When Coco Chanel designed a straightforward, short black dress, the US Vogue hailed it as “the frock that all the world will wear”.   

In 1926, it was perhaps not yet clear just how all-encompassing that statement would be, but by the 80s the “boundaries” on the very concept of what the “little black dress” was clearly being weakened.   

This was in part helped by a British band who are widely credited as pioneers of the goth subculture, Specimen, and a designer who had begun a long collaboration with keyboardist Jonny Slut – the stage name of Jonny Melton.   

A design created for him in 2003, after the band had gone its separate ways, will now see a fresh spotlight in a National Museum of Scotland exhibition titled ‘Beyond the Little Black Dress’.   

“I wasn’t ever interested in trends, or commercial garments or mass production,” said Edinburgh-based designer Theresa Coburn.   

“I was always interested in pushing boundaries in fashion. I wasn’t interested in that male/female fashion binary.”  

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Their collaboration carried inspiration from the androgyny of glam rock and the “DIY aesthetic” of punk.  

“I think those two things really kind of informed my work – it’s at the core of what I do,” Ms Coburn said.   

The designer and fashion lecturer first began designing for the musician after discovering that he had been wearing the rubber designs she had sold to London shop Boy.   

Over the years the stage became their catwalk featuring subversive designs using materials such as latex and leather and that pushed the boat on what was ‘accepted’ in mainstream fashion.   

This even included a 5ft long latex tail covered in studs which the musician and DJ himself described as a “fat, black latex boa constrictor”.   

Ms Coburn added: “I wouldn’t even say it was gender nonconforming, it was kind of genderless. It was almost like being a creature.”  

The design which will be displayed in Edinburgh for the next three months was designed two decades later in 2003 when Melton had started his nightclub Nag, Nag, Nag.   

It features a leather vest with a striped chain detail that had to be handsewn onto the garment, a leatherette kilt and fur cuffs.

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“My work is very much about the DIY aesthetic or a one-off piece that cannot be reproduced,” the designer explained.   

“We wanted this asexual look. Initially, it was going to be a skirt or a dress but then I thought that the kilt would look really strong.    

“We had to have that made by a specialist kilt maker.    

“For something that’s quite a hard-edged image, in terms of the black leather and the chain, it is very much softened with these fur cuffs - again introducing a very masculine and feminine crossover.”  

While Jonny’s image with his foot-high Mohican came to embody the goth subculture, the designer said that she didn’t consider herself to be designing for a subculture.   

“When I was younger and when I was designing within this realm, I wasn’t aware that I was within a subculture so to speak,” she said.   

“When you are younger and following your own creative path, you're trying to challenge perceived norms, you’re trying to say something through fashion that you think is original.”  

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The Herald: Theresa CoburnTheresa Coburn (Image: Stephen Lee)

She added: “Jonny’s persona and his image became very iconic within the goth subcultural movement.   

“But at the time it just felt like like-minded people getting together and collaborating.”  

While the Beyond the Little Black Dress exhibition will showcase many ways in which the garment can possess radical power, Ms Coburn’s design and the many others created for the musician embody the subversive.   

The designer believes that going forward the “notion of menswear and womenswear will become quite old fashioned” but explains that the subversive element was often found in the fabric.   

Repurposing materials such as latex, leather and rubber which at the time were more closely associated with fetishwear were key to many of her designs.   

“It seems strange to say this but it’s the fabrics that pushed boundaries in a way. I still think latex is seen as quite a subversive fabric and this is 40 years later from doing these things.”  

 Speaking on the exhibition which is due to open in Edinburgh on July 1, she added: “I think it is fantastic to have this exhibition that does go beyond the little black dress, beyond what we perceive as the traditional cocktail dress and all the other directions that that concept can be taken in.”