All posts by Vanity Kills

Gore Couture x Venal Flesh

Gore Couture x Venal Flesh

“His own image; no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan.”

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The quote above was (pardon the pun) plucked directly from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling”, a children’s tale that delved into the harsh world of bird beauty standards. Oh, and becoming the de facto allegory for metamorphosis…of the “fortune favors anyone willing to sit & wait long enough” variety.  Let’s see, as sympathetic as our cygnet protagonist was, the transformation into his final form was nothing more than nature taking its course. Also known as growing into your features.  His suffering wasn’t brought on by toiling to transcend his inherent duck appearance and characteristics, but by a case of mistaken identity. There was no struggle to earn his Swan Card © on any level. No painful neck-lengthening procedures, no enrolling in Terrorizing Boaters 101 courses taught by Mr. Asbo himself  nor sparring in underground fowl fight clubs in order to fund all those costly surgeries. The way I see it, by the end of the story, our hero was little more than a duck in swan’s clothing.

The implication being that these so-called extreme makeovers are entirely possible with all the gain and none of the pain.

By contrast, the appearance of the white swan in alchemical illustrations (I am referring to alchemy in the Hermetic, perfecting of the human consciousness sense, as opposed to manufacturing gold in a lab) signals that the aspirant has successfully completed the calcination, dissolution and separation phases of the Great Work. It shows the ability to gain a degree of mastery over bad habits, unhealthy attachments and mindless, automatic response to biological impulses.  From the calcinated, dissolved and separated remains of those former selves one salvages the thoughts and feelings that fall in line with experiencing a more harmonious reality. The next step, conjunction, unifies the opposing rational (intellect) and intuitive (emotion) elements recovered in the separation phase into a balanced, cohesive whole, thus fast-tracking the alchemist’s spiritual evolution.  White swan symbolism embodies the union of these opposites.  And while “earning your wings” signifies triumph over the shadows of the soul, it is merely a stop on the road to enlightenment, not the end game. Making it evident that within the context of this spiritual tradition, unlocking “swan status”, happens neither by luck nor genetics, but by emerging victorious from battling inner demons.

Though there are countless portrayals of these noble birds as totems of transformation, the alchemical narrative which illustrates how drastic change of either physical or spiritual nature won’t come without bruising (be it of the flesh or ego) resonates with me the most.

In the realm of fashion, no garment conveys the principle of effortless grace never being truly effortless better than the neck corset.  It is structured with the intent to force the wearer maintaining proper posture. The chin is kept high and the neck perpetually extended, which in turn creates a visual illusion of elongation, resulting in a swan-like appearance. This particular piece mirrors Gore Couture’s older Cada Vera style, embellished with extra bandages, which look right at home alongside the blood and stitches. Can there be a better sartorial metaphor for laying one’s neck on the line in pursuit of meeting one’s aesthetic ideal?

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Swans as icons of inner and outer transmutation figure as the central theme of these photos –the collaborative effort between Krissy Gore who handcrafted the neck corset and my band Venal Flesh. Dan, the vocalist’s, androgynous appearance lent itself to assuming avian form, as there is little difference between the male and the female in the wild. As the stylist, I opted to distance the bird from ballet and fairytale tropes, by reimagining it with more predatory flair. Swapping the webbed feet for talons served a dual purpose: emphasizing the territorial aggression that swans readily display in their habitats and the individual’s will to claw through hell to attain their desire. Additionally, the alchemy of beauty (expressed through the black, white, and red palette), as well as its symbiotic relationship with artifice, is explored and aestheticized.

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Swan achievements include: Elemental mastery of earth (walking on land), water (swimming) and air (flying). Also sending fear into the hearts of anyone dumb or unlucky enough to trespass on their turf.  YouTube is plentiful in videos of grown men fleeing from the beaks and wings of irate waterfowl.


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Custom neck corset by Gore Couture, naturally.

Model: Dan Barrett of Venal Flesh 

Photographer: Bill Tracy Photography

All makeup, styling and hair executed by yours truly, Vanity Kills 

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Evil-torials: Horror Themes in High Fashion – Plastic Surgery

I’d like to kick off my inaugural guest post with what I hope to be the beginning of an ongoing series self-explanatorily titled “Evil-torials: Horror Themes in High Fashion”. Each installment will center around a different creepy focal point such as serial killers or hauntings. In the case of the former, you’ll likely be treated to accessory spreads which feature handbags in the “three month’s rent” price range nonchalantly resting against implements found in a masked maniac’s underground torture lair. The latter might showcase magazine scans of ghost girls clad in gauzy ensembles as they float from halls of abandoned mansions straight onto the pages of glossies. Long story short, probably lots of things shot by Steven Meisel and Tim Walker.

Today’s installment is devoted to the intersecting circle in the Venn diagram of horror and fashion: plastic surgery. Whether stitching together scraps of silk or suturing skin, a lot can be said for the propensity of cosmetic surgeons, slashers, and couturiers toward wielding sharp objects as a means of bringing their design to life. As a result, if I was asked to attribute the quote “Perfection can’t be attained without a little bloodshed” * to Karl Lagerfeld, Hannibal Lecter or Dr. 90210, my reply would consist of “All three”.

And on that note, it seems apt to compile a sampling of imagery that evokes mortification of flesh in the name of beauty.

“Makeover Madness”

Vogue Italia July 2005

Photographed by: Steven Meisel

With: Elise Crombez, Eugenia Volodina, Hana Soukupova, Inguna Butane, Jessica Stam, Julia Stegner, Linda Evangelista, Missy Rayder

Every so often, while reading fashion or beauty magazines I’ll come across an essay penned by a writer who bemoans that “normal rules don’t apply to supermodels”(nine times out of ten the article pertains to nutrition and the “rules” reference model metabolism). My typical response consists of a quick eyeroll, since I neither exalt nor envy these women for their prized physical attributes. However after viewing this Vogue spread, I felt inclined to agree with the “supermodels are special creatures” camp. After all, if making phonecalls straight from the operating table isn’t a tell-tale sign of superhuman abilities, than I don’t know what is.

Continue reading Evil-torials: Horror Themes in High Fashion – Plastic Surgery

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