Inside The Zine Exploring Fashion's Love Affair With Horror

by Violet Conroy on 12 August 2021

A new zine by Liberty McAnena draws unlikely historical and thematic connections between macabre fashion images.

A new zine by Liberty McAnena draws unlikely historical and thematic connections between macabre fashion images.

‘What is it about clothing that provides such an irresistible outlet for our most morbid fascination?’ So opens the introductory essay in a new, self-published fanzine from fashion historian Liberty McAnena called Fear & Clothing. Taking images that toe the line between 'glamour and grime', the 88-page zine is filled with fashion's most cursed, violent, gory and horrific images, contemporary and old-fashioned – but in this case, scary need not mean ugly. There's Glen Luchford's frosty The Shining-inspired Prada A/W 1997 campaign, the viral mugshot of 'hot convict' Jeremy Meeks, Linda Evangelista going under the knife for Steven Meisel's notorious 'Makeover Madness' Vogue Italia editorial, and a photo of 'Soho Grifter' Anna Delvey in a black Zara dress and Céline glasses, handcuffed in court.

The photographs in Fear & Clothing are eclectic, traversing time periods, trends, and subject matter: there's eBay listings, high fashion campaigns, ancient anatomical drawings, magazine covers, film stills, YouTube tutorials and book excerpts. McAnena takes this macabre subject matter and elevates it, by carefully pairing images together on double page spreads, organised by theme or visual signifier. An image of a wide-eyed Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is juxtaposed with a runway look from Gareth Pugh's A/W 16 show, where models wore similar cannibal muzzles; in another spread, Naomi Campbell points a gun at the Versace S/S 98 show next to an image of Chanel silver platform shoes with guns for heels. 'I usually just see something and it reminds me of something else, but not in a Diet Prada, "one person did it first/better" way,' explains McAnena.

A spread from 'Fear & Clothing'

Unsurprisingly, the late British designer Alexander McQueen gets the most exposure in the zine, thanks to the dark and disturbing elements of his theatrical designs. 'Fashion image-makers continue to negotiate between calculated shock tactics and an earnest desire to explore difficult subject matter, but few have managed it so skilfully as McQueen, an artist perfectly suited to his medium,' reads the introduction to Fear & Clothing. I press McAnena on why she thinks McQueen succeeded, where so many others fail (when it comes to shock tactics, designers often get it wrong – Burberry issued a public apology after an A/W 19 hoodie with a noose around the neck caused uproar online). 'Edgelord antics can only take you so far without artistic integrity. It’s probably unfair to compare him to other people because I think he was a genius, and most other people aren’t,' she says bluntly.

A spread from 'Fear & Clothing'

Considering her background as a fashion historian, does McAnena prefer flicking through books, or scrolling TikTok? 'For better or worse, there’s a lot we can learn from TikTok. Nymphet Alumni is a great podcast for post-internet fashion discussion,' she says. Plus, the fashion parallels to be discovered throughout history are a bonus. 'Finding connections that span time is the most exciting thing about studying history. It’s eerie and comforting, which is a good combination,' she says. Case in point: McAnena draws an uncanny connection between the 'tuberculosis beauty' of the 19th century and a feverish kind of look favoured by e-girls on TikTok – something championed by Doja Cat in a Vogue makeup tutorial from 2019.

'I’m definitely not the first person to pair fashion with the macabre - brilliant historians like Caroline Evans, Marketa Uhlirova and Rebecca Arnold have written on similar themes,' she says. 'Plenty of filmmakers have explored this relationship too; movies like Blood and Black Lace or Eyes of Laura Mars are classics.' The most perverted movie to mix fashion and horror in recent years is The Neon Demon (2016), Nicolas Winding Refn's nightmarish tale of aspiring model Jesse's (played by Elle Fanning) ascent in LA's deviant fashion industry. One of the most haunting images in the Fear & Clothing is a still from the film; after a particularly tense casting session, Abbey Lee Kershaw (a real-life model and actress) crouches on the bathroom floor amid shards of broken mirror, mouth red after sucking the blood (and literal lifeblood) of Elle Fanning; what unfolds is a twisted fairytale of narcissism, necrophilia and cannibalism. It's enough to put anyone off fashion – but by god, is it beautiful.

Below, McAnena tells us about five of her favourite images from Fear & Clothing.

'Knee High' by Helmut Newton for Vogue US (July 2003)

The photograph in this spread was taken by Helmut Newton and is staged with his trademark blend of glamour and gore, depicting an improbable scenario wherein a woman cleans up a bloody crime scene while wearing stiletto heels and suspenders. My favourite element is the accompanying text; it’s illustrating an article about knees. The exaggerated violence and sexuality (which evokes something like a pulpy novel or an erotic thriller) is in stark contrast to the text’s much more mundane subject matter.

Image of unknown origin

I saw this bag on Tumblr about ten years ago and have no idea who designed it (if you know, please tell me). The shape reminds me of the Goosebumps logo: oozing. Fur is an interesting material - it’s dangerous because of the ethics of its production, certainly, but even artificial fur reads as surreal and animalistic. One of my favourite SHOWstudio projects is Ugly; it includes an insightful audio analysis unpacking fur’s many contradictions.

'The Prosthetic Aesthetic' by Hilton Als, Artforum (December 1996)

This is a snippet of Hilton Als’ review of Comme des Garçons S/S 1997, a very famous and much-analysed collection that still looks impressively monstrous today. In the opening paragraph Als gives an indelible description of what came to his mind while watching the show, including pimples, cellulite and The Silence of the Lambs (actually a very fashion-orientated film - the killer is a tailor, after all). Clothes and writing that will haunt you.

Image of unknown origin

I’m drawn to things like fairy tales, urban legends and bizarre internet lore which get passed around and mutate over time. This screenshot recalls magical footwear from throughout history - from shoes concealed in the walls of buildings as a protection charm (a real practice which was fairly common up until the nineteenth century) to fictitious pairs like Dorothy’s ruby slippers. The hysterical-yet-businesslike tone of the description is superb.

A screenshot from 'Doja Cat's Guide to E-Girl Beauty | Beauty Secrets | Vogue' (December 2019)

A little moment from a very charming makeup tutorial hosted by Doja Cat detailing her e-girl beauty routine - apparently, the trick is to look like you have a cold. This deliberately sickly style is somewhat reminiscent of the gruesome ‘tuberculosis beauty’ of the nineteenth century (further perpetuated by Hollywood movies where beautiful actresses play at dying of consumption), later echoed by heroin chic in the 1990s.

Fear & Clothing is currently sold out, but you can find Liberty on Instagram here.


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