"Gothic" is an epithet that evokes images of death, destruction, and decay. Not simply
a word that describes something, such as a Gothic cathedral, it is almost always a
term of abuse that implies the dark, barbarous, and gloomy. Such negative connotations
have made the gothic an ideal symbol of rebellion for a wide range of cultural outsiders.
From its origins in 18th century gothic literature of terror to its contemporary manifestations
in vampire literature and cinema, the gothic has embraced the powers of horror and
the erotic macabre. Throughout its history, fashion has been central to our vision
of the gothic.
Victorian Mourning Dress, c. 1880, black silk and netting, lent by Evan Michelson.
Photo by Irving Solero.
Rodarte, red and black silk chiffon, fall 2008-2009, USA, courtesy Rodarte. Photo
by Dan Lecca.
Christian Dior (John Galliano), evening dress and cross necklace, red coated silk,
black ink, and metal, spring 2006, France. Lent by Christian Dior, Paris. Photo by
"Although popularly identified with black-clad teenagers and rock musicians, the gothic
has also been an important theme in contemporary fashion," said Dr. Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT and curator of this exhibition. "The imagery of death
and decay, the power of horror, and the erotic macabre are perversely attractive to
many designers. For example, John Galliano told me that he saw the 'Gothic girl' as
'edgy and cool, vampy and mysterious,' while the most recent Rodarte collection was
inspired by Japanese horror films."
An introductory gallery traced the development of gothic style from its origins in
the eighteenth-century gothic literature of terror to its contemporary manifestations
in art, fashion, and film. The Victorian cult of mourning, for example, was illustrated by actual mourning dresses, crepe veils, and momento
mori jewelry. A Cabinet of Curiosities featured objects such as a wax head and the death mask of a poet. The vampire vignette
included one of Eiko Ishioka's costumes for the film Bram Stokers Dracula. A selection of photographs was also be on display.
Simon Costin, the British artist, jeweler, and set designer who has worked on many fashion shows,
served as art director for Gothic: Dark Glamour. Costin worked closely with exhibition designer Charles B. Froom to create an appropriately
gothic mise-en-scene. The main gallery space was designed as a labyrinth, divided into iconic spaces such as Night, with seductive black evening dresses; the Ruined Castle, which conveys a sense of the Dark Ages; and the Laboratory, with futuristic fashion "monsters." Towering in the background was the Haunted Palace, which evokes Edgar Allan Poe's architectural metaphor for a disturbed mind.
A lavishly illustrated book, also called Gothic: Dark Glamour expands on the themes addressed in the exhibition. "There have been many studies
of the gothic in art, architecture, literature, and cinema, but surprisingly little
attention has been paid to the gothic influence on fashion," says Valerie Steele,
curator of the exhibition and co-author of the book with Jennifer Park, coordinator
of special programs at The Museum at FIT. Steele, a renowned fashion historian, explores
the significance of gothic fashion from its eighteenth-century origins in the work
of the "original goth" Horace Walpole to its current manifestations in both street
style and high fashion. Steele draws on a wide range of sources, including fascinating
interviews with fashion designers, such as Rick Owens; photographers, such as Sean
Ellis; and gothic rockers, such as Patricia Morrison of Sisters of Mercy. Jennifer
Park contributes an essay, "Melancholy and the Macabre: Gothic Rock and Fashion."
Proceeds from the book, published by Yale University Press, go to the Fashion Institute
Gothic: Dark Glamour was supported in part by The Coby Foundation, Ltd. Additional support was provided
by the Couture Council.
Gothic: Dark Glamour
was also featured in Google's Arts & Culture "We Wear Culture" project
, a collaboration with The Museum at FIT and over 180 renowned cultural institutions
from New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, São Paulo, and around the world. View the exhibit
below and through the Google Arts & Culture app on iOS and Android devices.