I was at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, last week soaking it all in. This was the site where the sultans displayed decapitated heads on stakes to discourage bad behavior among their subjects. Probably the most famous of these heads was Dracula's (Vlad, the Impaler) which had been preserved in honey. Not a bad piece of ghoulish history to come across to get in the spirit of Halloween.
Probably the closest thing you can get to horror in the fashion world is goth. At its worst, goth is all about death, rot and decay. At its best, goth is erotic even a romantic period style of dress. Typically, goth is all about dark colors-blacked out eyes, whitened skin, black hair and a plethora of body piercings.
Most people think goth fashion came out the post punk scene that rose up out of the United Kingdom in the '80s. In fact, goth origins are ancient and appears to be the result of a combination of influences from random events that occurred over the centuries.
One of the best books I've ever come across on the subject is Gothic: Dark Glamour
by Valerie Steele. The stunning coffee table book, first published a year ago, traces goth from its Eastern Germanic tribal roots to modern-day black-clad teenagers and sexually-charged vampire fiction.
Steele, chief curator at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, takes the magnifying glass to haute goth as seen through the eyes of designers John Galliano, Rick Owens and Alexander McQueen. It's a fascinating, visual journey through the aesthetics of the macabre.
Some of you might recall, the original Goths were warmongers who tried to take down the Roman Empire in Istanbul, thousands of years before Dracula lost his head to the sultans. I find it particularly interesting that today's goths have nominated Dracula as their token villain. At least at Topkapi Palace, there's a connection. A column commemorates the Roman victory over the Goths.
In fashion, goth is still one of the most effective ways to communicate rebellion and subculture. It's shocking. Unsettling. The fashion equivalent of a good scare on Halloween. Just the kind of buttons, designers like to push. Take London designer Gareth Pugh's spring 2010 collection, pictured above.