I visited NYC's Fashion Institute of Technology yesterday. Their museum is currently hosting a wonderful exhibit on goth fashion: Gothic: Dark Glamour. At first, I was a little hesitant to go. I was worried that I was basically going to walk into a slightly upmarket showcase for Hot Topic-grade junk, but I was honestly blown away. The exhibit's relevance as a historical overview is secured by its scope and depth, while the artistic merit of the show rests on the fact that the designs and items collected are truly beautiful and fascinating.
The show tracks the development of the gothic look back to Victorian mourning clothing – notably the fashionable widow's weeds worn by young women: a look Victorians wittily referred to as "the trap rebaited." From there, you get a flowering of "dark" looks from the 1980s, with a second boom at the dawn of the Twenty-first Century. The exhibit's focus is on high couture designers and their works, but some room is made for examples of youth streetwear and a couple of examples of the "elegant gothic Lolita" look the developed in Japan.
There's a ton to discuss about the exhibit. The show covers the role of Japanese designers in redefining the gothic with a distinctly non-Western flare (interestingly, despite the gothic's Euro origins, the show is dominated by brilliant work from American and Japanese designers), the figure of the dandy, the role of the French Revolution in the development of the gothic novel, proto-vampiric imagery in fashion discourse prior to the publication of Dracula, and so much more that is really is a must see for anybody interested in what horror tropes do once they leave the confines of literature and film.
Given the scope of the show, I'll focus on a single element – the work of Japanese designer Kei Kagami.
Let's start with a comparison.
First, a movie poster:
Second, a fashion photo:
The former is, of course, a poster for Saw. The latter is a picture of a dress designer by Kei Kagami. Kagami's first solo runway show and the premiere of Saw both occurred in 2004. Apparently, while the folks behind Saw were developing their film's look, Kagami was developing a similar look based on his training at the Bunka Fashion College of Tokyo, Central St. Martin's College of Art & Design in London, and a stint as a studio assistant for John Galliano (one of the few non-Japanese or American designers heavily represented in the goth exhibit).
Here's more Kagami.
Interesting, despite the general tendency of horror bloggers – including myself - to go to great lengths to distinguish the nakedly industrial aesthetic of works like Saw and Hostel from the more Romantic look of traditional gothic fare, Kagami firmly places his work within the gothic tradition and sees no contradiction. He has referred to his look as "neo-gothic" and, more entertainingly, spins gothic tales about himself and his work. When singer and fashion reporter Diane Pernet asked Kagami about the inspiration behind a particular line of shoe designs, the designer gave the following story, with Kagami's caps-free writing style preserved:
let me tell you the story of ' a ghost rider that took me to a cemetery in North London '. this ghost story is not scary at all but what happened was true .
let me tell you the story of ' a ghost rider that took me to a cemetery in North London '.
this ghost story is not scary at all but what happened was true .
one day i went to a biker's cafe called ' Ace Cafe' in north London .
on the way home i found a beautiful vintage bike , maybe it was one called ' Vincent black shadow '( sounds already spooky ) , so i decided to chase it. it was a fast bike , i could not really catch up with it but i kept chasing it as long as i could see it .
but when i turned at the last corner , i could not see it anymore , it just disappeared .
i stopped my bike and what i could see was only the entrance of Highgate cemetery .
so i visited this cemetery in the weekend .
there was not the Vincent black shadow there but a beautiful world in shade of Highgate.
Kagami currently operates out of Milan. He has showrooms in London, Milan, and Hiroshima.