Gothic: Dark Glamour Hardcover – 15 Aug 2008
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"Steele distinguishes and explains Gothic subdivisions and alliances."
-- Veronica Horwell, New Statesman, December 2008
About the Author
Valerie Steele is director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), where Jennifer Park is coordinator of special projects. Steele is also editor-in-chief of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture and the author of Fifty Years of Fashion, China Chic and The Corset for Yale University Press.
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Top Customer Reviews
Now, there are some very laudable things here. Medieval Gothic - ladies in horned headgear and long-sleeved dresses, and the Danse Macabre - gets a look in, which it too rarely does, and there are some attempts made to relate Gothic imagery across the decades to street styles. But the authors don't seem to know as much about their subject as they need to. They make some remarkably contentious statements about various Gothic subcultural styles, and seem to rely for their information on a couple of photographer contacts and a Goth clothing designer. The high fashion section free-floats above the narrative: we move from a Gothic-themed McQueen outfit to a Gothic-themed Galliano one, acknowledging the strange beauty but wondering what it's all supposed to mean. The only lesson we learn is that some fashion designers have a liking for darkness and disturbance. As for the rock-and-fashion section, there's precious little relating of music to street style, and (in stark contrast to the first part of the book), the text dismisses Goth after 1983 in five paragraphs. It's as though one bit was written in complete isolation from the others.
The pictures are beautiful, and deserve four stars.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Steele references everything from the etymology of the word "gothic" to the early, cultural influences (everything from art, music, theatre and film to literature and architecture) that have shaped what we consider Gothic today. I'd like to think I'm an unofficial expert on this subculture (or, at the very least, an Old-School Goth turned Glamourous Eccentric...who also happens to be a costume history & fashion nerd), but Steele cites so many obscure and influences that I started to question whether or not I was a novice myself. Or a clueless, like, OMG!...cheerleader. I never would have considered, for example, Horace Walpole's part--which pre-dates Byron, The Shelleys, Poe, Stoker, Wilde and Baudelaire--as being so significant in the influence of literature on the Gothic aesthetic. Nor did I really think about how the collaborations between photographer Sean Ellis, and the incomparable stylist, Isabella Blow, in the mid-90s (who were both inspired by the disturbingly beautiful collections of Alexander McQueen & Hussein Chalayan) helped spark yet another Gothic Revival in the world of fashion in years to come. Remember when Gucci did Goth?
In addition to sourcing some of the more obvious figures in fashion, the book takes an in-depth look at many of the important underground and independent players who have been responsible for molding and shaping Gothic Fashion over the years. If you don't already know who Kambriel, Lip Service and Plastik Wrap were before, or if you've never heard of The Batcave, the Gothic & Lolita Bibles or Propaganda Magazine, you will by the time you finish this book. However, it should go without saying that about Gothic Fashion would hardly be complete (or valid, for that matter) without giving some serious attention to its inseparable partner, Gothic Music. Steele does indeed write in some length about the role of music in gothic subculture, but it's the latter part of the book which pays serious tribute to the subject.
"Melancholy and The Macabre: Gothic Rock and Fashion," by Jennifer Park, is really a little book within a book. It is essentially a short history of Gothic Rock. From its early, pre-punk influences, such as Velvet Underground and Bowie, to its post-punk revolutionaries, like Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Smiths, Bauhaus and The Cure (still four of my favorite bands), who paved the way for the uber-goth bands of the late 1980s and '90s. While I do think this serves as only a primer on what can be broadly defined as "Gothic Rock", the featured album covers and select discography made me nostalgic for my cape-wearing, gother-than-thou days of olde.
In any case, it is certain that Valerie Steele's expertise and passion for subculture and lesser-known fashion makes for an extensively researched, incredibly thorough read on the subject, appropriate for fashion enthusiasts, costume historians and more erudite goths, alike. Nevertheless, anyone looking for pseudo-morbid, pre-fab, darkity-dark fashion fluff should stick to the plethora of glossy goth-mags (no offense, Gothic Beauty) and cheesy goth-sites and clubs (we know you are...alas, you do not). You could always look at the pretty pictures, though.
Simply put, I was expecting a lot more pictures of amazing and creative fashion to to amaze and inspire. What this book, it did well. I just wish there had been fewer words and more illustrations.
I was really hoping for either a) a gorgeous compendium of historical and contemporary fashion items that would be considered "Gothic" (ie having a dark sensibility, with a subtext of death, mourning, religion, blasphemy with subversive references to the dominant culture, with some camp thrown in) or b) a bright intellectual exploration of the topic. I was left wanting in both departments.
There was a small smattering of some actual victorian gowns with nice details like cobweb buttons, or a beautiful thorny looking cross made from ivory to commemorate a baby's death. These made the book worthwhile, but made the parts that were missing feel very acutely absent.
The book completely sidestepped many sinister details and horror and film noir style influences that were especially prevalent in the 50's and 60's from style icons like Vampira , and the dark mistresses of underground fetish publications like Exotique to things like men's casual shirts covered in giant tarantulas to that spiderweb mesh that found its way onto women's lingerie and shoes of the 1950's. There was very little reference to trashy comic book monsters/vampires/werewolves/gore that certainly planted some seeds for bands like the Cramps to grow out of - who were not gothic, exactly, but who also weren't NOT gothic if you get my drift. No references to of the Munsters either. And no photos of Grandpa Munster's Dragula car, either, which is more goth than even the Batmobile.
Even Frederick's of Hollywood produced kitschy lingerie, nighties, etc. from the 1950's to the 1980's with spiderweb cut outs - things like this are nowhere to be found in this book. No mention of Batman, Catwoman, or Vampirella either.
The music section at the back made me laugh out loud. It was right on for a very narrow period of time - but the Jesus and Mary Chain is NOT a gothic album, sorry! And No Alien Sex Friend or the Virgin Prunes ! And only the later, far less interesting Sisters of Mercy music was mentioned but left out their much more interesting early music. No mention of Skinny Puppy, either or any of the industrial groups that grew from their seeds.
And I also felt like "Steampunk" got sort of shoe-horned in(WTF ?) - while the book left out the new goth of the 1980's/1990's which meshed with the Industrial music scene/cyberpunk.
I kind of felt like Valerie Steele depended on her co-authour for references and information, while her co-authour may have hung around a few particular types of clubs, for a short period of time, that she maybe just didn't really "get it". There was also very little mention of the queer sensibilities that underpinned many a young goth's social/sexual identity.
I was really hopeful for this book, but was left feeling disappointed. Valerie Steele, I hope you'll go back to re-explore this topic thoroughly, or that someone who is more passionate/informed about the varieties of culture that were thrown into the witch's pot to make this subculture will write a book that actually delivers.
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