Vivienne Westwood dedicated her 1983 collection to witches, and paganism and the occult was a recurring theme for Alexander McQueen, who traced his family tree back to the Salem witch trials. But this autumn, supernatural vibrations are being felt by a new generation, as witches cast their spell over everything from fashion to politics.
“I’ve always loved witches,” says designer Edward Meadham, as he explains his inspirations for his latest collection. “In my work I have always tried to distort the perceived meanings of the visual female archetypes, including witches,” he says. “For me, they are the primary example of the feared and maligned women.”
Fashion fans will know Meadham from cult label Meadham Kirchhoff, which is now closed. His new label, which marries street style with gothic romance, is called Blue Roses, though he had toyed with the idea of calling it Witches. The collection, which featured witches on T-shirts and hoodies, alongside graffiti-style illustration, pearls, and frills, immediately sold out when it went on sale at Dover Street Market last month.
Meadham is not the only designer flirting with witch style this season. Rising womenswear designer Clio Peppiatt will be presenting her upcoming collection at London fashion week in September, and witches will feature heavily. Themed around Anna Biller’s 2016 film The Love Witch, the 30-piece collection will feature detailed embroidery and embellishment taken from Peppiatt’s own illustrations.
The Love Witch’s lurid style owes much to the campy horror movies of the 60s and 70s. “I loved the obsessive attention to detail throughout the film,” Peppiatt explains. “The colours, the set, the costume and the production; the way everything hangs together is so gorgeous. But, while aesthetically everything is beautiful, the core is very macabre.” For her upcoming collection, Peppiatt illustrated her own tarot cards – inspired by the original Rider Waite deck—and worked from the designs. “The initial imagery is so rich and detailed,” she says.
Witchcraft also has a rich visual legacy in the music industry. Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush were early pioneers: from a dove-carrying Nicks explaining that her song Rhiannon is about “an old Welsh witch”, to Bush’s Waking the Witch, from her Hounds of Love album. And Courtney Love sang about the “witches inside us” in 1993’s 20 Years In The Dakota.
Love’s grungy 90s aesthetic was a reference point for Meadham in particular. “The witch symbol I used on a hoodie for the last Blue Roses collection was stolen from the inside cover of Hole’s Live Through This, and it is a symbol I’ve used before in my work,” he explains. “I love the idea of my clothes being a uniform for a coven of disruptive girls.”
Certainly, the new witch aesthetic owes much more to 90s fashion—think The Craft or Sabrina The Teenage Witch. In particular, The Craft has a lot to answer for when it comes to our current trends: small, coloured sunglasses, chokers, dark lipstick, and kilts all feature prominently in the cult 1996 film about a coven of teen witches. Expect more of the same when the much-awaited remake, currently in development, finally hits our screens.
But why has the fashion world embraced witchcraft? In part, designers like Peppiatt and Meadham have glommed on to it as a fashionable aesthetic due to the influence of teen girl internet culture, specifically platforms like Tumblr and Instagram.
Today’s modern witch is as likely to cast a binding spell on Donald Trump or espouse the virtues of motherwort as she is to celebrate the vernal equinox or mercury retrograde finally ending. Modern witches are fashionable, sexually liberated, young, and often actively engaged in political activism.
In the hyper-masculine age of Trump, tarot, astrology, crystal healing and witchcraft are firmly in vogue. Dazed Digital has just appointed a self-proclaimed witch Lauren Bowker, who runs a mystical magic laboratory THEUNSEEN, and will be science editor-at-large for the site. American Vogue has hopped on the broomstick, recently curating a “Witchy Week” featuring tips on how to have a moon ceremony and which potions to include in your beauty regime. And influencers like The Hoodwitch and Fay Nowitz position themselves at the vanguard of modern witchcraft, with an Instagram-friendly aesthetic and huge followings. “The world is in such a crazy state right now,” says Peppiatt, “I wonder if people are looking for something greater to believe in.”
To help them find their way, Elisabeth Krohn launched Sabat in 2016, as a magazine that fuses feminism and witchcraft. “The modern witch offers us another path, one that is mystical and nature-orientated, where we come into our feminine power as women and witches,” she says. “For the girls that grow up today, this world is dominated by patriarchy and consumerism. Can we really be and do whatever we like? Do we have powers?”
But how best to channel your inner witch? “I feel there is a witchy look for every mood or occasion,” Krohn says. “We can claim belonging to tribes of thought and practice, dress for protest like the guerrilla feminists of the fantasy comic series W.I.T.C.H. or cling on to personal talismans to feel strong or safe. And we can choose alternative and perhaps more ethical ways to consume and create fashion as an art of every day that also honour broader values like caring for the earth and other creatures.”
And if you can’t find a rowdy, raucous coven to join, why not create your own?