by Eugene Rabkin

"During this past fashion show season one of the most talked about collections was the runway debut of Bottega Veneta under its new creative director, Daniel Lee. Formerly of Celine, Lee brought a certain Celineness to the collection in its rigorous tailoring. But more striking was its dark, hard edge, a decidedly obvious departure from the brand’s staid bourgeois luxury. At Prada, the inspiration was a fictional Frankenstein’s bride, with models sporting black lace, combat boots and Wednesday Addams tails. Even Marni, the effervescent, silly Marni went full on goth with black lipstick and chains. At the Comme des Garcons show in Paris, Rei Kawakubo put on a goth-tinged show whose theme was “The Gathering of Shadows.” The appropriately solemn music was done by the Instagram-famous DJ Parma Ham, whose most defining feature is his mega-mohawk. There is no denying that goth culture is having another moment in fashion. Why?

Every time fashion turns dark it begets plenty of pontificating on the part of the fashion journalists about it reflecting the darkness of the current events. There could be a degree of truth to this, but perhaps there is something simpler at work. Goth culture is one of the few musical subcultures with very clearly defined, recognized and therefore easily copied aesthetic codes - black leather, black lace, combat boots, S&M accessories, often mixed with religious symbols. Put that together with black makeup (for girls and boys) and unconventional hairstyles, and you’ve got a recipe. Perhaps in its chasing of inspiration fashion turns to goth subculture every handful of years simply because designers run out of things to reference. For many designers whose design methods are not tethered to specific cultural roots inspiration is a kind of a color wheel. You keep turning it and another theme comes up, until you have turned the wheel full circle, and start all over again. The last time I noticed this was in 2013, when even the tacky Roberto Cavalli got in on the game.

Goth music was born as an offshoot of the post-punk music scene in England. While punk was political, post-punk turned inward and gradually dark. The music was there before the style. “Bella Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus is widely considered to be the first goth hit, but it wasn’t until The Sisters of Mercy arrived on the scene in 1980, goth truly came into its own. Its aesthetic codes were slowly shaped by acts like The Sisters, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and Alien Sex Fiend and by kids who frequented Batcave, the first goth club in London. You can see the continuation of the punk style in goths’ use of bondage gear and Doc Martens, but they combined it with Victorian mourning dress and heavy makeup. There was less anger and more elegance, less masculinity and more androgyny. Or as Sexbeat sang in a song that epitomized the goth style, “Some wear leather, some wear lace.” Andi Harriman, the author of the book by the same name, described to me the relationship between the music and the style thus, “Since goth style was born out of the punk movement, the idea of DIY was important. It originally consisted of a bricolage of thrift store finds (dyed black of course), one-of-a-kind items found at shops, handmade items, fetishistic elements such as latex, buckles, fishnet, and chains, as well as found objects like chicken bones and toy parts. Most of all, it was about individuality. Fashion was incredibly close to the music since that's what the goth subculture was based upon - the goth visual aesthetic only enhanced the music's funereal and experimental sound.”

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