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Christian Dior Haute Couture AW00

Ten collections that horrified the runway

Religious damnation, S&M and dark fantasies – here's fashion at its most harrowing

In the lead-up to Halloween, Dazed Digital is running a Dark Arts season inspired by our November Dark Arts issue. Among other things, we've walked the path of darkness via the Hollywood Walk of Death and talked to Don Mancini, the creator of Chucky. Check back on our Dark Arts section for a journey to hell and back. 

Gothic subculture exploded onto the fashion scene in the late 1970s alongside Punk’s arrival. From quattrocento influences, to bondage and Memento Mori imagery, the darkness of the cult has relentlessly lured designers. Translated through their morbid, kitsch and romantic visions – it's penetrated season after season as a fetishism of dark decadence. From Galliano’s revival of childhood villains to van Herpen's coiled intestines and Rodarte’s horror iconography, here are the top ten of fashion’s darkest collections. 


Inspired by the sordid streets of 1930s Pigalle, John Galliano sent a gang of maddening and deranged characters down the runway for his AW07 show. From veiled streetwalkers to girls that had been dancing all night, models appeared with dripping make-up and carrying eerie broken dolls. Set designer Michael Howells covered the show space with skeletons and live goldfish transforming the runway into a fantastical and dark circus.


In 1992 McQueen named his MA collection ‘Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims’ lining his jackets with cuts of human hair and firmly establishing his dark dialect. Commenting: “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress,” it wasn’t long before the designer earned his title 'L'Enfant Terrible'. His AW06 collection, ‘The Widows of Callouden’, explored the deprivation, decay and desolation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Pheasant winged fascinators and antlers of great Scottish stags exhibited his craftsmanship. Yards of McQueen tartan gave the show its violent, patriotic edge and mourning black created an atmosphere of somber reflection as McQueen paid tribute to Scotland’s troubled past. Over strangled violin strings, the hologram of an ethereal Kate Moss rose over the audience like a wisp of exhaled smoke, paying tribute to the demise of the tragic wives.


Taking the audience on a spooked journey from innocence to whiplash trash, Galliano presented a freakish maze of psychological fear for his AW00 Dior Haute Couture show. Descending onto the runway came a glittering hybrid – half girl, half gorilla, a skeletal Día de Muertos figure, a demented Marie Antoinette and a nurse wielding a swollen syringe, gagged by a red, rubber hospital cross. As one of the most celebrated designers of the millennium, his crazed catwalk influenced the decade’s return to colour and its strident move away from 90’s unisex styling.


Cemented by a soundtrack of Brooklyn rap, lyrics reading “like a slaughterhouse, I'll bleed that bitch,” Owens channeled brutalism for FW12. Drawing on the classic beauty of Marlene Dietrich, a 1920’s bisexual icon who openly defied sexual norms, the model’s look was honeydew skin, coral lips and combed brows fenced by masks of gunmetal grey. Flowing volumes provided protective layers for his dominatrices whilst the silhouettes created a confusion of sinister and sexy. Relentless flames singed at the top of the runway as the models stalked the east side of Paris. After all, in the words of the man himself, “it’s a Rick Owens show, it’s not Disney”.


For van Herpen's first official Haute Couture show in Paris, she caged her models in skeletal silhouettes and organ-like textures. Coiled intestines, brain tissue and snake dresses aided the vision of couture cyborgs, confirming the ongoing influence of anatomical, architectural and scientific structures in her space-borne collections.


Like the tradition of original folklorists, Karl Lagerfeld’s neoclassic tale was full of marvels but not exempt from darkness. Decking the Grand Palais in an ethereal forest for the Chanel SS13 Haute Couture show, he created an unsettling eeriness of billowing chiffons and embellished florals underscored by a dramatic gothic guise. Frantic fascinators of ribboned velvet, mesh eyelashes and graphite pigment turned Lagerfeld’s dream into a dark fantasy.


The Mulleavy sister’s long obsession with horror films was bound to become a defining element of their couture technique. The siblings drew on Death Valley and vultures for SS10. Unrefined fabrics had whip-like seams cuffing the model’s bodies, conjuring motifs of claustrophobic paranoia. The models were inked with tribal graffiti and the interiors of their lips were rosebud pink with a thick border of acai, paying homage to the cult of Hollywood Goth.


When Rei Kawakubo showed her first  Commes Des Garçons collection in Paris 1981 she gained the title ‘ragpicker’ due to her use of flawed fabric. The Christian Science Monitor later published: “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys) might more aptly be titled Comme des Clochards (Like the Tramps)”. Still having the power to shock, SS14 was a collage of perversions. Entwined toy-world formations, hair weaved into towering crucifixes and bloated pink structures, Kawakubo commented “the only way to create something new [is] to start without the intention of making clothes.”


Famed for dark and romantic notions, Ann Demeulemeester poignantly set her haunting AW13 show to the soundtrack of Nick Cave’s “O Children”. The paradoxical track, infusing a haunting baritone with a strangely uplifting echo, mirrored her staple use of monochrome. Fashioning her women in gauze veils, pagan-like silhouettes and appliqué jackets, the collection's inky black layers were part poetic and part militant.


Taking reference from the Asgarda, an all-female tribe living in the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine, Gareth Pugh took his dark and otherworldly aesthetic into new realms for his AW13 show. Models appeared with red eyes and hair swept over their faces made up in ink black bin bag dresses and armour like proportions.

You can also turn yourself into a horror story with these #DARKARTS overlays.