Come over to the dark side — the rise of gothcore

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  • Megan Fox
    American actress
 (Evening Standard comp)
(Evening Standard comp)

You’ve probably seen Kourtney Kardashian strung up in laced latex trousers and a corset, with diamond-capped canine fangs. Or noticed Megan Fox in a blood red crystal gown at last year’s Met Gala, every inch a chic Dracula’s Bride? If so, you’ll already know something is lurking. Introducing ultra-glam gothcore, the fresh trend to die for.

Femme fatale fashion isn’t new, but unlike its boom in the Eighties and Noughties, the 2022 incarnation is about killer attitude for girls, boys, and everyone in-between. Look again at Kourtney. For every lace-up leather bustier mini dress and crucifix necklace she wears, her new beau, heavily tattooed rock star Travis Barker, is holding her hand in studded suits, skull patch biker jackets and red plaid trousers. Their Christmas picture could be The Addams Family (but wearing new Givenchy), plus they got engaged in a ring of roses and flickering candles. Gothic 101.

Megan Fox channels Dracula’s Bride chic at 2021’s Met Gala (AFP via Getty Images)
Megan Fox channels Dracula’s Bride chic at 2021’s Met Gala (AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile Megan and Machine Gun Kelly celebrated their engagement this week by drinking each other’s blood. They also love to pose on the red carpet chained together by talon manicures. He is well kitted with PVC suits, broad shoulder Rick Owens overcoats, and a dyed black tongue. Together, it’s one decadent, vampy middle finger to the cottagecore that infiltrated during the pandemic. Cable knits and hot chocolate, be gone.

Today, it is less Bauhaus, Siouxsie Sioux and The Cure — bands that scored the subculture the first time around. Gen Z have a pop culture clean slate, where everyone from singers Olivia Rodrigo to Billie Eilish are involved, and costumes are straight off the runway. Nevertheless, the original mindset has stuck: reject the norms, wear what you want, and don’t give a toss what your parents think.

“I definitely love the gothy, tough girl,” says Casey Cadwallader, Creative Director of Mugler and mastermind behind some of Megan Fox’s most shocking looks. The transparent, rhinestone dress she wore to 2021’s VMAs was by Cadwallader, as was her Billboard Music Awards spider-like, cut out body suit and sheer skirt (Fox’s peak gothcore outing). “Megan picks the most smouldering things we make,” he says. “And she carries them with this oozing confidence and sultry look that’s just like — I dare you to mess with me.”

Amber Valetta in Mugler AW21, photographed by Davit Giorgadze (Mugler)
Amber Valetta in Mugler AW21, photographed by Davit Giorgadze (Mugler)

In 2018 Cadwallader took over the house that originally helped kick goth style into high fashion. Think women as beetles in wasp-waist leather corsets, or latex bodice gowns with huge lace Medici collars, circa 1997. Cadwallader has studied all that and condensed it for today. “[Now] is a lot more about personal empowerment and toughness,” he says. It’s also about diversity. You’ll find Hunter Schafer of Euphoria, and Dominique Jackson from Pose (two of the most prominent trans actors of the moment) on the catwalk alongside model royalty Irina Shayk and Amber Valletta. “I have an openness towards what it means to be sexy, and find to be feminine or masculine genderless. We’re here for the bold. You’re either with it or you’re not,” says Cadwallader.

It’s that freedom of expression which defines new-gen goth — and it is blowing up. On TikTok, #goth videos have nine billion views, while the taste for terror grows; in the past two months searches for patent leather platform boots are up 71 per cent, black leather coats 35 per cent, and chokers 81 per cent, according to fashion search engine Lyst. “Goth is a visible reaction against the toxic positivity of previous years,” says Brenda Otero, Lyst’s Cultural Insights Manager. That means no more edited images plonked on beaches, like Instagram of old. “It’s an acknowledgement of how people really feel, and how dressing with a certain mood in mind can help channel dark feelings.”

Candle wigs burned on heads at Charles Jeffrey’s LOVERBOY SS22 (Charles Jeffrey)
Candle wigs burned on heads at Charles Jeffrey’s LOVERBOY SS22 (Charles Jeffrey)

LOVERBOY designer Charles Jeffrey agrees. “When you think about subcultures like gothic, it’s very direct and immediate,” says the man known for mixing historical silhouettes with a punk edge. “It makes sense some people utilise that to help express something they are going through, but might not want to talk about.” His SS22 collection opened with gothic ruff collars, lace skirts, and wigs of melted candles — still burning. “There’s this dark, post-apocalyptic, even futuristic trench coat look I feel coming forward,” he says. “A tumblr-y, TikTok-y, sweaty, makeup heavy sort of space. Big baggy cargo trousers, busted up jackets and big boots. That’s all a bit goth. It’s about being yourself, and enjoying it.”

That means head to toe. Lady Gaga and Bimini Bon Boulash, star of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, both opt for patent leather platforms — try London-based brand ROKER which heels the inside fashion set. The unisex shoes have corset-like lacing, and helped create Harris Reed’s statement H-Boots, which come in spiked and studded glory. With tresses, go boldly into the night. “Hair is the defining accessory to any subculture,” says Anthony Turner, the hairstylist who finesses Kate Moss and gels Gigi Hadid (and is himself an ex-Goth). “It’s part of the theatricality and the eccentricity of the goth world. And it sends a message: this is me, and I don’t give a shit.” Trying it at home? Grab Boots’ Perfect Colour black hair dye, a backcomb — and you are away.

Shaun Leane ‘Spine Corset’, Untitled 1998, shot by Ann Ray (Ann Ray)
Shaun Leane ‘Spine Corset’, Untitled 1998, shot by Ann Ray (Ann Ray)

As for jewellery, goth glam is about the subtle subversions, and Shaun Leane’s Hook and Talon earrings are the star. “It’s definitely primal and seductive,” says the man who worked side by side with Alexander McQueen, the authority on macabre fashion. He first produced this silhouette for McQueen’s SS96 “Hunger” collection, and went on to make the iconic spinal corset that came life size, with silver ribs and vertebrae tail, for SS98.

You can satisfy a craving for coffin chic on the high street, as well as luxury retailers. H&M has a patent vegan leather trench, Miaou is the go-to for corsets and Zara does cut-out, strappy mini dresses. Or keep it authentic, and head to Camden for the vintage leather shops. Any investment is long-term. “This is a trend we are backing for the season ahead,” says Libby Page, senior market editor at Net-a-Porter. “A black bodysuit paired with denim or tailored trousers is an easy first step for anyone looking to try it out, together with a chunky boot which can add edge to all outfits.”

It will last longer than just this season, too. Anna Sui, the American designer who has mixed whimsy with darker undertones since the Nineties, says: “We are constantly inspired by this glamorous and sexy genre. It’s great escapism, plus it looks so cool!” Why not indulge now? As Sui puts it: “Reality is scarier than gothic fiction at this point.”

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