Sunday, 11 September 2011

GLAMOUR OF THE DARK, Gothic in fashion: Marc T.

"Gothic" is an epithet with a strange history"

The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel. Louis Daguerre, oil on canvas 1825.

Gothic is evoking images of death, destruction, and decay, It is not just a word that describes something, such as a Gothic cathedral, it is also inevitably a term of abuse, implying that something is dark, barbarous, gloomy, and macabre. Ironically, its negative connotations have made it, in some respects, ideal as a symbol of rebellion. It is a subculture.
Art history has many literature and studies about Gothic in art, cinema and architecture, while there is a limited literature about Gothic style in costume or fashion.

Hans Holbein The Younger  1498 - 1543

 Hans Holbein "The Dance of the Death - woodcut circa 1530
Hans Holbein the Dance of The Death circa 1535.

Hans Holbein The Younger was born in Augsburg, Germany in 1497/8. He was known as Hand Holbein The Younger because of his father, Hans Holbein The Elder, a well known and accomplished painter. 
The young Holbein moved early to Basel, Switzerland, were he established a reputation as an internationally demanded artist. His influences were a rich accumulation of diverse styles; Late Gothic, Early Italian and French Renaissance as well his father's German Gothic and Netherlands styles of painting.
In 1526 he went to England were later he was awarded with the official title of Court Painter.  
Hans Holbein left an important collection woodcuts and book illustrations on the theme of Death.

 19th century "Bat Costume" illustrations  

Gothic is an important theme in contemporary fashion and not only in the Gothic subculture. Many high end designers as Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Rick Owen, Olivier Theyskens or Yohji Yamamoto introduced Gothic themes in their collections.  Haute Couture did not accept to be labelled as Gothic because it is connected to morbid and to kitch.

The English Romantic poet Lord Byron 1788 - 1824 was the inspiring source behind John Polidori and Mary Shelley.

The first Vampire story in English was John Polidori's The Vampire 1819. John Polidori was a personal physician to Lord Byron and was touring Europe with lord Byron. During their journey  they met Wollstonecraft Godwin and her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley. Byron had an idea for everyone to write their own ghost story, after the group had to read aloud from the collection of horror stories. The end result was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and john Polidori's The Vampire.
The story was first attributed to lord Byron, but both Byron and Polidori asserted that the the story was Polidori's.

Gothic derives from the Latin "gothicus" meaning pertaining to the Goths (Gothos) a nomadic warrior people living in the forests of Northern Europe in third century AD. The Romans regarded the Germanic tribes like the Goths and Vandals as barbarian. This image was definitely established when the Visigoths sacked Rome in AD 410, triggering the fall of the Roman Empire. Later the Ostrogoth's, repeatedly invaded Italy, destroying the aqua ducts and decimating the population. The English author and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote in 1752:
" carrying Destruction before them as they advanced, and leaving horrid desserts every where behind them" This quotation of Edmund Burke implies that in the eighteenth century there was already thought to be something "sublime" about the wild and dangerous Goths.
The Gothic story flourished again in the Middle Ages in Europe. A new style of  art and architecture was developed. The Gothic cathedrals were characterized by soaring spires, pointed arches, fluing buttresses and stained glass windows. Medieval masterpiece buildings as the Chartres Cathedral, was retroactively termed The Gothic, from the Italian gottico meaning rough and barbarous, because it was different from both ancient classical architecture and the modern Renaissance aesthetic. Bodies, like buildings, were gothicized. As depicted in medieval art, the Gothic nude had a slender, elongated body, quite unlike the classical nude that inspired Renaissance artists. This stylization of the body in art reflected the lines of medieval fashion.
The European Middle Ages saw the beginning of fashion as the term is generally understand today - as a regular pattern of style change. Traditional costume historians use the term "Gothic fashion" to describe northern European medieval dress from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries. Gothic fashion was exaggerated with long trailing sleeves and extraordinary head-dresses.

