Last updated: May 12, 2012 1:21 am

Sharp looks

As ‘Dark Shadows’ hits the big screen, the lid on vampire chic is lifted

Answer this: if vampires can’t see themselves in mirrors, how do they manage to look so good?

More importantly, how does their intrinsic sense of style – even the dreary are reborn as fashion overlords when they rise from the dead – contribute to their seductive powers.

This is not such a frivolous question, since these days vampires are more ubiquitous than ever. After Twilight and True Blood comes Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, which hit big screens yesterday and features Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, a 200-year-old vampire who awakens in 1972 to find his descendants are even stranger than him. The film plays the premise for laughs but there’s nothing innately funny about what the main character wears: high, fang-sharp collars; layers of black-on-black; ascots and pendants in a suggestively deep shade of ruby.

The clothes are created by Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (Chicago) and, according to Jillian Venters, author of the Gothic Charm School, they “really do have that air of antique elegance and otherworldliness that I associate with classic vampires”. She adds: “In my perfect dream world, Colleen Atwood would create my entire wardrobe.” So what are the components of that classic look?

“Vampire fashion shares a lot of sartorial DNA with Goth fashion,” says Venters. “The palette is usually black with accents of blood red or ivory, and the favoured fabrics are sumptuous: velvet, lace, brocade, and silks. There’s a heightened sense of being someone who is outside of time.” Which is not to say vampires themselves have not inspired trends. This season there were some surprising hints of darkness for spring/summer, with crucifixes at Pucci and Alexander McQueen’s black lace masks. Following on for autumn/winter, the trend really bit with black bondage gloves and chokers at Givenchy, embroidered velvet at Versace and Dolce & Gabbana’s gold and silver brocade capes.

“For decades now the creature has been portrayed as enticing, alluring, sexy,” says Scott Weinberg, an editor at horror and film websites Fearnet and Fandango. “His wardrobe seems to be a representation of an old-school dashing aristocrat – one with a dark and scary secret, of course.”

Probably the most visually striking example is the Dracula played by Sir Christopher Lee (who also appears in Dark Shadows) in a film series that lasted from the late 1950s into the early 1970s. Tall and regal, Lee’s Dracula not only rocked his black cloak but would tease audiences with a flash of its exquisite scarlet lining.

In 1983 the marketing of vampire film The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, emphasised its almost unbearable stylishness with its killer shades, and relentless accessorising. In 1998’s Blade, Wesley Snipes favoured black leather in any and all forms. This helped set the stage for the Underworld series (2003-2012), whose most notable legacy may be Kate Beckinsale’s latex catsuit – a style that suggests predation and attitude, as otherwise depicted in the “punk” vampire. Find it in The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Spike, and Cassidy from comic book Preacher.

“What’s fun about vampire fashion,” says Weinberg, “is that you can dive into a lot of eras. Much of the lighter vamp fare – Buffy, for example – will have a vampire who looks like a 13th-century woodsman or a 20th-century hipster. The vampires in True Blood do not dress like the ones in, god help us, Twilight.” Weinberg’s dismay reflects that of many vampire fans over Stephenie Meyer’s perhaps too-well-assimilated Cullen clan. Part sporty, part preppy, these apparently Ralph Lauren-inspired vampires sometimes look more like glossy catalogue refugees than ageless monsters.

Perhaps, however, this subtle convergence of vampire and human style reflects what many designers have been attempting for years: to express the idea of nocturnal elegance. The contradictions in vampire style are so ripe with possibilities, combining conflicting impulses to appear-possessed of both the experience of age and the sensuality of youth. Who wouldn’t want that on the catwalk.

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