How Witches Cast a Spell on Fashion

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About two years ago, in a mass occult ritual, thousands of witches across the nation used their powers to cast a spell on the president. Lana Del Rey was one of them, encouraging her fans to partake in a binding hex that was timed to the waning crescent moon, which is believed to be the best moment to eliminate negative energy.

„Your thoughts are very powerful things and they become words, and words become actions, and actions lead to physical charges,” Del Rey once said of her beliefs. „I really do believe that words are one of the last forms of magic and I’m a bit of a mystic at heart.“

Once declared an act of evil, those who practiced “witchcraft”—or displayed any sort of independence, sexuality, power, or aptitude to heal—were persecuted, tortured, hanged, and burned alive, with the most notorious case being the Salem witch trials, the deadliest witch hunt in U.S. history from February 1692 to May 1693, which started when a group of young girls claimed to have been possessed by the devil in Salem Village, Mass., and accused local women of witchcraft. It sparked mass hysteria and would go on to result in the hanging of 20 „witches“ who were found guilty by trial, while more than 200 men, women, and children were accused.

Now, the mystical, the supernatural, the unexplainable—all the things that were considered dangerous and threatening—have become so mainstream, witches have evolved from being depicted as ugly and villainous (The Wizard of Oz) to cute (Sabrina the Teenage Witch), charming (Practical Magic; Charmed), and chic (American Horror Story: Coven) in pop culture.

And so, of course, for designers, whose sources for inspiration knows no bounds, this appeal of witchery—the summoning of spirits, the history of the disenfranchised, and the strength and rebellious nature of these women—has been irresistible.

For Alexander McQueen, it hit him on a personal level. Upon learning that a distant relative, Elizabeth Howe, was executed during the Salem witch trials in 1692, he presented his Fall/Winter 2007 show with themes that examined paganism and religious persecution. Models walked on a giant red pentagram that was drawn in black sand, underneath an inverted pyramid, and against the backdrop of a horrifying film of naked women, locusts, and skulls. Skintight black leather pieces and sparkling celestial headpieces (a crescent moon and a star) from the collection served as more literal takes on witchcraft.

When Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs showed how they interpreted the Salem witch trials with a series of a slinky satin dresses for Cushnie et Och’s Fall/Winter 2013 collection, Cushnie reasoned, “The witch is the ultimate bad girl. You want to be her.”

But perhaps one of the earliest collections that paid tribute to witches was by Vivienne Westwood, who, in Fall/Winter 1983, partnered up with artist-musician-designer Malcolm McLaren. Titled Witches, the two came up with a line-up that was influenced by Keith Haring’s “magical, esoteric sign language” and early ‘80s hip-hop culture.

Thirty years later, when Hedi Slimane showed his Spring/Summer 2013 collection for Saint Laurent—his first for the house—he also looked to dark magic and gypsy sorceresses for inspiration, namely with two figures: Stevie Nicks (who was rumored to be a witch—playing a fictional witch version of herself in American Horror Story probably helped) and Marjorie Cameron, an American artist and occultist. Out came sweeping black capes that swathed tiered black dresses, ethereal gowns, and pretty lace things, complete with wide-brimmed hats.

The next season, Wiccan influences emerged in three Fall/Winter 2013 shows: Gareth Pugh sent out a coven of chalk-faced models, Ann Demeulemeester showed wispy, bewitching dresses, and Rick Owens crafted oversize designs, complete with wraps that trailed behind the models and frizzy hair that was teased out to there.

But it was Rei Kawakubo who took the motif to the extreme. Her Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2016 show, or Blue Witches, was all about “powerful women who are misunderstood, but do good in the world.” Outsized, experimental, abstract—she conjured up incredible creations that were fantastical in every sense of the word.

And while there’s a dark side to witchery, there’s also the spellbinding aspect that’s transfixed many a designer. “We grew up with witches,” said Thea Bregazzi of Preen by Thornton Bregazzi. “There are a lot on the Isle of Man—people go to see them to cure sore throats, ailments like that.” And so for their Spring/Summer 2017 collection, the two dreamed up a dazzling display of glitter, chiffon, florals, and pentagrams (tattoo-like prints on the faces and necks of models were actually crushed-up flowers, leaves, and ferns).

Maria Grazia Chiuri had the same idea for her first Dior collection. For Spring/Summer 2017, she revealed her vision for the luxury house: strong and unabashedly feminine. There were mystical diaphanous gowns embroidered with stars, moons, and bats—a uniform that would feel right at home with a modern-day witch.

And when mixed in with her “We should all be feminists” tee, all of a sudden feminism and witchcraft feels inextricably intertwined. Because now, when it’s more important than ever to stand together in solidarity, to have women supporting other women, shouldn’t we all be in a coven? Shouldn’t we all be witches?

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