Designer Explores Dark Side of Male Fashion
A Web site called Name That Goth (home.comcast.net/~jeniphir/) lists suggestions for expectant parents who happen to embrace a pop-culture phenomenon associated with seemingly contradictory traits, including morbidity, romanticism, altruism, and nihilism. Apparently one of the most popular names is Winter. It makes sense. Rather than basic black with pearls, goth's fashion must-have is basic black with piercings, and its preference for the shades of nighttime and shadow, contrasted with stark white and bridged by colours such as midnight blue and blood red, makes goth an unsuitable style for scrutiny under the blazing summer sun. Besides, since an infatuation with vampirism is one of the centrepieces of goth and informs much of the fashion, sunshine is anathema. So, as we prepare for the Nightmare Before Christmas--by which I mean the hellacious prospect of shopping for gifts--and if there's a fellow you know who favours consumptive pallor over the glow from the electric beach, wears crosses ironically, and is equally comfortable quoting Lord Byron and Marilyn Manson, then you'll be glad to know that there is a crackerjack designer in town who specializes in gothwear. Her name is Miriam Melanson, and her company is called Flaming Angels.
"I get my inspiration from nature," Melanson says by phone from her live/work studio in southeast Vancouver. She started Flaming Angels four years ago when she was only 20 and still a student in Kwantlen University College's fashion program. The theatrical end of the industry tends to be even more ephemeral than the mainstream middle. All too often, it's high on concept and low on technical craftsmanship. Melanson, however, is a skilled designer and tailor with staying power who came by her pedigree honestly. "My great-grandmother sewed, my grandmother sewed, my mother sewed, and I've been sewing since I was a kid." She decided to be a designer when she was 15, and one of her teachers, who realized Melanson's talent, encouraged her.
Looking at Melanson's pieces, which are highly original while drawing from goth's various conventions in music, books, and movies, it's no surprise that her favourite big-name designers are Vivienne Westwood, Betsey Johnson, and Jean-Paul Gaultier, three innovators who use fashion as a giant canvas upon which to create collages of multiple influences. While it's tempting to dismiss goth as the sanctuary of angst-riddled, antisocial youth who wear grudges on their world-weary sleeves, goths are, in fact, a surprisingly diverse group. Some favour the musings of the romantic poets, the unleashed sexual repression of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the eternal longings of Anne Rice's ambisexual vamps. Others draw their inspiration from pop music. They like to polish off a little Charles Baudelaire between bouts of Industrial music. The Velvet Underground and the Doors both evoked a sensibility embraced by the goth movement. In the '70s, the androgynous, otherworldly look and unconventional sound of the Thin White Duke, David Bowie, who fused in-your-face rock with intellectual sophistication, laid the foundation for goth-punkers Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, the New Romantics, and Manson. White complexions, makeup, Doc Martens, scarification, romantic white shirts, opera capes, chains and straps, and gender-bending became standards of goth culture. The wardrobe of sexual fetishism also joined the mix as goth grew increasingly visible via the mainstreaming of gay culture.
All of these, and more, are evident in Melanson's work, but her designs are also celebratory. "I'm a perky goth. Yes, there's the angst and all that, but goth is sensual, too."
It shows in the details. Trapped Scream, for example, is a hot, two-piece vest ($160) and pant ($160) ensemble in midnight blue and black hand-dyed cotton twill. The vest is sleeveless and hip-length, with a zip front and high-standing collar. Grommets and lacing run across the shoulders and down the back. Bondage straps connect the shoulder blades to unattached sleeves made of stretch imitation pleather/vinyl. The pants are in a loose, bootcut-jean style, also with grommets, lacing, and bondage straps.
Mr. Underhill is a fabulous ankle-length coat ($200) that zips down to the waist and has a parted slit. It's Matrix meets Edward Gorey. Made of shiny nylon fabric, with red vinyl bat-wing cuffs and collar, this is one of the standouts in the current Flaming Angels collection.
A little more on the kinky side is Batkeeper, which leans toward a B & D look. The long-sleeve vinyl jacket ($200) features a super-high collar, a zip front, and silver pleather appliqué. The pants ($130) have a pointy waist and zip at the side.
Melanson's clients range from their late teen to late 30s, and, until recently, the bulk of business has been from the States, mostly on-line (www.flamingangels.net/). Flaming Angels also sells at stores in L.A., New York, and Calgary. Here, you can find selected items at Bodacious (4393 Main Street), New World Designs (306 West Cordova Street, and Sativa (various locations, including 941 Commercial Drive, opening soon). Melanson also attends to clients in her studio, but you have to book an appointment in advance, by calling 604-435-9890.
Flaming Angels menswear is sexy, evocative, contemporary, and the perfect winter wardrobe for that goth man in your life.