Medieval dress from 13th century

Ladies dresses featured shockingly deep decolletage, while young men wore skintight leggings, long pointed shoes and short doublets decorated with pinking, slashing and lacing. The medieval art was not all chivalry and elegance. When the Black Death decimated the population of Europe, it spawned a macabre obsession with skeletons and rotting corpses. The era of Dark Ages is entering history with the rise of the Enlightenment, the entire medieval period is characterized by superstition and religious fanaticism and fears for witchcraft, sorcery and satanism. The dark period was  a source of inspiration for some cultural outsiders, such as the homosexual aesthete and art historian Horace Walpole who built his little "Gothick" castle  and wrote the very first Gothic novel "The Castle of Otranto" in 1764.

Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, England. (1717 - 1797)

Strawberry Hills, Horace Walpole's Gothic reconstructed  castle 
The Nightmare, oil on canvas 1781
The Anglo-Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) was responding to Walpole's  Gothic weirdness

In the middle of the 18th century Goth had a revival and a vogue of melodramatic horror literature such as The Monk and The Mysteries of Udolpho. Architectural ruins became the perfect settings for the new taste of Romantic backward looking thoughts.
Tracing back the gothic sensibility leads one down peculiar historical pathways, where "fatal" women and "corpse passions" of the Romantic and Decadent movements take on a new life. Iconic English novels from Mary Shelley Frankenstein (1818), Bram Brooker Dracula (1897), Wuthering Heighs (1847) and Jane Eyre (1847) established an enduring neo-gothic genre featuring dangerous yet strangely attractive men who threatened innocent young women. The genre will inspire French Decadent Literature, German Expressionist cinema, and Hollywood horror cinema. The Hollywood cinema was crucial in imposing the visual iconography of the Goths.
The association of fashion and death is central  to Gothic style, but death is allied to fashion more generally. "Fashion must die and die quickly, in order that it can begin to live" declared Gabrielle Chanel. "The more ephemeral a fashion is, the more perfect it is. You can't protect what's already dead". The French poet  and close friend of Chanel Jean Cocteau joked: "One must forgive  fashion everything, because it dies so young". Paul Morand compared fashion to Nemesis, the Goddess of destruction. Fashion is somehow destructive and centers on changes; what was in yesterday is out today.Although fashion is the modern measure of time, it also exists outside  the organic cycle of birth, death and decay. the human body may age and die, but by celebrating novelty and artificiality, fashion promises seasonal renewal and eternal youth.
Philosopher Walter Benjamin observes that death lies at the heart of fashion, because unlike the living and dying body, fashion is neither alive nor dead. According to Benjamin, the essence of fashion is fetishism, because sex appeal derives from the inorganic clothing and jewelry. even the face is covered with cosmetics. Benjamin  concludes that the living person becomes a kind of mannequin,  a gaily decked-out corpse.
The corpse, or the body transformation influenced the collaboration between fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and surrealist painter Salvador Dali. The Skeleton dress, a black rayon dinner dress with the bones outlined in padded embroidery was inspired by a circus sideshow freak, the Skeleton Man.  The dress was showed  in Paris on February the 4th 1938, concurrent with the Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme.

The Skeleton dress, Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali 1938.

The most important contemporary manifestation of the Gothic is the Goth subculture in the 1970. The goths were associated with a new style of dark music and  overwhelmingly black dress style.The London Gothic scene was merely represented through music groups and in a specific club circuit. The most authentic and the first goth club was The Bat Cave in London. The Bat Cave was founded by Anna Goodman in the early 1970's.

Anna Goodman founder of The Bat Cave, London

Jonny Slut,  leader of the London Goth Punk subculture.

The Bat Cave
death punk band at The Bat Cave

Goth girls at The Bat Cave
 Goth girl

 Halloween at the Bat Cave

The Bat Cave was the meeting place for the London subculture. most of the dresses were purchased at flee markets and in hype shops like Hyper Hyper. The dresses were merely Victorian and composed with corsets, lace stockings and bodies and with an accentuated pale make up underlined with contrasting black eyeliner and lipstick. The clothes were self made and composed with different parts

The British  post-punk  rock band Bauhaus understood the power of image. The first album released in 1979 "Bela Lugosi's Death"  was not naive. The band was aware of the movements associations and translated its visionary ideals into a music revolution of their own.  album cover designed by Peter Saville and photograph of Bela Lugosi in Dracula.

