When thinking of goth, images of black clad teenagers on a Saturday afternoon at Camden Market or Marilyn Manson tearing pink fluffy bunnies apart often flash before our eyes, but the darkened rooms in F.I.T’s basement rewrite this visualisation.
A wall cabinet full of curiosities, including a top hat made of pigskin with a startling tattoo (my favourite) and numerous jewellery pieces from Alexander McQueen’s inspirational shows, guides you into the main room that is divided, styled as a labyrinth, into settings such as a ruined castle, a haunted palace, a midnight forest, a cemetery fence, a bat cave and a laboratory.
Goth appreciation saw its origin in the Victorian mourning dress; heavy, luxurious fabrics of matt black and often an almost claustrophobic corset. Similar to today’s conception of goths the Gothic element attracted cultural outsiders, majority of sexual or devilish character, establishing a culture of mystery, rebellion and sultry seduction. Combined with the upper society’s fascination with black for evening elegance a culture was born.
A quote taken from Giacomo Leopardi’s Dialogue between Fashion and Death, “Unlike the living and dying body, fashion is neither dead nor alive. Like the vampire, fashion is undead” adds a deeper insight to the Gothic culture which is and has been a constant inspiration for designers and stylists, such as the late Isabella Blow.
John Galliano has had a life long love affair with the Gothic Girl, the edgy, cool, vampish and mysterious woman who is fascinated by the erotic and the blackness of the night. The exhibition holds several of his creations, the strongest being the blood red French Revolution inspired evening dress and the skull embellished winter coat that would make the Prince of Darkness cry out in both desire and despair. Alexander McQueen, whose 2007 fall collection was inspired by a relative who was burnt on the stake, is a master of the claustrophobic corset. Whether in lace and in the mourning colours of black and violet or in leather with surgical stitching, the construction leaves you with a heart pulsating feeling of sexual fear and admiration.
There are black dresses by designer Ann Demeulemeester, the so called Dark Queen of Belgian Fashion, a title she must detest. The laboratory’s theatrically masked walls sets the stage for the London based designer Kei Kagama’s metal constrictive outfits. Rodarte’s blood red draped dress, inspired by Japanese horror movies of water merging with blood, fills your heart with chill. These are designers who are playing with fear, just like Hitchcock in his movies. You can’t help watching!
Remember though, this is fashion, which largely exists to draw a response from passers by. Look at the Japanese Lolita goth, she’s theatrical and over the top. But none of us are immune to the inspiration, only weeks ago did I receive an email newsletter from Dorothy Perkins - the autumn campaign gothically styled!
Like Coco Chanel who was famously quoted as saying “Fashion must die and die quickly in order that it can begin to live”, Valerie Steele highlights the essence of death in the exhibition as to her belief fashion and death are cut from the same cloth. “Fashion is constantly dying so that it can come back in a new silhouette, a new shape, a new style. All fashion is undead.”
And as a new season unfolds I see shapes, textures and hues of colours that have previously inhabited my wardrobe, then unbeknown to me goth inspired. Some died a slow death, others hardly saw the light of day before they vanished. Some may call it deja vu, I prefer to call it fashion reincarnation. And long may it live!