Andrea Johnson felt an instant connection to vintage, fetish-oriented photos of women dressed in high heels and small-waisted corsets. The images made her feel dirty and disturbed, she tells TORO Sex columnist Louise Bak in this informative Q&A. Now, Johnson designs sexy clothing for others who share her passion through her business, Lovesick Corrective Apparel.

More pictures: Lingerie´s Darker Side

Q: Did you have an early interest in costume, glamour, visual allure? If so, were there certain individuals that made an impact in that regard?
A: When I was very young I really loved Cher – the Cher that was on the Sonny and Cher show, not the "Do You Believe In Love" Cher. I still have her "Half Breed" album. On the back she is wearing that super sexy "Indian" halter top, feather headdress and "loincloth" skirt slit up to her waist. It just seemed so shocking (to a six-year-old). When I got older I discovered punk. I found a book on Blondie called Making Tracks that showed Debbie Harry in her most beautiful light. I bought an EP by a group called the Nails (not NiN) called "Hotel For Women." The cover had a collection of vintage (1930s, ’40s) fetish-oriented photos of women in small-waisted corsets, high-high heels and bondage. I didn´t love the music, but I stared at the cover for hours, pondering who these women were, where they went to buy these things, who took the photos and what did it mean? I felt dirty and disturbed.

In the early ’90s I stumbled onto my first copy of "Exotique" – a small format fetish magazine from the 1950s. In it were these photos of pin-ups wearing 1950s lingerie, super high-heeled boots and shoes, corsets, with "Exotique" styling, which was a sort of over the top, villainous/sci-fi bad girl look. I particularly loved Tana Louise (who started out as a burlesque performer, and later was the girlfriend, or wife, of the publisher)! I also came across some photos from the early 1960s of a tattooed woman/tattooer named Cindy Ray, who had a bunch of tattooed girlfriends with giant early ’60s hairdos and flashy fashion. Thrilling! Later I discovered a woman named Cora, who had appeared in a 1970s German fetish publication called "Club Caprice." I have a shrine to Cora on my site. She is of indefinite age, and had a few different looks, featuring her startling 17-inch corseted waist, severe makeup, wigs and costumes and just this certain...spirit. The first image I found of her made me feel very confused, in a hit-by-lightning way. She seemed very extreme!

Later as I dug for more vintage fetish material I found a few publications that had photos from the 1920s to ’40s of models wearing what was normal day-wear, i.e. a tailored suit and a hat with a veil, but standing around in broad daylight outside in skintight boots with 6 1/2-inch heels. I really liked that juxtaposition – it seemed so kinky. I have to say that the last time I had that hit-by-lightning feeling was when I discovered that book on Leigh Bowery. My circuits were really jammed with confusion and excitement. I must admit that I am heavily influenced by photographs. A two dimensional artifact seems to plant the most fertile seeds for me!

Q: What then led you to develop Lovesick Corrective Apparel?
A: I never could find the things I wanted. And could also never find the person or business who could make them for me. In the days before the Internet, off-beat or perverse things were hard to find if you didn´t live in a happening metropolis or come upon them by pure chance thrift shopping. I guess it was born out of my frustration. I´ve had recurring dreams of finding some dusty old closed-up store that has this forgotten inventory of fantastic fetish garments or shoes – or some exclusive high end men´s tailor that has a third generation shoemaker making these immaculate ballet toe boots in a secret workshop in the back for the wealthy male clients who shop there – these are literally my dreams at night. I can´t say I have realized them.

Q: You’ve looked at many aspects of corset history and your corset designs are incredible. Would you tell us a bit about the development of corsetry?
A: Thank you, Louise! Corsets are a subject that really incite an emotional (as opposed to intellectual) response, similar to religion or politics! In this culture I think everyone is aware of the notion of a corset as represented by movies, television, fashion magazines. However, much of what people think they know about corsets is incorrect. How and when corsets actually began is blurry. The sculpture of "The Snake Goddess" from Crete (c. 1600 BC) is a woman wearing a corset-like garment that exposes her breasts and exaggerates her figure. Is it a corset? I don´t know. The first boned-and-laced garments seem to show up in Europe in about the 16th century, as represented in contemporary paintings. I suspect that women prior to that may have worn or used some type of supportive garments for the breasts or abdomen, but I have to admit I am not widely read on matters of pre-16th century costume. A boned-and-laced garment, as worn by women, is in evidence from this period on. The corset has waxed and waned throughout fashion, as fashion places emphasis on a different focus of the female body, i.e. accentuated or de-accentuated bust. Corsets have usually helped to create the illusion of the ideal body – whether that is a small busted, slim-hipped 1920s "flapper" body, or an imposing small-waisted, large-busted 1880s shape. I think a corset is a mechanical solution, and this is a very appealing concept.

Q: The corset is often associated with constriction that exaggerates female curves. What visual, seductive, emotional qualities surround this garment?
A: I think people associate/perceive a certain severity with corsets. I shy away from romantic "good old days" notions, preferring to focus on the psychosexual pathology, deviance and transgression of the corset – at least this is what interests me. I have had the occasional client that has come as part of a male/female couple, with the man being much more interested in the act of the woman wearing the corset, than the woman herself, but who is willing to accommodate her mate. A few come to mind, where there was no hint of D/S although this seemed to be the subtext/dynamic of this scenario. Many more clients have been very overt about their fetish activities, and the corset becomes a useful part of their persona when at play. I think many women feel that a corset "fixes" their problems – whether that is a thick waist, sagging bust, or whatever. It exaggerates their body in a way that amplifies their pleasure and sense of self.

Q: While we see some corsets on fashion runways and some women wear them for special occasions, what do you think of corset fetishism?
A: Only a very small minority of the clientele I have dealt with are truly fetishists. It is an odd time when corsets periodically rear their head as a "fashion" accessory. The occasional client is only interested in the corset as an accessory which is something similar to an item which has appeared in a fashion context, with the associations of this being a fashion forward garment, or a prestige item. I have known a couple of people who truly are corset fetishists – and by this I mean they have such strong associations with the corset that they can be induced to spontaneously orgasm by an accidental glimpse of someone´s corset, a specific type of hosiery supporter, etc. In my experience, when someone is a fetishist they have a very acute, narrow view of their fetish object – to the point that it may not matter whether the person wearing the fetish item is even what we would consider attractive – they are only concerned with the sexual magic of the fetish before them. This is in contrast to the notion of "fetish" in the current social context, which seems to mean a porn-star-looking- person wearing something tight and shiny making a grouchy or pained face.