Dressed to Kill: A Halloween Playlist

by Sarah Kathryn Cleaver on 30 October 2020

Sarah Kathryn Cleaver dredges up frightening fashion from the SHOWstudio archives, and asks: what's so attractive about horror?

Sarah Kathryn Cleaver dredges up frightening fashion from the SHOWstudio archives, and asks: what's so attractive about horror?

Around this time of year we start delving into our archives for content that will give our viewers a good scare, only to find fashion's fascination with horror goes far beyond the occasional reinvention of goth. Instead it's a relationship that's been explored by numerous designers, filmmakers and photographers frequently enough to ask: what's so attractive about horror?

Still from Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Horror filmmakers have long staged their stories within the fashion industry, beginning in 1964 with Mario Bava's hugely influential Blood and Black Lace – a stylish, technicolor Giallo mystery set in a couture house, in which a masked killer stalks models one by one, their murders lit as beautifully as fashion editorials. Just over a decade later, in Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), a fashion photographer finds herself experiencing violent visions similar to her sadistic, Guy Bourdin-like photographs. Dismissed as a series of superficial thrills by critics upon its release, today it reads more as a meditation on the anxiety of creativity than a criticism of the morals of the fashion industry. More recently, Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon (2016) provided a visceral comment on insatiable consumption's inability to fill the psychological void, and only last year, cult British director Peter Strickland's In Fabric (2018) told the story of a cursed dress that bestows unbearable suffering upon the wearer.

Undercover S/S 18

The conversation goes both ways, with gore and jump-scares bleeding from the screen onto the runway. Alexander McQueen, who famously played with taboo through-out his career, drew on several horror films as the inspiration for his collections, including The Birds (1963), The Hunger (1983) and The Shining (1980). Kubrick's film seems to be a favourite among designers, also inspiring Undercover's S/S 18 show, as well as Stuart Vever's debut collection for Coach in S/S 14. Ever transparent about his references, Raf Simons included a list of films in his press notes for S/S 21 that read like a teen Halloween movie marathon, including eerie delights including Picnic at Hanging Rock (1974), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). For whatever reason, filmmakers find fashion a perfect subject with which to explore subtexts of violence and horror, and designers respond with homages that build on these themes.

'The connection between fashion and death resonates in a very authentic way,' says Freudian cinephile and film researcher Mary Wild. 'The fashion industry itself is predicated on a very short shelf life of objects that are one day deemed as desirable and the next day not. That longing to obtain is not an enduring quality, it's set up to be ever changing, to be dying a death and then reemerging. If the structure of the business was satisfaction achieved, there's no money in that!

That's not to say that the capitalist model is entirely responsible for this uneasy marriage of horror and consumption. 'This economic model is exploiting our own drives. It's human nature. That desire is present and we need to be satisfied again and again in new ways,' explains Wild. As Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek once said, 'we have a perfect name for fantasy realised. It’s called “nightmare”.' In other words, desire, once attained, signifies the end of desire – a little death.

Explore the scariest content on SHOWstudio, from macabre fashion films by the likes of Nick Knight, Rei Nadal and Ruth Hogben, to horror inspired runway shows, and video essays unpicking fashion's uncanniest collections.




23 July 2012
Alongside our 2012 exhibition Death, SHOWstudio invited creatives to further explore the theme through a series of live residencies and films.


06 February 2015
SHOWstudio and GARAGE magazine team up to create a folk horror fashion story featuring the Spring/Summer 2015 collections.

A Beautiful Darkness

22 October 2015
Veuve Clicquot tapped Nick Knight to curate an immersive event to delight and frighten the senses for Halloween 2015.
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