In the fast-evolving fashion industry, Australian-born British designer Michaela Stark and her corset and couture projects have emerged as visionaries. Her work serves a dual purpose, addressing her struggle with body dysmorphia while challenging societal norms around a woman’s body.

As both an artist and a couturier, Stark’s work reflects the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality by promoting a more inclusive portrayal of the female form. She challenges societal norms by featuring different body types, often overlooked by mainstream media.

One of Michaela Stark’s designs. Image courtesy of the Sarabande Foundation.

Stark’s process of making her pieces begins with the often-dismissed medium of the selfie. Examining her body from various perspectives, she customizes her corsets and couture creations. Stark undertakes this process with a singular objective – to transform and mould not just her curves but also redefine the very perception of beauty.

Her artistic exploration truly soared when she had the profound insight that engaging with the body, collaborating with it rather than resisting it, leads to a transformative experience. 

Hence, in tailoring her pieces, she seeks to enhance what would be deemed by society as "imperfections" on a woman’s body. Her patterns and cuts aim to accentuate a woman’s love handles, belly pouch, and stretch marks and not try to hide them.

In many of her pieces, Stark uses silks, hand-dyed fabrics, and embellishments that have become her hallmark. When working with these materials, she again reflects on the wearer’s body and how these accessories can help accentuate their body’s natural traits.

Michaela Stark’s flaunts one of her designs in a selfie. Image courtesy of @michaelastark/Instagram.

Last year, in 2022, Stark was approached to join the ranks of Victoria's Secret designers. Her avant-garde approach to body positivity and empowerment set her apart in a brand historically associated with rigid beauty standards. Specifically, she was asked to be part of VS20, a global group of designers and artists tasked to reimagine Victoria's Secret's fashion show; where she expressed that she felt a sense of sense of discomfort.

"My initial feeling was skepticism. But as I got more involved, I got more and more excited that I felt like it was truly a project where I was able to take my own vision for my own work," she said according to Vogue. 

Having gone to the same high school as Miranda Kerr, one of Victoria’s Secret’s most renowned models, Stark too grew up under the mongering auspices of the Victoria’s Secret cookie-cut body and beauty standards. However, Stark found the experience to be “therapeutic” instead according to Vogue. She was finally able to reclaim her memories of body dysmorphia and yet again, liberate herself by using her designs as a means of empowerment.

Michaela Stark for Victoria’s Secret. Image courtesy of Vogue.

 Stark stood out as the sole designer who embraced an avant-garde approach to the human form during the VS20 show. In Stark's interpretation, the body plays an equally vital role as the clothing in shaping the final product.

Despite all the accolades, her journey has not been without challenges. In response to her creations, Stark has faced online backlash and fatphobic vitriol. Her work, intended to showcase the beauty of women of all sizes, became a target for those resistant to change. Stark, undeterred, views these reactions as an essential part of the process, forcing individuals to confront their preconceived notions of beauty.

Michaela Stark styled by Alex Francisco. Image courtesy of Raga Muñecas and Michaela Stark’s website.

The backlash she receives becomes an integral part of the dialogue she wishes to have. They spark conversations around body acceptance that she navigates through wit, playfulness, and a reevaluation of beauty. Ultimately, Stark's practice unfolds as an evolution of acceptance in the fashion industry. Her impact, however, extends beyond the runway, provoking thought and redefining beauty standards. As her designs continue to embrace feminine bodies of all shapes and sizes, Stark becomes a trailblazer in the quest for a more inclusive and empowering fashion landscape.

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