Forget about the little black dress. When it comes to looking like an all-out seductress, nothing is sexier than a long black frock with a plunging neckline. And whether you’re in touch with your inner goth girl or not, its power to conjure a dangerous, enchanting or vampy vibe is undeniable. It’s part of the reason pop culture icons like Vampira, Morticia and Elvira Mistress of the Dark have bewitched fans for decades.
Cassandra Peterson, the actress who personifies Elvira, admits that she was definitely channeling the black-swathed beauties that came before her when she created the character back in 1981. As hostess of the internationally syndicated horror TV show Movie Macabre, Peterson took the mysteriousness of her predecessors, added a little bit of comedic sass and sexed up the presentation, adding a bouffant hairdo and form-fitting dress that put her perfect cleavage front and center.
Her new collaboration with Pinup Girl Clothing (super)naturally celebrates the iconic booby-baring style. At the line’s debut party Saturday night in Burbank, the first designs from a planned ongoing couture collection were revealed for a packed house full of black-clawed, crimson-lipped gaggles of gal. The hot looks include a long gown recalling the familiar classic Elvira wore on her TV show, and a few midlength numbers with see-thru mesh necklines that highlight a devilishly daring decolletage, in black and purple, and in a wide range of sizes that have become Pinup's signature, XS to 4XL.
“I adored The Addams Family. When I was a kid it was like my favorite freakin’ show,” Peterson told me Saturday. “Elvira started as a kind of ’80s version of Morticia and Vampira. We wanted to make it a little punk, a little metal ... and the hair was inspired by Ronnie Spector.”
Peterson was a bit under the weather on Saturday but she was still her famously funny self, recalling her early days as “sort of a rock groupie,” and later as part of the Groundlings comedy troupe, where she used sexy-girl typecasting to her advantage by meshing sass with sensuality — all of which became part of the Elvira mystique.
“I was super into music,” Peterson said. “I was loving the whole punk and new wave scene at the time, and the stuff I wore normally back then was, ya know, safety pins and rock & roll pieces.”
Pinup Girl’s Laura Byrnes grew up similarly enamored with music and the dark side. “Back in the ’80s I was that gloom chick,” she explained as her boutique filled up and a DJ spun retro dark-wave faves in the background. “My favorite band still to this day is Bauhaus. I had a Bauhaus T-shirt for every day of the week and Bleeker Bob's only sold five, so I had to make the other two myself. I focus on vintage-inspired, midcentury with Pinup, but goth has always been a part of the design aesthetic, too.”
As for the collaboration with Elvira, Byrnes says her approach was somewhat loose, even if the dresses had to be tight. “I didn’t want to get too literal or too costumey. These are clothes, as Cassandra has said, ‘Elvira would wear if she ever changed her dress.’ It’s based on Elvira and but also Cassandra herself. Just like the collaboration we have with Traci Lords, the aim is to have something new every season, and I'm always interested in digging a little deeper as we go.”
Lords was at the party, looking fierce in one of Elvira’s wiggle-style looks accessorized with a black boa, while Monique Powell of the band Save Ferris wore a more new wave checkered number designed by Byrnes. Powell, who just came off a headlining slot at Warped Tour, spoke for a lot of us when she recalled Elvira’s impact on little girls of the ’80s. “Growing up, I thought Elvira and Charo were like the two most beautiful women in the world,” she said. “I watched her TV show and thought she was a goddess with that great Bumpit in the back .... She was our fairy goth mother.”
In addition to the Pinup stuff, Peterson has a new jewelry line being sold at the boutique (and on her website), as well as a new slot machine in Vegas. She is currently readying her Halloween show — the final show ever, she insisted — for Knott’s Scary Farm, and promises "something completely different." Though she revealed that she sometimes wears "white and light looks and no makeup as a disguise" for day, she also admitted her closet is mostly "full of black."
"I'm happy to say in my ripe old age, I'm still fitting into this kind of stuff," she said near the end of our interview, adding that she works out hard to be able to do so. "I like sexy things and body-conscious stuff, which is why I like Pinup Girl."
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Still stunning without the heavy makeup and wig, Peterson rocked her auburn locks with a retro ’do Saturday, but it's the dark allure of her alter ego that is — like a real undead ghoul — proving timeless, especially to those of us who felt like outsiders growing up. Elvira showed us that freaky can be foxy, and she's still doing so for a new generation, an impact that she seems to have only just fully realized.
"I just recently looked back on it all and thought, holy crap, maybe I was one of the original goths!”
Elvira's Couture for Everybody is available now at Pin-Up Girl Boutique, 3606 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. (818) 559-9586, pinupgirlclothing.com.