The Joy division  1980 album cover "Closer" was designed by Peter Saville and martyn Atkins. The subject was inspired by a Gothic theme. The photograph was completely styled as a 18th century classic painting. Photography Bernard-Pierre Wolff. 

Pandora Gorey Harrison grow up in Buffalo, New York and moved to London in 1984 after High school.
Her  High School Classmates  were into heavy metal and rock but it is through her interest in Victorian dresses that she found at the flee market that she began to be interested in goth music and goth subculture and was attracted by the romantic Victorian Goth style.
Pandora Harrison likes to define goth as following: " you can be a goth on the inside because you like Edgar Allan Poe, or you can be a goth because you like the music, even though you just wear a T-shirt and black jeans and boots, or you can be into fashion and make-up. You don't have to be miserable and preoccupied with death, although I've always loved Victorian funeral customs".
Pandora created her own version of goth style, both inspired by Victorian romanticism and  fetish.
Contemporary goths tend to be much more dialectically engaged with the past than is typical of most youth subcultures. Not only do they draw inspiration from subcultural antecedents, such as punk or glam rock, they also draw on an eclectic historical canon of literary, aesthetic and philosophical traditions. 

The  Queen of Goth, Pandora Harrison

Pandora's invitation for her 30th birthday

Pandora Harrison Gothic eroticism

 Pandora Harrison motorbike Gothic style

In marge of the contemporary subculture environment, Goth style was maybe the most explicit in cinema, Hollywood was a great contributor in diffusing the goth visual iconography.  The Japanese costume designer, Eiko Ishioka. Born in Tokyo in 1939,  Eiko Ishioka won an Oscar for the costumes in the Dracula remake in 1992. Eiko Ishioka created her particular style that she recalls as "Horror Aesthetics". The  style is based on surrealism and apocalyptic themes mingled with Victorian and Japanese elements of the Samurai traditions.

Costume designer Eiko Ishioka

Eiko Ishioka "Horror Aesthetic" series. Featuring Grace Jones in the Hurricane Tour.

  Eiko ishioka

 Eiko Ishioka

Gothic fashion, like the gothic novel, tends to be obsessed with the past, often a theatrical, highly artificial version of the past that contrasts dramatically with the perceived banality of contemporary life.
Gothic garments tend to articulate the body in particular ways, emphasizing themes such as imprisonment, spectrality, haunting, madness, monstrosity and the grotesque.Gothic fashion  is also linked to a particular sensibility, usualy a kind of dark romanticism. it has its own visual vocabulary which evolved from a set of narrative associations evoked by gothic literature of terror, from its origin in the eighteenth century to its contemporary manifestation in vampire fiction, cinema and art. In the world of fashion, the gothic look is perhaps most clearly expressed in photography.
Catherine Spooner as quoted in Goth ( page 154,Goodlad and Bibby) is an excellent definition for a particular style in contemporary fashion.    "Within gothic discourse, the clothes are the life: gothic chic is not a false surface for the gothic psyche, but an intrinsic part of it. Surely, therefore, within the world of fashion, it is this enduring potency of gothic images for imaginative self-identification that leads to their perennial revival"


Alexander McQueen

Ricardo Tisci Gothic evening dress for Givenchy

 Olivier Theyskens
Olivier Theyskens
Olivier Theyskens

Dai Rees, milliner

Dai Rees, milliner

Dai Rees, milliner

Dai Rees, milliner

Comme des Garcons

Comme des Garcons

Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto wedding dress

Yohji Yamamoto

In the streets

Victorian Gothic girls  

Gothic Couple

 Victorian inspired Gothic girl at a railway station

Gothic wedding dress


  1. Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a stylish and surreal gothic modern noir called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently
    debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.


    ***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
    before..." Film Threat
    "A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
    "Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. " IFC News
    "Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
    "Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque

  2. Fascinating article. The death punk band pictured is Anorexic Dread who released the classic goth EP Tracey's Burning/Tick Tock

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