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The gothic

In pictures: taking a turn on the dark side, from Baudelaire to the Batcave

Matthew Sweet | November/December 2015

IN VERSE CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 1844
Photographs of Baudelaire, taken late in life, depict a sullen husk of a man. Emile Deroy’s painting fixes him at an earlier stage – spidery, precise, un-nourished by anything you or I might call lunch. Blame the change on the American gothic. Though Baudelaire’s reputation grew from the morbid verses of “Les Fleurs du Mal”, he also cultivated the blooms of others – translating Edgar Allan Poe’s works into French, and seducing a generation with images of buried brides and liquefying corpses. Seducing himself, too. By the end of his days, Baudelaire was praying to the spirit of Poe, convinced they shared an occult link. How gentle he looks, before those dark prayers were answered.

IN THE CRYPT CHRISTOPHER LEE 1972
The first great screen Dracula played the part as romantic Hungarian tenor. “Leesten to them,” trilled Bela Lugosi, “the cheeldren of the night.” The second put a stake through all that – despite an operatic training. Christopher Lee’s Count was direct, unmusical and as masterly as the men in the audience would have given their souls to be. “The women I clubbed with sex,” enthuses a vampire lover in a Philip Larkin poem. “I broke them up like meringues.” Lee, though, remained ambivalent. He once told me he was dismayed to be discussing “Dracula” and not “Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow”. But thankfully, like those garlic flowers round the bedpost, the deterrents never worked.

IN FASHION OLIVIA COWLEY 2015
Sometimes it’s Jane Austen, sometimes the pastor, sometimes David Icke. There’s always some well-meaning person warning you about the unwholesome dangers of the gothic – which may be why its images are always there, at the bloody edge of fashion. This cape, fit for a vampire queen, is the night-work of the Japanese designer Junya Watanabe; inhabiting it is the Royal Ballet soloist who took the title role in “Raven Girl”, a gothic ballet devised from an Audrey Niffenegger story about the monstrous progeny of a postman and Poe’s favourite bird. It’s hunting gear. And that pool of red portends another gap filled on the trophy-room wall.

Cape, £1,655, by Junya Watanabe; boots, £1,195, by Alexander McQueen; ring, from a selection, Belmacz

PHOTOGRAPHER RICK GUEST

STYLIST OLIVIA POMP

Make-up Neusa Neves at Terri Manduca using Clinique

Hair Fiona Moore at Terri Manduca using Daniel Galvin

IN THE DARK BATCAVE CLUBBER 1984
Before it became the Batcave, 69 Dean Street in London was the Gargoyle – a modernist club with a gothic name, where its teenage wartime manager, the Hon. Pauline Tennant, once reprimanded Lucian Freud by throwing white wine into his face. In July 1982 the goths moved in, to commit stranger atrocities under the dilated eyes of punk impresario Oliver Wisdom and his pet rat, Basil. At street level, Soho advertised its brand of sin in fizzing neon – but this was a mild form of transgression to those who came to hear the screams of Meat of Youth and Sex Gang Children, and to make cave walls drip with sweat and spit and black mascara.

IN STONE MILAN CATHEDRAL 1300s
Some barbarians had better PR than others. The Vandals became seat-slashers, the Goths lent their name to the architecture of the pointed arch and the flying buttress – first as a pejorative, then as a thrilling reminder of pre-Renaissance extravagance. The city of Milan radiates from an insanely flamboyant specimen of the style, the massive marble cathedral dedicated to St Thecla, canonised after she survived a one-night stand with some Roman lions. While her monument was constructed and revised, so too was the culture of the gothic. The first stone was laid in 1386, the builders made good in 1965 – just in time for the age of Dario Argento and Mario Bava.

ON SCREEN EVA GREEN 2011
Eva Green – what is she doing among us? She should be trolling through 1890s London, inked by Aubrey Beardsley on the cover of the Yellow Book. She should be vamping round Paramount in the 1920s, making Theda Bara burn with envy. Marooned in our time, however, she resides at the dark heart of John Logan’s TV drama “Penny Dreadful”, as Vanessa Ives, agonised Victorian adventuress. I was on set the day she fought the Devil while roped to a four-poster. Watching her roar and thrash on the monitor, her co-stars Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett exchanged glances – as if they thought Satan was in the room beside us, awarding her performance five black stars.

IN PAIN ALEXANDER McQUEEN 2004
Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims. Highland Rape. Alexander McQueen’s Theatre of Cruelty. All shows by a taxi driver’s son from Lewisham, half in love with easeful death, half terrified. McQueen might have revived London’s Grand Guignol, filled Matcham theatres with glittering skulls, blinded corpses, moth-covered pregnant bodies. Instead he used bone, metal, feathers and blown roses to put his fantasies on the fashion runway, and died by his own hand at 40 – hanged, like Pluto, Poe’s black cat. In death, though, his power only grew. A posthumous show in New York and London drew crowds of pilgrims – so many, it opened through the night. Some came at 3am, to taste a little of his despair.

OLD-SCHOOL PETER MURPHY 1982
At the end of his career – and his tether – Bela Lugosi craved more dignity than his 1950s collaborators (Ed Wood, Old Mother Riley) could provide. But in 1979, in a recording studio in Northamptonshire, Peter Murphy of the pioneering goth-rock group Bauhaus gave him what he deserved. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” – nine minutes of chittering beats, screeching guitars and Murphy’s mausoleum baritone, laid down on virginal white vinyl. Murphy no longer owns the hearse he once bought from a Welsh undertaker, but still performs the song, hanging upside down like a bat – and once shared an occult moment with Lugosi’s daughter in LA. “She touched me,” Murphy said, “like I was a protector of her father’s life and legacy and conscience.”

NEW-SCHOOL DAN HILLIER 2015
In the mid-19th century, Victorian novelists took the elderly tropes of gothic fiction and relocated them to the modern city – instead of ruined Italianate castles, the monsters and mad folks now occupied the freshly built British suburbs. The widely disseminated engravings by the east London-based artist Dan Hillier share that vision: in his world, Kraken tentacles stir under crinoline, gentlemanly whiskers give way to exotic feathers, a fashion-plate beauty sprouts a crown of hothouse orchids. (The latter image graced a bestselling album by Brighton rockers Royal Blood.) It’s a dream of the gothic – experienced, you’d think, after a meal of absinthe and raw pork chops – and now screen-printed on the T-shirts visible beneath the neo-Victorian beards of London’s latest colonists.

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VeroD. - November 3rd 2015

I am from Milano. Last time I checked, our Duomo was dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (St Mary's nativity)