love Ball in New York City. Paris has become his home and there he works on a made-to-order basis for private clients only. Marking a history of controversy, the corset is often seen as a symbol of female oppression, yet to the contrary a sign of sexuality, power and the pursuit of pleasure. For Pullin it is a form of self-discipline and of his work he says, “it is not about being fashionable. I do not follow fashion at all. I’m interested in an ideal, a kind of expression of elegance, which really has nothing to do with fashion”.
From conception to materialisation, a Mr. Pearl piece can take months of hard work and craftsmanship. Mr. Pearl has produced creations for designers such as Chloe, John Galliano, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Christian Lacroix and Antonio Berardi, while celebrities like Kylie Minogue, Jerry Hall, Sophie Dahl, Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian not forgetting his long-term collaborator Dita Von Teese have been known to wear his designs.
In a time when fashion is fast and seasons are multiplying, there’s something nurturing in the fact that Mr. Pearl’s work will always take time. His dedication to the art sees him refuse to use any form of modern technology in the making of his famously extravagant and opulent inventions. And so it stands that if you’re in the market for one of the world’s most iconic corsets, Paris is calling.