Karl Lagerfeld has stated that he took direct inspiration from Amy Winehouse (among others) for his Pre-Fall 2008 collection. The beehive and the crayoned-on eyeliner are certainly there, but in the publicity shots featuring supermodel Coco Rocha, they are as reminiscent of Goth style as they are of Winehouse’s 1960s-inspired look. The encrustation of crucifixes, the black silk and rubber, the fingerless gloves, the whiff of Victoriana: it seems Gothic is back yet again.
Much of my academic career thus far seems to have been spent observing Gothic’s perennial return on the catwalk: as a mode inherently bound up with the notion of revival, it’s the gift that just keeps on giving. Yet each new revival of Goth style offers a slightly different inflection from the last. There is a Gothic edge to the way that Winehouse’s numerous transgressions have been portrayed in the media: the drugs, the self-harm, the breakdowns, the criminal lover, the paparazzi persecution. Perhaps Lagerfeld’s genius resides in his recognition of this, and his recombination of Winehouse’s look with upmarket Gothic styling. It must be said, however, that what is Gothic about this collection is not what is Gothic about Winehouse: the playful recombination of period elements with Decadent styling is immaculately tailored and exquisitely crafted from sumptuous materials – the antithesis of Winehouse’s defiantly visible bra-straps, retro sailor tattoos and woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown persona. But translation of hitherto unconnected concepts into unexpected new combinations is precisely what great fashion does best: in doing so frequently exposing the odd contiguity of apparently disparate ideas.
There are some fabulous details in these images: check out the fingerless rubber gloves, for ladies who definitely don’t do dishes. The chainmail halterneck constructed entirely from jewelled crucifixes manages to recall armour, lingerie, and rosary beads all at the same time – a combination of the sacred and the profane, the come-hither and the go-thither, in one fabulously beautiful and expensive package. I am reminded of Angela Carter’s comments in her essay ‘The Bridled Sweeties’ that modern lingerie fulfils ‘elaborate ritual functions’ in its symbolisation of ‘the pursuit of anti-nature’ – and of her description of Baudelaire making his mistress wear a necklace so that she would look all the more naked. What could be more Decadent than to conceal/enhance one’s nakedness – or to flaunt one’s wealth – with hundreds of jewelled crucifixes?
Gothic fashion is about to have yet another Moment with a major exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, curated by fashion historian Valerie Steele. This seems likely to attract a lot of press attention when it opens in September: Gothic creates a good story, in whatever medium it appears. And with several designers’ Autumn/Winter 2008 collections returning to Gothic yet again, including Prada’s focus on black lace; Gareth Pugh’s scary Samurai Valkyries; Alexander McQueen’s morbidly deranged ballerinas; and Luella’s reinvention of Gothic Lolita via Portobello Market; another resurgence of Gothic chic on the high street looks predictable. It seems that it’s not only Winehouse who’ll be going back to black this season.
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