The Museum at FIT

‘Gothic: Dark Glamour’
(cover image by Sean Ellis- styled by Isabella Blow w/finger horns by Sarah Harmanee for Alexander McQueen's Fall 1997 'It's A Jungle Out There' Collection)

On Friday, September 5, 2008, The Museum at FIT opened its doors to the bat cave of fashion. Its new exhibit titled ‘Gothic: Dark Glamour’, is an exploration of all things bridging the gap between the world of fashion and the world of Goth.

“The association of fashion and death is central to gothic style. Within gothic discourse, the clothes are the life… and the imagery of death, decay, the power of horror and erotic macabre are perversely attractive to designers,” says Dr. Valerie Steele, the museum’s Director and Chief Curator.

Installed in the lower level of the museum, the exhibits dark corridor is filled with a moody ambiance. There’s no music, just the echoing sound of other patron’s heeled-shoes walking on the gray, stoned floors- a befitting match for the gothic evocation of death, destruction, and decay. The first room shows 1870’s mourning gowns with midnight bustles and black veils, the antithesis of a wedding gown. The deep mourning gowns are accompanied by modern garments such as an Eiko Ishioka blood-red silk gown that was designed for the character Mina, in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’

In another section of the room hangs photographs of a leather clad androgynous figure with finger horns making a gesture of hard rock and demons, the upward stare is flat and the eyes pierce the soul, and in another photograph a shadowed figure is held up by cords affixed to its leather clad torso. The ‘cabinet of curiosities’ is filled with bejeweled calf skulls, human skulls, ornate finger horns, evil-eye beads and other objects that have unclear categorical boundaries.

This exhibit gives a comprehensive presentation into the different categories of Goth; old-school Goth, cyber Goth, elegant Goth, with high-fashion being influenced by the Goth subculture. Designers such as Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, and Ricardo Tischi for Givenchy women’s have all re-interpreted an ideal of Goth on their runways. Interestingly, Ann Demeulemeester rejects the gothic label while Owens proclaims to be a former Goth, just as Vivienne Westwood proclaimed to be a former punk.

John Galliano’s most extraordinary collection for Dior in the Fall of 2005, featured a one-piece ensemble that was inspired by the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead.’ Its satin bodice has rib-bones strewn along the chest area, with embroidered skulls in pink, green, and turquoise throughout the motif. The hat that accompanies the cloth also has similar silver dollar sized skulls hanging from its brim; and the museum poses the mannequin with a large-sized human skull, just as the Mexicans would carry during the Day of the Dead processional. Kia Kagama’s ‘Ensemble 1 and 2,’ are black silk gowns with plastic and metal corsets and breast plates that emphasize that the future is envisioned with inorganic materials. Kagama was inspired by the film ‘Bladerunner,’ evoking the image of a cyborg using glass to magnify and draw attention to the details of the corset.

Black is the predominate color found in all of the fashion relating to Goth culture. Micheal Pastoureau, the greatest modern historian of color, states that “…there is a good and a bad black. Good black is brilliant and shiny and bad black is matte and muted.”

There are many ideas and ideals surrounding the concept of Goth, but the museum offers that with the rise of the enlightenment, the entire medieval period known as the Dark Ages, was characterized by sorcery and superstition, prime components of the mysterious culture. Moreover, two mental states that are central to Gothic narratives are claustrophobia and vertigo (dizziness and balance disorder).

Coco Chanel once exclaimed, “Fashion must die and die quickly, in order that it can begin to live,” the perfect phrase to summarize FIT’s exhibition of ‘Dark Glamour.’

For more info on this exhibit, please visit: http://www.fitnyc.edu/museum or call 212.217.4558. Museum Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 12pm-8pm/Saturday, 10am-5pm/Closed on Sunday, Monday and legal holidays.

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