The Original Elegant Horrorist
With his mastery of many arts, including music, interior design, murder, mayhem, and, of course, fashion, Erik can truly be regarded as an archetypical Elegant Horrorist.
Though there have been many versions of Gaston Leroux's lovelorn anti-hero, they all trace their lineage to Lon Chaney's tour-de-force performance in Universal's 1925 super-production, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Chaney brings Leroux's description of Erik's death's head lividly to life, as if Andre Castaigne's original illustrations leapt out of the book onto the screen.
ERIK: A MAN OF ELEGANT DETAILS
As befits the truly elegant Horrorist, a great deal of care went into the design of Chaney's ensemble.
Lon's basic costume consists of a close fitting evening tuxedo with tails, peaked lapels, and vest. The cuffs of both jacket and pants are flared, which enhances the impression of the skeletal nature of Erik's body.
He wears a crisp white formal shirt with a (possibly detachable) standing collar with subtle wings: understated, never showy, yet no less regal. The French cuffs are probably detachable, and clasped with understated metal links. For neckwear he favors a wide, dark silk cravat tied in a loose bow.
Erik's preferred outerwear is a velvet cape with an exaggerated high, stiff collar that forms the perfect frame for his handsomely unhandsome face. The collar is loosely closed by a thick black silk lace that loops over black buttons of ebony, Bakelite or glass. The cape itself drops to below the knee in front, mid-calf in back, and has arm slits for ease of movement. The velvet's subtle sheen and fluid drape emphasize the grace of Chaney's balletic physical expression, and may have been selected as the cape's fabric for this reason.
Erik occasionally completes this ensemble with an unadorned, medium brimmed black hat. No doubt a custom number, it has dimples on the sides that cry "fedora," but has the overall characterisitcs of a somewhat sexified homburg (the center-creased crown, the grosgrain trim on the brim's rolled edge). Part one, part the other; all fab.
For footwear, Erik rocks a sleek pair of black leather, high-topped shoes with pointed toes and Cuban heels. (Contrast this with the literally pedestrian footwear worn by some subsequent Phantoms...) Lon Chaney's Erik is the perfect example of what Stacy London stresses on season after season of WHAT NOT TO WEAR: The right profile and cut for your body, from head to foot, makes you a force to be reckoned with. Even if you're not a smooth-talking, uber-talented homicidal maniac like Erik.
For the one occasion when we see Erik relatively dressed down (The Unmasking sequence), he still retains his impeccably easy elegance: he's replaced his tails with a dark silk dressing gown with relaxed-with-a-hint-of-formal shawl lapels. No flannel jammies for this class act.
ERIK'S MOST FAMOUS ACCESSORY
An icon in itself, Erik's mask is a masterpiece of design. It's both revealingly expressive and enigmatically blank. Most likely designed (and possibly made) by Chaney himself to enhance his disguise and performance, it's crowned by a velvet cap that keeps it in place while concealing the balding domed skull that tops Chaney's astonishing makeup. In the book, Erik's entire face is covered by his mask. On Chaney's creation, however, a strip of sheer fabric covers the mouth. This allows a faint glimpse at his mouth as he speaks, while his breath moves the fabric. By this simple, elegant device, Chaney is able to add a dimension of palpability to a character who is otherwise largely concealed.
For his appearance at the Bal Masque, Erik stuns in a layered satin number in red-on-red-on-red. His velvet and satin medieval-influenced suit is decorated with sequins and surmounted by an immense, flowing cape. A huge, plumed black hat tops it all off for a look that rules a night already packed with over-the-top fashion statements.
The descriptions of some of the photos in this gallery give more fashion details...
...never looked so good. Erik knows how to make an entrance.
...before the master of fashion and, well, everything.
...shows the care that went into translating the book to the screen. Compare it to the pose in the previous photo.
Erik sports the traditional tail coat with two rows of ebony, glass or Bakelite buttons, fastened in the middle by a single sleek closure. The vest's buttons are grosgrain silk-covered. Adding to the slim-fitting aspect of his ensemble is, as can be seen in the image on the left, his high-waisted pants are being held up by suspenders.
Lon Chaney's Erik is masterpiece of elegant contour. From his sleek Cuban heels to the flared pants to the cape to the custom hat with its sweeping brim, he is the epitome of deadly style.
Black velvet on black black worsted on white cotton on parchment wrinkled flesh. Lon Chaney knew how to layer his textures for a vibrant sense of well-clothed death.
Owning the right clothes is one thing. Moving in them is another. Erik's designer duds are like a second skin to him, allowing him to run, sneak, murder, and otherwise wow with ease.
Feast your eyes, glut your soul on Erik's shawl-lapel dressing gown. Christine certainly loves it. Note how even at his worst moment, Erik's collar, tie and cuffs are perfect. Truly an Elegant Horrorist.
Note the custom touch in the flare of the close-fitting sleeves. And don't forget to admire those French cuffs and elegant links.
and subtly exaggerated tailoring accentuate Lon Chaney's ballet-like grace. The fedora-meets-homburg is a crowning touch.
...you know, a few levels up from Christine's bed chamber, where the fashion-conscious Erik has set her up with a queen's ransom in designer footwear, including jeweled Cromwells, pumps and slippers. From the Louis heel to the boulevard heel, Erik has thought of everything.
on dead flesh. Magnificently colorful Erik rocks the rooftop.
...the allure of someone who's mastered so many arts, including dressing well.
These Cuban heel stompers were sold at auction as Chaney's Red Death shoes. Compare to the next image. Tantaliziing indeed...
...the Red Death is just as deadly. Erik's show-stealing costume from the Bal Masque sequence. Note the Cuban heels, here in red.
...as envisioned by Gaston Leroux and illustrator Andre Castaigne. As always, Lon and Co did a fine job bringing the original to life.
...to frame the ultimate custom face.
...but all in the service of the sense of movement. Check the leg-hugging pants on the right. Lon's Erik, though skeletal, was no stranger to pumping iron. Or maybe he built his legs walking under water...
When Christine wakes up in Erik's love nest, she finds that her masked master of the arts is also a wiz with fabrics and furnishings: a true Renaissance man-iac. (That bed later appeared in SUNSET BOULEVARD.)
As a true Elegant Horrorist, Erik has an uncanny flair for detail that yields this personalized hand mirror for his bride to be.