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Among the dozens of her own sculptures Joyce Zipperer keeps in her Springfield, Va., home, her 25-pound limestone tongue called Sign of the Times just sort of sticks out. “Here’s the stud,” Zipperer says, placing a shiny steel ball in the center of the muscular sculpture, which sits atop a cedar chest in the middle of her living room.
A former graphic designer for U.S. News & World Report who also once moonlighted as a clothesmaker, Zipperer, 64, is a sculptor with a taste for marrying art and fashion. Back in 1995, for instance, she created her own brand of neckties, molded from stucco and papier-mâché, that look as if they were made of stone. “People wear them to openings and parties,” she says. “I made one for my dad, and he wore it to church.”
Lately, Zipperer’s been busy fashioning her “Unmentionables” line of women’s underwear, 14 of which are now on display—along with a carved-stone Zipperer shoe—in the Touchstone Gallery’s group show “The Nine New Ones” until April 4. “Unmentionables” aren’t your standard silk, satin, Spandex, or cotton garments that’ll fray after a few dozen washings. In fact, Zipperer’s handmade undies reside on the other end of the durability spectrum.
“This is a bloomer,” she says, reaching into a closet and pulling out a particularly large, lustrous, and orangish number called Gibson Girl Bloomers—made of copper screen. Zipperer follows up by producing a stainless-steel girdle, a pair of wire hand-stitched aluminum-mesh pantaloons, and a pair of britches fashioned from a door screen. “This one—the weave is so tight and strong,” she says of Ruffled Rompers, made from a fine copper mesh that feels like nylon, whose pieces she says she was able to stitch together on a sewing machine.
Zipperer began making metallic undies two years ago in preparation for a Washington Sculptors Group exhibition on the Kennedy Center’s rooftop terrace. At that time, Zipperer had been cranking out neckties, 25 to 72 inches tall, of welded steel and sand-cast concrete. For the Kennedy Center show, though, she came up with the idea of making Victorian underwear, which she thought would “fit right in with all [the venue’s] theatrical productions.”
Zipperer took metal screen and wired up a bunch of supersized and assorted drawers, intending to string them along a 30-foot clothesline stretched between two poles on the KenCen’s roof. The show was canceled, but Zipperer says she remained smitten with using metal to lend a sense of permanence to the ever-evolving underworld of ladies’ lingerie.
There are limitations to her materials, of course: Embroidering a flower pattern on the stainless-steel French Knickers proved too difficult to do by hand, and she never even bothered trying to decorate Mad Maxine, her welded-steel teddy. But now, Zipperer’s moved from girdled Victoriana to open-weave Victoria’s Secret: Her latest “Unmentionables” are crocheted metal G-strings and thongs. “This is the red thong,” she says, producing a pair of skimpy, rosy, copper-wire crotch-riders from a small box. Her teeniest number—Postage Stamp—is a silvery metal chain with a fig-leaf illustration on an aluminum tag. “I got the idea when I was standing in JCPenney,” she says.
At Touchstone, Zipperer’s “Unmentionables” are displayed on a clothesline—progressing from historic to modern, from huge to minuscule, and from $1,500 to $300 in price. Most are size 10 or 12, she says—but unlike her wearable ties, they don’t tempt her to put them on. She does get lots of inquiries, though.
“You’d be scratched to death in these, but people say, ‘Well, can you line them?’” Zipperer says, pondering. “I’d have to put ties at the sides of the thongs….If somebody asked, I might try it. Something like that would be really fun to work out.” —Chris Shott