Have a Hauntingly Beautiful Halloween…

The weekend of the 31st October is historically huge in my calendar.  I live to dress up, am a dab hand at pumpkin carving, and wear black lipstick all year round anyway, so the transition is really rather a seamless one.

Halloween 2007; bucking the trend to dress as a Christmas present

Halloween 2008, Disneyland Paris in leopard print

Halloween 2009; the Glorious Undead, complete with corpse bride side-kick

And so for Halloween 2010, I will again be resurrecting my blood-spattered finery, my cobwebs and lace.  To encourage you to do likewise, I have delved into the deepest of cauldrons in order to dredge up some outfit inspiration from the recent SS/11 shows.  It seems that fashion has finally fallen in love with Halloween…

One may be forgiven for assuming that the prevailing mood for all designers orchestrating a spring/summer collection would be breezy and bright; the colour palette light to reflect a young world emerging from the dark chrysalis of winter.  However, a sliver of darkness remains for spring, acting as a sober foil to all the acid hues and colour-pop pastels emerging for next season.  So embrace it early.  Think vamp and gothic heroine; plump for ghoulish draping and spiderweb lace.

Jean-Paul Gaultier SS/11

Halloween isn’t just about bats, you know.  Why not go left-field and channel that chilling bird of ill-omen, the raven?  Hoarse and spooky in Edgar Allen Poe’s ghost stories and Shakespeare’s macabre tale of witchcraft, Macbeth, even Karl Lagerfeld  appears to have obliquely referenced the bird in all its malign, black beddraglement.

Chanel SS/11

Pay attention to spiked hardware sharp enough to impale a vampire on, and don’t underestimate the dark machismo of leather as all-out body armour, teamed with a Wednesday Adams dark mop of hair and grim scowl…

Burberry Prorsum SS/11

Maison Martin Margiela, SS/11

Highlight your head.  Negate your sense of human self with a non-face, as seen in the otherworldly alienness of the models at Junya Watanabe, or opt for the cruellest of metal-work headpieces, à la Ann Demeulemeester.

Junya Watanabe, SS/11

Ann Demeulemeester, SS/11

There was a disturbing eerieness at work at Comme des Garcons, where the random shapelessness of bag-like draping was part Poe-raven, part gothic-scarecrow.

There is something unsettling about girl-twins, perhaps since The Shining, and Kawakubo’s conjoined pair are faintly horrifying, with their wispy black umbilica and the slight fascism of those regimentedly-stepping shoes.  A strange, almost atavistic nightmare is whispered at here, or some dark and twisted version of the tale of Tweedledee and Dum, and that monstrous crow…

Comme Des Garcons, SS/11

John Galliano sent his models out in Paris as strong sirens, with a blanched pallor, sunken cheekbones and vampish lips.  Some resembled haunted film noir heroines, and there is a gothic froideur to his billowing vision in navy and black.

John Galliano, SS/11

At the opposite end of the spectrum was a wraith shrouded in white; all colour drained, robe swirling like a banshee.  The gauzy veil, bizarrely bridal and funereal at once, recalls the flickering flames of Hades, or Dantesque fiery tongues…

Orange is huge for SS/11, with all sorts of shades from tangerine to coral to deepest cinnabar flaming down the runway.  Forget black for a moment and go trailblazingly bright, like Jil Sander or Prada, or imitate the more muted tones of pumpkin, and mingle with overlaid black lace to achieve the fantastic textural play as envisioned at Proenza Schouler.

Jil Sander SS/11

Proenza Schouler, SS/11

Off with her head!  Acephalous bodies at Hussein Chalayan were downright creepy, especially the ghostly apparition in white.  They called to mind spooks and zombies, and even the terror of the gallows…

Meadham Kirchoff played with the concepts of dressing up and delivered a witty critique of the costumes we choose for everyday, opting to steer away from certain trends (minimalism, monochrome) whilst taking others to parodic extremes (romantic, ladylike).  We were treated to gothic lolitas with Halloween hair, whilst a dramatic Victoriana gown of ash-grey semed to precisely encapsulate a ragged uniform of neglect and decay for some wraith-like Miss Havisham…

Meadham Kirchoff, SS11

Each and every model sported a crimson collar about the neck; I couldn’t help but think of the gruesome fashion for red ribbons, encircling female throats in post-Reign-of-Terror France, to mark the deep cut of the guillotine.

Of all contemporary designers, it is perhaps the house of Alexander McQueen that most delights in the symbolism of horror and the occult; the motif of the skull, for instance, has become synonymous with his legacy.  Yet this season, the debut of the label’s new creative director, Sarah Burton, marked something of a subtle sea-change.  Lee’s hallmarks endured; his immersion in fantasia and fairytale; but Burton’s focus was firmly upon our natural world, not some other realm beyond.

Alexander McQueen SS/11

This stark dress, managing to be both fluid and erectly static at once, resembled some choking Chinese creeper or poison-ivy.  Dramatic, beautiful, and the perfect inspiration for a Halloween ball.

If Hussein Chalayan has already showcased a ‘living dress’, is there, however, anything more spectacularly alive than this breathtaking creation?  The shifting, questing tendrils are like a cross between fern fronds and tentacles; the entire piece, with its various patterns and hues, reminds me of a sea-creature straight from the murky world of myth.  Alien rather than frightening, McQueen nevertheless encapsulates the true spirit of All Hallow’s Eve; transformation, otherness, and the whisper of communion with the unfamiliars that breathe and move and stalk, for one night only, on the other side of the veil…

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What Price, Inspiration?

