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The strange, dark beauty of Gothic style

By Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 01, 2023 5:00 am

If you think that Goth and Gothic pegs only come out during this spooky time of year, think again—the socmed darling Heart Evangelista was seen at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year wearing a palatable gothcore ensemble by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad, who dresses the likes of Beyoncé and JLo. Blame it on Wednesday, the Netflix series based on the character in the Addams Family, that cult 1960s sitcom that celebrates the macabre. The show’s star, Jenna Ortega, has been the ambassador for all things gothic at the Met Gala and other red carpets.

First, a definition of terms. Goth is the subculture, the music genre and the unrelated Germanic tribe. Gothic refers to the literature, architecture, art and the lyrical content that music takes from Gothic fiction, all of which are sources of inspiration for Goths, aside from horror movies, vampires and mythology.

Heart Evangelista at Paris Fashion Week

The film scholar Brigid Cherry, in her book Twenty-First Century Gothic, likens the gothic revival to its first inception as a reaction to the same frightening instability of the world in the late 18th century when social, political and economic upheavals led to anxieties that artwork and literature sought to compound during a time when society began to erode the traditional as it questioned ideas surrounding race and gender roles. Themes of horror, suspense and the supernatural provided an arena where fears could be examined and explored.

A guest in Gothic Lolita attire at the tea party of the Philippine Gothic and Lolita Community

Gothic literature, from Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) to works by Edgar Allan Poe and Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, no doubt contributed to a rich visual vocabulary with their use of dark colors, black clothing and themes of sorcery, superstition, witchcraft and the occult. These translated to fashion, which adopts a dark romanticism inspired by the fictional characters’ garments worn during key events in the novels like imprisonment, haunting and madness. Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti’s operatic tragedienne based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel, has been recurring on the runways as the blood-stained bride who has lost her mind.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

The gothic sensibility was something that groups of young people would gravitate to, a haven for those who opposed the dominant, mainstream culture from the late ’70s to the ’80s in the UK. Eventually known as Goths, they were fans of gothic rock, a style of music that emerged from post-punk. Not surprisingly, their fashion style also drew influences from punk, as well as New Wave, the New Romantics, and the Victorian, Edwardian and Belle Epoque eras.

Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands

With the economic recession in Britain in the late 1970s to early ’80s, an improvised or DIY approach to style was the norm for young subcultural groups and even as the economy boomed later, this way of dressing remained as a form of rebellion to a mainstream culture that fetishized wealth.

Goths love mythology, the mysterious, the supernatural, culture, tradition, nature, romanticism and things they feel are important but are dying out in a society fueled by greed and a throwaway mentality.

Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams

For them, the individual is also dying after society has sucked the life out of humanity. Employing the appearance of death that channels this feeling, they adopt a head-to toe black ensemble with dyed hair and white makeup, inspired by the Victorian cult of mourning and by Gothic tales of the undead like Dracula and Frankenstein. Ripped fishnet stockings, repurposed bondage gear and improvised chain jewelry add to the look.

Theda Bara

There were many icons: Theda Bara, the 1910s femme fatale and “vamp” of silent films, was gothic by her name alone—an anagram of “Arab death”—not to mention her dark eye makeup, long black clothing and intense look. Morticia was the effortlessly elegant matriarch of the Addams family created by Charles Addams in 1938 and later adapted for TV and film. Siouxsie Sioux was emulated not just for her music but for her black outfits matched with cat-eye makeup and dark lipstick.

The goth music scene began to wane in the 1990s but the style lived on as it diversified, absorbing looks from other subcultures such as metal, rockabilly and even hippy psychedelia. It also started appearing on the catwalks.

John Galliano for Dior Haute Couture, spring 2006

John Galliano, who always found the gothic girl “edgy and cool, vampy and mysterious,” had erotic macabre creations like a blood-red gown for Dior with a Marquis de Sade quotation: “Is it not by murder that France is free today?” and deranged characters with dripping makeup, carrying eerie broken dolls.

Alexander McQueen’s “Horn of Plenty” collection, FW 2009, makeup by Peter Philips

Alexander McQueen thrilled the alternative scene and high-fashion insiders with his multifaceted approach to the gothic, drawing from literature, cinema and art to pose important questions about our relationships with our bodies, about desire and mortality. His “The Hunger” collection based on the cult vampire film featured a molded plastic corset encasing a layer of worms, while “Eclect Dissect” for Givenchy was themed around a Victorian surgeon who collected exotic women, animals and clothes from around the world which he cut up and reassembled into couture.

Versace, SS 2023

Donatella Versace, on the other hand, brought her brand of bold Italian la dolce vita to her spring 2023 goth brides in technicolor with slip dresses that were part ’90s, part “whimsigoth” and very rocker. 

A terno by Bree Esplanada

At our very own Ternocon, finalist Bree Espalanada of Cebu, who “finds beauty in the dark and in the taboo things sa probinsya,” animated his creations with his illustrations of tikbalangs and mananaggals and continues to explore gothic imaginings in his ternos for Halloween.

A creation of Ha.Mu Studios

Ha.Mu Studios, an independent local brand, does their own version of goth as they work “on a basis of rebellion, creativity and the freedom of expression, fused with the idea of love and confidence in one’s self.”

It is the emphasis on individuality, after all, that keeps the gothic alive today as it has morphed into many iterations all over the world.