Fall '09 Japanese Goth Trend: Good Mourning

Goth: Grim, glam and going Japanese. It's both subculture and fashion statement — or multiple fashion statements, as indicated by the various looks here.

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Guests leaving Gareth Pugh’s March show in Paris likely had more questions than answers about the collection. For starters, the designer eschewed the runway for an avant-garde video projection that, though arresting, left fashion editors squinting for a better look at the clothes. A kohl-eyed Natasa Vojnovic vamped, stretched and twisted her way through the video, pulling off clothes and turning capes into flapping wings. Black dresses melted into inky swirls. Sheaths covered with “Hellraiser”-like pins glistened under the arty lighting. But the show made one point crystal clear: Goth lives on.



Behind-the-scenes video from the WWD Japanese Goth fashion shoot


This fall, there was no shortage of dark glamour on the runways, from Rodarte, where Kate and Laura Mulleavy sliced and spliced their way through a Frankenstein-inspired lineup, to that of eternal Goth guy Riccardo Tisci, who’s managed to transform Givenchy into a fetishistic, Edward Gorey wonderland. But the look resonates at all price points. Consider the fall launch of the L.A.-based contemporary label Witches, by Lauren Alexander and Gabby Applegate, which is geared towards “Goth, grunge and Victorian dressing,” according to the designers. It launched in March with a presentation at the Chateau Marmont on, of all days, Friday the 13th. The line features loads of velvet, silk and black lace, natch.

“When you have houses like Givenchy doing something like that, it makes it more mainstream,” remarks Alexander, who, one may be surprised to learn, cofounded the California basics line LnA in 2007. “That’s why there’s room for us to do something like this and not have people think, ‘This is so weird,’ and roll their eyes, like, ‘Oh, Goth. This person is so depressed.’ Now they think it’s cool and relevant.”

Indeed. Goth has been around for decades, having spun out of the punk movement in the Seventies and reaching a high in the Nineties with Marilyn Manson and movies such as “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Interview with the Vampire.” But that macabre vibe is gaining traction once again, and not just in fashion circles. Nobody needs to point out the phenomenal success of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire-themed “Twilight” series — the film based on the first book grossed $35.7 million on its opening day last November, with the sequel out later this year. Or HBO’s “True Blood,” which gave actress Anna Paquin her first Golden Globe for her turn as Sookie Stackhouse, the undead-loving waitress. (Fan alert: Season two premieres June 14.) And 2010 sees no dip in popularity for the morbidly inclined, even for the PG set. That’s when Emily the Strange, the cartoon poster child for grim types, is slated to get the big-screen treatment.

“Goth has still been relatively underexploited,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, who curated the museum’s “Gothic: Dark Glamour” show earlier this year and is planning a Japanese fashion exhibit for 2010. “Everybody’s been pillaging, say, punk or hip-hop for years; this is still relatively fresh. I think there’s been a growing interest, like, ‘Why aren’t we doing more with this?’ And, I think, the Japanese take has refreshed it.”

Steele is talking about Japan’s prominent Goth figure, the Gothic Lolita, who’s getting the spotlight treatment of late. She’s a different beast altogether from the Western Goth gal here; rather, the GothLoli — or Loli-Goth — is a wonderfully perverse cocktail of “Alice in Wonderland” meets Wednesday Addams. Think petticoats, parasols, ribbons and ruffles — cast in black. And while the term Lolita may tip its frilly bonnet to Nabokov’s girl, no devotee worth her weight in mary janes would acknowledge a sexual undertone to the style. Its origins are more rooted in Harajuku culture — “and the importance of kawaii, of cuteness, in Japan’s popular culture,” says Steele — and champions the covered-up, modest feel of the Victorian age. “It’s almost like they’re trying to transform themselves into living dolls,” explains Tiffany Godoy, co-author of “Japanese Goth” (Universe), a new book on the phenomenon. “It’s about being feminine and lovely and taking tea.”

Godoy’s work is the latest in the spate of English-language books featuring the GothLoli girl — Dakota Lane’s “Gothic Lolita: A Mystical Thriller” (Ginee Seo Books), Masayuki Yoshinaga and Katsuhiko Ishikawa’s “Gothic & Lolita” (Phaidon), and the upcoming “Gothic Lolita Punk: Draw Like Hottest Japanese Artists” (Collins Design) are others — but what sets hers apart is the exploration into the ‘why’ factor of the look, with references to the nation’s Kabuki past and doll fascination. “It’s a culture that’s about escapism and fantasy, and those are kind of the hallmarks of fashion,” she says, noting Gothic Lolita’s rise in the Nineties. “With the downturn of the Japanese economy, post-bubble, there was a certain sense of hopelessness felt by the youth for the first time.” Also key, she adds, is the country’s visual kei band culture, which emphasizes flamboyant and eccentric costuming, à la Kiss and Ziggy Stardust.


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