How would you define gothic in fashion?
Gothic fashions are fashions which express a kind of gothic narrative - a story that has something to do with terror and the erotic macabre. It is not just a question of the design of the dress, but how it is styled. Do you have black nails, dark lipstick? Do you have it photographed for a fashion magazine in a way that emphasizes a look which is witchy or sinister or vampiric? You can take a little black cocktail dress and style it to look ladylike or you can style it to look gothy.
When many people think of gothic they think of teenage kids dressed in black – but the show emphasizes the romantic side of gothic fashion.
Romantic is a big part of it. One
working definition of gothic style is in fact dark
romanticism, the opposite of classicism in fashion.
I had some Italians over to visit the show. The show
is the exact opposite of Italian sensibilities which
tends to be very classical, beige and chic. At first
they were like "this is like Halloween" and then
they got it. They said, "it's decadence". I said
"yes"! Dark romanticism leads into decadence. It is
the opposite of sunlit Mediterranean. But certainly
there are Italian designers too like Riccardo Tisci
of Givenchy who have a very gothic sensibility. It
is commoner to find it in British designers or Japanese
There are quite a few dresses in the show by Alexander McQueen. Can you discuss the influence of gothic in his designs?
Most designers have an occasional
gothic collection and even Mr. Armani has the odd black
evening dress which French Vogue could style as gothic.
We put that example in the show. But with someone like
McQueen, the dark side is an intrinsic part of his
entire esthetic. He is always looking at imagery of
sorcery, superstition and persecution and he is attracted
to things of the erotic macabre. This has run through
his entire career. We can see it in the dress which
is inspired by his ancestor who was executed as a witch
in Salem. That is a perfect theme for him. He is drawn
to the theme of witches as the outcast, as the persecuted,
and yet there is something sexy and compelling about
it. John Galliano also, particularly in his work for
Christian Dior Couture has been drawn frequently to
the gothic. When I interviewed him, he talked about
how he saw the Gothic girl as being sexy and spooky.
He was drawn to the idea of decadent people like the
Marchesa Casati, who would wear pale makeup and swathe
around her palazzo in Venice looking like a corpse.
Why has gothic endured?
The appeal of the gothic goes back for two centuries. But the exhibition focuses on clothing from the 1990s and the twenty-first century. There have always been a minority of people – be it Edgar Allen Poe or Baudelaire who have seen beauty in the dark side. But in the last few decades, contemporary fashion has drawn much more on subcultural themes and is always looking for what you might call the charisma of deviance. In the 1950s, people were more constrained and tried to seem respectable and conventional because there was a real danger that if you looked too different someone might accuse you of being a communist or a homosexual. Nowadays, that fear has primarily disappeared and fashion will look much more towards things which are extreme and alluring because of their apparent deviance.
do you see as the future of gothic style?
I see an increasing influence from the Far East – from Japan and Korea. We have pretty much mined all of the Western imagery of Dracula etc. But now there is a whole new wave that young people are really into – anime, animated films, Japanese and Korean horror films which have a whole set of aesthetics drawn from Kabuki and graphic novels. We see it in the exhibition most strikingly with the wonderful evening dress by Rodarte which was inspired by Japanese horror films.
is very theatrical. How did you put it together?
Very early on I contacted Simon Costin, who became
my art director. He is a jeweler and an artist who
has worked frequently in a gothic mode and he has also
worked as a consultant for a number of collections
with Alexander McQueen. For example, when McQueen was
at Givenchy, there was a famous Eclect /Dissect collection
about a mad scientist. Simon was the art director for
that. He worked with me and my regular exhibition designer
Charles Froom. I would say "I want a ruined castle",
and I would show them a picture of a ruined Gothic
castle or I told Simon, "I need to have a laboratory".
I thought of the idea of having latex walls. He got
the idea to have faces pushing out through the latex
from the movie "Nightmare on Elm Street". He wanted
to have a laboratory table – like in Frankenstein.
But I told him we don't have room for that we have
so many dresses. But fortunately we have some dresses
with the laboratory sort of built into them.
Most strikingly Simon came up with the idea of those huge 15-foot doors. I told him I wanted a display which would draw on Edgar Allen Poe's idea of the haunted palace – the idea of a mind haunted by insanity and incest. He came up with these doors that serve as an architectural metaphor for a disturbed mind.
Do you have any favorite pieces in the show?
There are a couple of McQueens
that I love. I love the witch McQueen dress – the
one inspired by witchcraft. I love John Galliano's
dress that was inspired by the French Revolution.
There is a fabulous Thierry Mugler - a long black
Victorian style dress with a real explosion of rose
petals around the neck and the wrists. It's like
a kind of flower bomb. Rick Owens' clothes are fabulous.
He is a designer who used to be a goth himself.
What are you working on next?
I'm writing the catalog for the exhibition that will open in June of Isabel Toledo, who was the recipient of this year's Couture Council Award for Artistry in Fashion. We are doing a big show on her.