‘Sometimes Dead Is Better’: Horror’s Lasting Impact On The Fashion Industry

From pop culture to luxury brands, horror tropes have made waves in the fashion industry, and don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

Written for Mirage Magazine. View the full piece and images here.

Horror. An industry for the twisted, spooky and all things bloody. It is home to some of the most discussed authors, directors, actors, stories and characters, from Steven King’s countless contributions to the widely-feared boogeyman, nightmarish movies like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, and classics such as “The Vampira Show” and “Nosferatu the Vampyre.” 

Mainstream media tends to only pay tribute to this classic industry during ‘spooky season’ leading up to Halloween, but if you look at the history of this industry and its fanatics, the impact can easily be seen in pop culture, makeup and especially, the fashion industry. 

This industry goes all the way back to its suspected creation as a legitimate art form in 1765 through “Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole, a story about Prince of Otranto Manfred and his desire to keep the castle within his line of descendants despite a mysterious curse. The piece starts with Manfred’s son tragically dying on the morning of his wedding day. Roughly 50 years later, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley brought pseudoscience to the genre through the creation of the infamous novel “Frankenstein,” a piece about the construction of a monster that inevitably murders its creator. 

Among its use of sound, the horror industry wouldn’t be what it is without its complex visuals, which are used to shock, spook and scare viewers. Take the “Halloween” franchise’s Michael Myers, for example. The image of him standing in a doorway wearing his mask and jumpsuit while holding a large knife is absolutely terrifying. Or how about Jigsaw? Hearing the “Saw” series catchphrase “Do you wanna play a game?” is bound to send shivers down your spine. You’re probably still thinking about the Pennywise character from “It” even though it’s been months since the most recent movie remake was released. 

These visual elements tend to stick around in your mind for days, or sometimes weeks, after watching. From the outrageous and down-right terrifying looks of the horror villains, such as Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, Jigsaw and Pinhead, to the even iconic and timeless clothing associated with popular personas, including witches, ghosts and zombies. 

Think of a vampire, for example. What did you picture? Probably the sharp fangs, red velvet, lace and blood (unless you thought of the Cullen clan – but, we aren’t going down that bunny hole today). These clothing elements have found their way into fanatics’ everyday fashion, popular Halloween looks and even the runway. 

In fact, Vogue has written within this realm a few times, detailing the way designers are ‘obsessed’ with the horror industry. Models have strutted down many runways in bloodied clothing, spikes and even with horror villains’ faces on dresses and tees, all curated from a variety of designers. 

In Christian Dior’s Spring 2006 Couture collection, dresses were adorned with pools of blood and religious elements, such as cross necklaces. Some models wore mesh veils over their faces, while others accessorized with blood-splattered pearl necklaces. 

The Blonds Fall 2013 show created an iconic, fantasy world where Hollywood horror and fashion live in harmony. The show featured dresses with the cult-classic stills from “The Shining” and “Psycho” (if you pictured ‘here’s johnny!’ and the shower scene, you’re right) and a butcher’s knife print. One model wore a nude slasher-style corset and skirt featured blood-red jewels in blood-like droplets. A stunning jeweled blood-red bodysuit closed out the show leaving the audience gasping for air. Are you catching on to what makes a good horror-inspired fashion show? Blood. Blood. Blood. (Fake, of course). 

“Filled with clever twists on the theme of classic Hollywood horror films, The Blonds Fall 2013 show was a fantastic collision of film and fashion,” Style Wylde Magazine wrote in a review of the runway show. “The Blonds have upped their game, and the rest of the fashion world better be warned, The Blonds are coming for you, and they got some fierce work to back them up.”  

Designer Hu Sheguang’s 2016 Chinese Fashion Week show was a “riot of red,” according to the Daily Mail. The runway featured blood-red dresses and suits accessorized with masks, blood, barbed-wire, baby dolls that appeared to be covered in blood, prosthetic hands and horns. The perfect mixing pot for a good horror-themed runway show. 

In 2019’s Milan Fashion Week, Gucci kicked off the event with a runway influenced by cult-classic horror films, accessorizing models with spike chokers and Friday the 13th-inspired masks, according to Evoke. Prada also joined in on the fun with horror movie-inspired looks, from dresses featuring Frankenstein’s monster (and his wife) to the models sporting Wednesday Addams’ iconic braids. Prada mixed horror with romance, adorning many dresses with large floral prints, according to Evoke

Designer Jeremy Scott mixed his unique design style with horror in his Moschino 2020 Resort Womenswear and Menswear collection, which featured his take on traditional Halloween costumes. Scott is known for his memorable shows and this one was no different. The runway wasn’t a runway at all, but rather a dark street in the middle of a makeshift neighborhood, set on the Universal Studio backlot in Universal City, California. Before the show began, guests took a mini-tour of the horror-themed sections of the park, according to Vogue, before walking through a misty fog to find their seats. The show kicked off with a woman dressed in all white running from one of the houses screaming — a spectacle that was bound to get everyone in a spooky mood. 

