Fashion design, and the subsequent purchase of such fashion, pulls from all kinds of desires. It can stem from a simple want to look good, to exude opulence, or, in modern lingo, “to flex.”
This impulse to show off your latest threads stems from a legacy of hip hop, streetwear, and the classic rags-to-riches narrative. In the current post-streetwear landscape, feckless flexing was magnified to the extreme, and sometimes even to the detriment of the aesthetic. Brands such as Burberry – eager to mimic the modern men’s fashion consensus – would rather straight-up print “BURBERRY” on a jacket in bold lettering, instead of relying on the cut of the coat or quality of the fabrics to speak to its luxuriousness.
However, it’s imperative to remember that fashion designers are (ostensibly) artists, and they are – as any living artist will tell you – invariably tortured. So naturally, the creative process behind good fashion excavates the mind and soul of designers a little deeper, and communicates a part of the human experience that can feel unashamedly dark.
In fact, many designers have found some of their most defining career moments from harnessing an inner darkness and externalizing their personal misery, dread, and misanthropy into something beautiful to behold.
Most notable is perhaps Alexander McQueen. In 1992, McQueen presented his graduate collection, “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims,” which featured body-like garments in black and blood-red that included locks of the designer’s own hair encased in acrylic. It wasn’t just a random serial killer reference either – McQueen actually grew up in the area of East London where the crimes took place in the 1880s. In 2019, others avant-gardists such as Carol Christian Poell and Boris Bidjan Saberi have followed in McQueen’s footsteps, taking dark (and highly exclusive) fashion to the extreme with neo-gothic rubber-dripped boots and slim-fitting funnel-necked leather jackets respectively.
The rest of McQueen’s legacy, including his tragic death, is a somber reminder that fashion isn’t always about glamour and looking good on Instagram, but is also a creative and pained commentary on the condition of humanity.
Here are four designers and brands pioneering dark fashion.
There can’t be a discussion about darkness without including the work of Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, whose oeuvre registers as dark in every sense of the word. Yamamoto’s eponymous mainline has wavered in and out of cultural relevancy (and even bankruptcy) since its Paris debut in 1981.
Since then, Yamamoto has also launched the more commercially-friendly collaboration label with adidas, Y-3, which replicates his billowing aesthetic for sneakers and sportswear.
Yamamoto is known for his all-black tailoring, voluminous proportions, distinguished headwear, and trademark silhouette. His obsidian palette is often connected to one of his more famous quotes: “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy – but mysterious. But above all black says this: ‘I don’t bother you – don’t bother me.’”
Amid the suave suiting, there is something rather pained about Yamamoto’s styling cues, which reveal themselves quite dramatically on the runway. During his SS13 and SS15 shows, the designer sent out his clothes on models with cuts, black eyes, burns, and bruises, as if they had just escaped a fight. Perhaps it was a prophetic comment on toxic masculinity, perhaps it’s an expression of how life gives us a beating from time to time.
Rick Owens is perhaps the first designer people think of when they hear of darkness, though the associations are starting to feel a bit off the mark. In recent seasons, the designer has evolved his aesthetic further and further away from the “Lord of Darkness” tag that was given to him during the menswear blogger era. It’s also time to abandon any connotation between Rick Owens and the best-forgotten “Goth Ninja” style of 2008 and 2009, one of the more forgettable chapters in menswear history (RIP).
On to brighter things, the Rick Owens Spring/Summer 2020 show revealed a rainbow of the shimmery metallic pinks, purples, and iridescent fabrics that have superseded Owens’ former repertoire of grays, browns, and black.
Nonetheless, with the SS20 collection not out yet, the pieces below convey Owen’s former (and more directional) fondness for the color black, with a photographic tee from his Drkshdw sub-line – depicting Owens in a pair of high heel platform boots – and a fetishistic key chain made from black leather and silver hardware.
Jun Takahashi, founder of UNDERCOVER and collaborative Nike label GYAKUSOU, is known for his range of references, in particular, his fixation with Stanley Kubrick films, with whom Takahashi shares an extremely precise eye for detail.
For his recent UNDERCOVER collections, Takahashi lifted scenes from A Clockwork Orange and enlarged them across an entire garment, echoing Kubrick’s maximalist, in-your-face style of editing.
For the accessories, the eye-ring is a nod to one of A Clockwork Orange‘s most uncomfortable scenes, whereby protagonist Alex DeLarge is forced to watch images of violence on repeat as a method of extreme aversion therapy. To keep his vision on the screen, Alex DeLarge’s eyes are fixed open while he’s injected with drugs, with Beethoven playing in the background – one of the more unsettling inspirations for a piece of jewelry we’ve ever come across.
Let’s begin with a caveat – to describe COMME des GARÇONS as anything other than, well, COMME des GARÇONS, suggests a fundamental misreading of the brand. However, it would be remiss to not mention the way COMME des GARÇONS has incorporated black into its intellectually-driven fashion, even if it wasn’t accepted straight away – early adopters of the brand were derisively referred to as “black crows.”
The FW19 collection was full of rebellion and malaise, with gothic makeup, fishnet tights, and models flipping off the runway photographer. Here are four pieces from the COMMES des GARÇONS Homme Plus range, which invite the wearer to explore their own levels of darkness, from the D-ring metal hardware platform derbys to a gothic, sculptural necklace.