Friday, 1 February 2013

Death and the Gothic in fashion

Mourning jewellery from the Victorian era is thought to be the origins of the modern gothic look. While yes there is no doubt that it has been the most recent impetus for the look we all know and love today. The black elegant Victorian style dress, the mourning cameo jewellery, everything that one would associate with this alternative look.

But here is the interesting thing: these Gothic elements have been around for much longer- hundreds of years in fact. Human beings all over the world have been celebrating death through fashion. Take a look at some of the iconography that we use in alternative dressing and how it has been depicted in other parts of the world.

The human skull for example is a well known symbol of death. This has been the case for millennia.  This has been the case all over the world. Just take a look at some of the more exotic imagery and you will see how death has inspired not only fashion but all aspects of society.

Kali Mata in Hinduism is a fearsome
goddess of revenge and death

The imagery of Kali Mata is the perfect example of the connection of social iconography and the skull within various other sub cultures. The image of a vengeful female goddess wreaking revenge on those who have wronged her and other vulnerable victims is a popular one. You will find it in temples across Asia. As a result the skull is a powerful symbol of her power as she is known for wearing a garland of skulls around her neck.

You will also find skulls in other parts of Asia, Japan for example. During the 18th century, woodblock prints were at the height of fashion. There were some visually stunning prints depicting heroes of folklore or novels of the day. Here the skulls and the skeletons print on the hero's Kimono show brighter colours too. There is not the usual black that is normally associated with the modern day Gothic styles. There are bright sunshine yellows and blues against the skeleton prints and the pretty patterned Obi belt. All of these are so much a part of Japanese traditional costume as well as the Eastern symbols of the elaborate Japanese fan and iconic samurai sword.

A print from 1852 showing character Teranishi Kanshin
 wearing a robe decorated with skeletons

More recently we have seen skulls in haute couture fashion too. Designers have been taking notice of Gothic and skull iconography in all its various guises. Over the past month we have seen Berlin and Paris fashion weeks. Although black lace will always be on trend with the major fashion houses, Lena Hoschek decorated all her catwalk models with sugar skull face paints. Sugar skulls originate from the Mexican 'Day of the Dead' celebrations and have such obvious Gothic elements to them. However they have the added element of color  all things floral. The models have a playfulness to what many would normally associate with the grimness of  death and dying. Skulls and death in modern fashion look great there's no doubt about that, but they also subtly symbolize the fragility of life and the power death holds over us all. 

Lena Hoschek at Berlin Fashion Week January 2013