Models then grazed through the crowd, adorned in outfits inspired by classic horror influences, including clowns, witches and demons. Two red-headed twins (think: “The Shining” twins but as adults) strutted hand-in-hand in matching dresses and totes — covered in drawings of girls’ faces. “A part of me felt like I was trick-or-treating,” teen actress Storm Reid told Vogue of viewing the collection. 

London-based designer Dilara Findikoglu mixes empowered tailoring with historical references and social commentary in her designs, which include many elements typically seen in the horror industry. The models on her website are surrounded by candles while wearing veils, masks, horns, and stunning makeup featuring skulls and pentagrams. (This designer has quickly become one of our favorites. We encourage you to check out her website and follow her on Instagram). 

And of course, you can’t talk about horror influences in fashion without talking about Alexander McQueen. In fact, it’s hard to tell at this point if he’s taken influences from the horror industry or if it’s really the other way around. We know we don’t have to explain to you the impact of McQueen’s work on the fashion industry. Audiences oftentimes walked away from McQueen’s shows feeling uneasy and in awe of the designer, who was influenced by anything dark and twisted, according to Dazed. Through the years, he drew inspiration from Victorian mental asylum patients, Jack the Ripper, the Grimm brothers fairy tales and the Salem Witch Trials. “I find beauty in the grotesque,” the designer once said, and his many horror-inspired runway shows prove that sentiment to be true. 

In his Fall 1998 collection, coined “Joan,” McQueen featured Joan of Arc-inspired garments. Models strutted down the catwalk with industrial lamps swinging above, wearing chain mail, floor-length coats and bright red contacts. To end the show, a masked model walked to the center of the runway as a ring of fire burst into flame around her. 

In his Jack the Ripper-inspired runway (1992), each garment included a lock of McQueen’s hair encased between two layers of acrylic — paying homage to the Victorian custom of exchanging hair with lovers, as many would buy hair from sex workers, according to Dazed. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer who murdered sex workers in London’s East End in the 1800s. McQueen actually grew up in the area and claimed that one of his relatives allegedly rented a room to one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. 

A few years later, in McQueen’s 1996 Fall fashion show, coined “Dante,” took place at Christ Church Spitalfields, which was designed by Satanist Nicholas Hawsmoor. Male models wore garments inspired by Paul Morrissey’s 1984 film “Mixed Blood,” while female models were adorned with antlers, horns, a crown of thorns and even a silk mask with a skeleton’s hand fixed to the side, according to Dazed. The name “Dante” was the namesake to the 14th century poet known for his religious symbolism. 

During McQueen’s “Voss” show (Spring 2001), inspired by Victorian mental asylum patients, models’ heads were bandaged and some wore fastened coats inspired by straight jackets, as the sound of a heart beat played throughout the show. However, the finale of this show is something people still talk about to this day. Throughout the show, a box stood in the middle of the room, as the last models strutted away, the sides of the box fell to the floor, revealing a glass case with a naked woman inside. At this moment, the heartbeat sound transitioned to a flat-line alarm. The woman inside the box had bird wings placed on her body and tubes filled with moths extending from her mouth. “It was about trying to trap something that wasn’t conventionally beautiful to show that beauty comes from within,” the designer said of the finale.

These shows, curated into an article by Dazed, are only a few of the stunning and groundbreaking runway shows McQueen designed throughout his career. It’s been 10 years since his death by suicide, and his brand is still continuing strong, creating garments and runway shows that are empowering to women, despite the critiques of misogyny in McQueen’s work throughout his career. 

As we know, toned-down versions of runway trends filter through department stores and find its way to our closets. Horror-inspired clothing has done exactly that, allowing space for terror fanatics to show their love of the industry while maintaining their personal style. From sporting tees representing one’s favorite horror flick to skull and dagger accessories, there are items for every unique person and style that are just a click away. While Hot Topic and Spencer’s might remain the go-to, other brands, including Terror Threads and Murder Apparel, and small artists are popping up around the country to provide items in this niche category. 

While the fashion industry has always used edgy symbolism to make statements, it’s exciting to see how the horror industry is expanding and making waves in fashion. Whether you’re a scary movie fanatic or only engage in October, it’s safe to say the industry, through top fashion and lifestyle brands, will continue to expand into pop culture. So, throw on your bloodiest attire and come play with us. 

To see Kristen’s curated set of images detailing the way the horror and fashion industry collide, head to https://www.pinterest.com/kris_upp/horror-and-fashion/.

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