Inspiration: a fickle friend. A mighty puzzle. A maddeningly elusive golden snitch that many of us would like to clasp a good deal more firmly. Why are ideas so scrappily born out of threads and flotsam and lint; like torn up confetti-shreds of blotting paper that must be jigsawed together with fuss and the sour sting of labour pains?

Why can’t they fly in, swooping owl-like out of the jet-night, fully-formed and pendulous as a suspended tear-drop, a prism of contained sense-making? Why fore blindness, the dreaded think-block and the agonising scrape-scrape of pen?

For many the ideal (or only) writing conditions are learned solitude; the resin-creak of a mahogany desk, in a panelled library with sunlight streaming onto the page. It seems ideal to be hemmed in by cheerful, huddled tomes of infinite cleverness. The very numerousness and dry, crisp tangibility of these silent paper cheerleaders surely affirm that your quest is a valid, a noble, and an intelligent one?

Personally, libraries, when there is seriously writing to be done, are hell. They contain myriad millions of smug, completed volumes that crowd and jostle upon the shelves in order to jeer and boo. A most disquieting experience that can mortally wound id, ego and total word-count alike.

And then there’s the oft-peddled conceit of the great outdoors, its bowers, glades and peaks providing optimum conditioning for creativity. It is here, Wordsworth intimates, that sublime communion with nature, and the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, can be achieved and properly channelled. Surely a world post-Romantic, post-post-modern, and post-the height of summer will be caught, fatally, in a sticky urban web and even stickier cynicism of spirit, before attempting to deposit a tentative foot over the threshold?

So what are the ideal conditions for harvesting the mind’s ambrosial nectar, the manna of the muses, or even an artist’s bread and butter? Stephen Fry, beatific benchmark, to my mind, for anything vaguely intellectual in enterprise or proper in manner, requires seclusion, silence and early bed-times.

The great Anna Piaggi, who equally deserves elevation into the dizzy, cherub-spattered pedestals of my esteem, can get nothing done without her red 1969 Olivetti typewriter.

 Agatha Christie collated her thoughts and plotted her fictional intrigues whilst eating apples in the bath. Though not, I fear, elect of this gilded circle of true luminaries, I too have honed my own habit of craftsmanship, whilst at university, submitting a 4000 word essay each fortnight. But it’s no cavalier apple-gazing; silently shooting the breeze amid the candyfloss flurries of the hot and cold taps. No, I strongly suspect that it is a method shared with many of my nearest, dearest contemporaries.

 

For me, it’s bed-ridden, muscularly crippled in my prolonged supine state, propped up by fat pillows like some arthritic seaside aunt. I can only write in bed; cocooned, festering in a vocabulary pea-fog of perspiration. I go for long stretches of the clock without sustenance. The starvation alternative is constant sugar, in the form of chocolate usually, though I do fear I’ll resort to a drip soon, if only to rid myself of the distracting rustle of wrappers strewn, like so many shed skins, as I shift my (probably ballooning) bulk.

Solitude is unnecessary. I entreat those around me, enlisting them in serving up the countless cups of tea, black as mud, I imbibe with feverish belief in its powers, as if some genius-giving potion lurks in the grainy, cinereous dregs. I bark orders like some wounded general. Those brave enough to refuse are soundly cursed as enemies of culture, of literature and all things noble.

I don’t simply burn the midnight oil; I erect great bonfires; fashioning zero-hour pyres and huge conflagrations that involuntarily yield charred and twisted new compounds of ash and glue and feathers. If I periodically surface and arise, Triton-like, from the depths, hobbling bleary-eyed and pillow-faced into the kitchen on sloshing sea-legs, I expect a certain hushed deference from those I encounter. Courting an awed appreciation for the Herculean sacrifice I have undertaken, I deign to make the odd rare appearance (it’s actually a quest for toast), delivering solicitous salutations and zoned-out stares. When my reception is less than reverential, and comments submerged in irony are bandied forth, I am forced to affect an injured air, and gravely withdraw, (unwashed) head held aloft, to my quilted cave.

Of course, the doom and gloom and damp of the bat-bunker isn’t exactly a method embraced and endorsed among literature’s cognoscenti. We all know Keats composed his most famous poem under a plum tree one morning in glorious spring. Wordsworth matched the scansion of his metre to the earth-timbred beat of his walking boot upon the Lake District’s peaks and plains. And Eliot got a grip on The Waste Land whilst drinking deep of the clear mountain air of Lausanne.

I may remain mummified in a duvet-shroud for protracted spells, but I do crave diversion; variety; to dip my toe into the dirty pool of pop-culture. I embrace Twitter, YouTube, Grazia Daily and countless other virtual hubs of mass procrastinators to whom I proffer an apathetic hand across the ennui-void.

Procrastination as the thief of time has long been the bone in the craw of many illustrious writers; Samuel Johnson was near-phobic of this very human flaw. It haunted Virginia Woolf and spurred on Shakespeare, who as usual has the wisest of counsel: ‘Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.’ (Henry VI)

And yet as Keats’s Odes can testify to, there is a poetry in muggy stillness, a spark of inspiration submerged in the blurred dream-states of idle contemplation, amid ‘evenings steep’d in honied indolence’. But I cannot chase Keats down his daisy and violet tunnels, or trace the elevated paths of his leaps from contemplation to creation, and neither, probably, can you. His is a philosophy few can emulate. And, let’s be honest, there is nothing remotely magical or exquisite, or divinely solipsistic, in the streaming of Britain’s Next Top Model at 2am when a deadline is looming. (Though there is something of the ethereal in my favourite contestant, Joy – a pale Madeline or stricken Lamia, perhaps? – but I digress.)

So although tearing oneself away from the honey-trap of viral distractions is as difficult and distressing as snatching a kaleidoscope from the eye of an enraptured child, tear and wrench and yank I must. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention…