I grew up with the idea that gothic was a social outcast, someone whose notion of rejecting society was expressed through their appreciation for all things Marilyn Manson and multiple piercings.

For me, Goths weren’t actually frightening but it was the image of unrest that they represented.

My naïve perception of what it meant to be gothic has been shaped by the stereotypical ideals painted by those who did not understand its reasons. But gothic is more than a black corset and thick eyeliner; it’s a movement that shaped the roots of our culture.

The gothic subculture derives from the post punk scene of the 1980’s. Its followers found inspiration in dark, mysterious and morbid imagery, with a hint of romanticism. Rather than seeing the fear in the dark- the fear of the unknown, they saw endless mystery.

But gothic doesn’t just begin there. Gothic is a revolutionary art movement dating back to the 12th century that evolved from Romanesque art and lasted until the late 16th century. The term gothic was used to define the Italian writers of the Renaissance, who used the term to portray what non-classical ugliness was to them. Architecture and form were the most important and original forms of art during the gothic period. Architecture began crucial to the gothic identity purely because medieval masons were trying to solve the problems associated with supporting heavy masonry ceiling vaults over wide spans. They were finding that the traditional arched barrel vault and the groin vault created a tremendous amount of pressure, which caused the structures to collapse. The masons therefore came to the solution that a building’s vertical supporting wall had to be made extremely thick and heavy.

gothic architecture

Architecture led the way for gothic sculpture, as this form of art was used to decorate the exteriors of buildings, in particular cathedrals. When sculptures first started creating their work, the forms, like their Romanesque predecessors, remained stiff and simple. But towards the end of the 12th and early 13th century, sculptures became more natural. The sculptors began to refine the features of their pieces. This ‘artificial prettiness’ spread all over Europe through all forms of art.

What we need to understand is that gothic art evolved. It went from being stiff, simple and hieratic towards a more relaxed and natural look. Therefore, when looking at the influence of the gothic movement is modern fashion, we need to look deeper. We should be looking for designs that strongly emphasise structure. Thick panels, with great artistic design lines. We need to take note of the fabrics used. We want to see fabrics that mould to form. But we should also look at garments that represent that shift, where a more natural form is used. Lastly, we should be looking for tone, not just black.

Rick Owens demonstrates these ideals. Owens knows what it is that he does –”The big coat, the big boots, the big T-shirt.” It is how he utilises these staples and is able to construct new forms. If we look at his Fall 2013 Ready-to-Wear collection, we can see the true elements shine through. Owen’s successfully creates contrast, but a balance through his combined use of angular and curved shapes. Volume is used around the arms and legs – the bodies’ pillars – but utilises the neck, shoulders and torso to create draped and curved features.

rick owens 2013

Rick Owens Fall 2013 Ready-to-Wear

We can see in his Fall 2012 Ready-to-Wear the heavy influence of architecture, specifically of brutalism, where plain and simple forms are used. But his Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear collection is where he truly explores the connection of elegance, balance and proportion. Within the slim designs, Owen’s uses panelling combined with tones to create a grand structural effect.

Rick Owens - Fall 2012 & Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

Rick Owens – Fall 2012 & Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

If we look at the modern perception of gothic and its influences in modern fashion, we can’t look past Givenchy. Riccardo Tisci is the driving force behind the brand, steering its style into a romanticised gothic dream. Tisci’s work has structure, but it is also poetic. His collections are melancholic, romantic and dramatic. They tell a story. For the Spring 2007 Couture collection, we see dramatic fishtail dresses that are incredibly decorated like that of a pillar. Fabric is draped and shaped around the body to add depth and to add meaning.

couture spring 07

Givenchy Spring 2007 Couture

The same goes for the brand’s Spring 2012 Couture collection, which can only be described as hauntingly beautiful. Tisci works magic with natural inspired fabrics- crocodile skin was a major motif – to create this natural and cleverly restrained look.

couture 2012

Givenchy Spring 2012 Couture

Here we have two completely different – one classic and one modern – designers, both who show the influence and impact that our surroundings, history and culture can have on us. Riccardo Tisci stated that ‘the mark of a successful designer is having an identity’ which holds true for not just designers, but each and every artist. Identity is a driving force behind our creative style and without creative style we would not have trends or movements. Here we have discovered identity, which reigns true to the individual and original identity of the gothic subculture.

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