From Vivienne Westwood to Thierry Mugler: Has ugly become the new beautiful?

High fashion is an industry known for having great tolerance for unconventionalities. Designers have the liberty to create art to fulfill their wild imagination and not necessarily to satisfy the public’s taste. Thus, audiences of haute couture and ready-to-wear collections tend to expect being wowed and shocked by what they see. They always allow room for eccentricities and uniqueness.

Blood red face paint at Viktor & Rolf Fall 2011

However, recent designers have delivered “beauty” moves that prove too challenging for the consumers. On the runway of Viktor & Rolf fall 2011 collection, models appear to be embracing their inner “devils” as their faces were covered by red paint.

The original intention of the Dutch designers was to project a battle atmosphere, with structured armor-like outfits and blood-red makeup. They have a logical reasoning behind this.

“Fashion’s ever-increasing speed reminds us how important it is to battle for our creativity,” said Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren.

Their theme is quite intimidating, but still tame compared to what went on in the Vivienne Westwood fall 2011 show. Westwood’s models were plastered with a pitch-black punk-warrior makeup that can send chills up and down your spine.

"Death Eater" punk-warrior makeup

The look is far from any gothic or vampire makeup you have ever seen. The paint sinks models’ eyes in deep black hoods, drips down their noses and marks exaggerated jaw lines, destroying all pleasant harmonies of the natural facial features. The scariest pattern has to be a black flame sprouting from a model’s chin to cover her mouth in a fashion that closely resembles Death Eaters from the Harry Potter series.

Still, Westwood is not the only designer to find beauty in dark artistic expressions. Nicola Formichetti, creative director of fashion house Thierry Mugler, made a bold move to choose a shockingly tattooed Rick Genest to represent the brand.

Rick Genest, aka Zombie Boy, in Thierry Mugler promo

Genest has been nicknamed “Zombie Boy” because of the extensive tattoos that cover his entire upper body, which give him a rather intimidating, aesthetically repulsive look. His head takes on the image of skull with tattoos of an exposed brain, eye sockets, the nose cavity and full set of teeth. His upper body appears as a skeleton with ribs and finger bones, besides a multitude of other tattoos.

All of these choices made by top designers makes me wonder: Has ugly become the new beautiful in fashion? What do these creative geniuses find in things that are scary and disturbing at first sight?

It must have been for the striking effect that induces their decisions to pick such unusual muses. Maybe they are masters at getting through the superficial and finding beauty in the unexpected, the outwardly ugly. In the end, aren’t we often told that beauty is only skin deep?

Ugly Agency opened in London in 1969 and began casting people with “unusual looks” who may be heavily pierced, tattooed, no longer young or overweight. In the summer of 2007, the agency unveiled its New York office. Ugly is devoted to casting people of all shapes, sizes, bone structures and facial oddities.

Stemming from high fashion, the trend of embracing the unusual is quite empowering. It reminds people to love and be comfortable with the way they look instead of conforming to the impossible beauty ideals in presented by airbrushed images in magazines.


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