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.”
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?
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.
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.
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