Layered fabrics. Rich details. Regal accessories. Fashion is undoubtedly enjoying a moment of maximalism and celebration. But lately, there’s one key element of this over-the-top mode of dressing that feels new: the color black.
At Burberry this season, models sported sculpted tailoring layered head-to-toe, with a healthy dose of quilted jackets worn over utilitarian coats. Junya Watanabe reinterpreted the classic moto jacket into zippered gowns and triangular shapes that looked like they were in midflight. And Givenchy’s and Balenciaga’s fall 2022 collections were largely centered on the darkest hue, with riffs on band tees, leather thigh-high boots, and a shielded-from-the-world element, done up with oversize sunglasses or faux face piercings, bleached brows, and masks coupled with leather baseball hats.
Powerful black pieces that channeled gothic glamour were all over the runway—and not just at the brands you’d expect, like Rick Owens. Take, for instance, Hermès’, Chloé’s, and Balmain’s all-black leather looks featuring moto padding and cyber-chic corsets. Valentino, Bottega Veneta, and Alexander McQueen also dipped their toes into the pool of inky hues for fall with sumptuous gowns. Fashion, it seems, has gone full goth.
“As we morphed into a post-pandemic mindset, this unilateral return to black seems to mark a return to fashion itself, but with more power and intensity this time,” says Linda Fargo, senior vice president of fashion and store presentation director at Bergdorf Goodman. Matchesfashion’s head of womenswear, Liane Wiggins, suggests pumping up the maximalism with “the more dramatic fishtail shapes, particularly in eveningwear and gowns,” as well as bold accessories. She cites the black lace motifs at Valentino, Balenciaga, and McQueen as favorites, as well as up-and-coming brand Rui, which “uses lace and corset styles to offer a more contemporary gothic look.”
Even at Rochas, the intrinsically feminine label founded in 1925 by couturier Marcel Rochas, creative director Charles de Vilmorin showed models in severe black suiting and Victorian dresses with long, talon-esque nails. “A fairly large number of my references are from the rock scene, and black is one of its symbols,” the designer says. The shade “gives you endless opportunities to experiment. It’s a very powerful color that gives me a feeling of strength.”
With fashion cycling through trends (and decades) at a record pace, it’s no surprise the gothic look is back. On TikTok, people are experimenting with the “whimsigoth” trend and hashtag, which takes its influence from the more bohemian hippie side of goth and references different goth aesthetics from the ’80s and ’90s. (Think Stevie Nicks and the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch series.) Rising designer Edward Crutchley was inspired by what he dubbed the “gothic queer god” for his fall 2022 collection—rife with leathers, lush velvets, and deconstructed knits juxtaposed with big bows. His collections have often focused on subcultures, and this season he trained his sights on goth, which he calls “a natural fit, partly because of its very clear visual signifiers, but also its rich and complex history, [both] visual and literary. I wanted to elevate things that are considered ‘outsider’ and show them through a sense of beauty. Raising up the maligned and celebrating it through clothing.”
Black has an epic history and has stood for everything from protection to power. So it’s interesting that fashion is once again wholeheartedly embracing the most powerful hue—and not just in the form of the simple little black dress—in a moment of political upheaval. Edging toward a gritty, more gothic look feels almost like a rebel cry after season upon season of electric colors and layered prints. “The meaning of black is so complicated,” notes Valerie Steele, fashion historian and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “It’s something very pure and strict, something that’s very erotic, something powerful. It’s not a soft look. It’s a hard look.” Wearing all black in 2022 sends a message for sure—one of fortitude, strength, and untouchable allure.
This article appears in the October 2022 issue of ELLE.
Kristen Bateman is a contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Her first fashion article was published in Vogue Italia during her junior year of high school. Since then, she has interned and contributed to WWD, Glamour, Lucky, i-D, Marie Claire and more. She created and writes the #ChicEats column and covers fashion and culture for Bazaar. When not writing, she follows the latest runway collections, dyes her hair to match her mood, and practices her Italian in hopes of scoring 90% off Prada at the Tuscan outlets. She loves vintage shopping, dessert and cats.