At the Gothic Renaissance store near Union Square in Manhattan, a man clad in all black, with his hair and beard dyed to match, navigated a maze of corsets, steampunk goggles and winged harnesses to a rack of outerwear. From it he pulled a black velveteen Victorian-style tuxedo jacket called the “Baphomet.” Made by the label Devil Fashion, it had embroidery at the collar and cuffs, a braided frog closure at the chest and tails as pointy as the horns of its namesake goat-headed deity. The price on its tag: $220.
“People think it costs a lot of money to be goth,” Aurelio Voltaire, 55, said. “As long as you’re wearing all black, you’re already three-quarters of the way there.”
Mr. Voltaire, who has been compared to Dracula, Vincent Price, Elvis and Doctor Strange, likes to pair tight black Ezekiel pants from Nordstrom Rack and DieHard work shirts from Kmart, both of which he purchases in bulk, with more expensive John Hardy rings, John Fluevog shoes and Jean Paul Gaultier blazers. For special occasions, he’ll vamp himself up with Maybelline eyeliner, Big Sexy Hair hair spray, and a tiny black heart drawn just so on his cheek.
A few blocks away, at the Evolution Store on Broadway, Mr. Voltaire picked up some items he had purchased days earlier — two replica human skulls — and paused to admire the shop’s selection of fossils. “This place is almost like a natural-history museum, except the difference is here you get to take home the exhibits,” he said.
Using his phone, he filmed footage for a future episode of “Gothic Homemaking,” the YouTube series he started in 2016. In some 108 episodes to date, which together have been viewed more than four million times, Mr. Voltaire has established himself as a macabre Martha Stewart, sharing shopping tips, decorating hacks, recipes — even travel destinations — with viewers who refuse to confine spookiness to only one season.
In a recent episode, he went searching for Halloween home décor at HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx and other stores, yearly excursions that he documents for the series. “Halloween is a time we take advantage of, because that’s the only time these big stores” cater to people like him, he said.
Pottery Barn is a favorite, he added, because its items — including a $129 ice bucket Mr. Voltaire owns, which is crafted to resemble a skeleton soaking in a coffin — are reliably of higher quality.
A Dark Star is Born
Much of “Gothic Homemaking” is filmed in the East Village studio apartment Mr. Voltaire rents, which he calls the “Lair of Voltaire.” He pays less than $2,000 a month for the rent-stabilized unit, which he moved into 20 years ago, about two decades after he came to New York at 17.
Born in Havana and raised in New Jersey, Mr. Voltaire’s boyhood fascination with Universal Studios’ classic Universal Monsters films and other horror movies blossomed into a teenage taste for the moody music of British rock bands including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and the Cure. Along the way, he said, “I slowly started wearing less and less colors until I had, unbeknown to myself, become a goth.”
Once in New York, he started working in stop-motion animation, a career that led to gigs with TV networks including MTV, Nickelodeon and Syfy, then known as the Sci-Fi Channel, and to becoming an instructor at the School of Visual Arts, where he taught stop-motion courses from 1996 to 2019. Mr. Voltaire had developed a passion for the field in childhood, when his obsession with the original “King Kong” movie inspired him to save enough money to buy a Super 8 camera.
After 10 years in animation, he started performing as what he calls a “dark cabaret” musician, adopting the stage name Voltaire, and later, Aurelio Voltaire; both are shortened versions of his full name, Aurelio Voltaire Hernández. A singer-songwriter and guitarist, he has released 12 albums, with a 13th — a David Bowie-inspired record called “Black Labyrinth” — slated to come out in December. Mr. Voltaire, who said he has performances almost every weekend of the year, has attracted nearly 190,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, where his top tracks include “When You’re Evil” and “Brains!”
In 2004, he published a book, “What is Goth?,” using the pen name Voltaire. The next year came a follow-up, “Paint It Black: A Guide to Gothic Homemaking.” A decade or so later, the second book would serve as the blueprint for Mr. Voltaire’s “Gothic Homemaking” series, which he started as a way to document his progress transforming his apartment into an occult oasis. “I want people to walk into my home and think a real vampire lives here, as opposed to a fan of vampire movies lives here,” he said.
The series is essentially a one-man show, with Mr. Voltaire both starring in and producing its episodes. His fiancée, Mayumi Toyoda, a singer, occasionally appears on camera and helps with production. (Ms. Toyoda and Mr. Voltaire met in 2019, six years after his previous marriage of four years ended in divorce in 2013.) Segments that take place inside his apartment are recorded using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera and a tripod, with a ring light, color changing LED lights and a smoke machine providing ambience on set. Episodes begin with a cartoon sequence in which a skeleton sprays blood and bile at a suburban home with a white picket fence to transform it into a haunted house.
The ‘Lair of Voltaire’
With more than 138,000 views, one of the most watched “Gothic Homemaking” episodes chronicles the renovation of Mr. Voltaire’s bathroom. In it, he recounts persuading his reluctant landlord’s even more reluctant contractors to install a black toilet and sink from Kohler, and his search for a technician willing to refinish his bathtub in black paint. “Now it’s like a gothic spa,” Mr. Voltaire said. The job, he estimated, cost him around $4,000.
But he declined to answer when asked how much he has spent in total on renovating and redecorating the lair, where few if any square inches remain untouched.
The color scheme is primarily black and gray, with pops of purple provided by accent lighting, wallpaper and amethyst crystals. A pair of black thrones hand-carved in Indonesia, one of which is flanked by massive bat wings, anchors the living area, where the furnishings also include an Ouija-board-topped end table and a lamp made with raccoon-penis bones. (Mr. Voltaire fashioned both on “Gothic Homemaking.”) Preserved bats hang from a chandelier, Atlas beetles and butterflies in shadowboxes hang on the walls and no less than a dozen taxidermied ravens, crows and other corvids decorate the space.
“Some people buy fancy cars,” he said. “The happiness that I derive from feeling good in my own home is worth every cent.”
The apartment’s small kitchen, a work in progress, will be the subject of a future “Gothic Homemaking” episode. A Magic Chef refrigerator, a Premier range and a Kohler sink — all black — have already been installed, as well as a purple-and-black wallpaper with a skull-and-tentacles pattern, and a wall-mounted towel rack Mr. Voltaire made using what he said are human bones, which he purchased from sellers in Los Angeles, Orlando, Fla., and Salem, Mass. On the rack hang skeleton-patterned dish cloths from Jo-Ann Fabrics.
Mr. Voltaire said he has never been paid to advertise anything on “Gothic Homemaking,” nor has he accepted any free products or services in exchange for promotion. The only money he earns from the videos comes from monthly Google AdSense payments. But the series did inspire him to launch a “Lair of Voltaire” home décor line featuring “Goblin King” scented candles, gravestone-shaped soap and other items sold online and at “spooky stores around the country,” as he put it, including Gothic Renaissance.
Some fans said his YouTube series has a transportive quality that has helped them forget the doldrums of day-to-day life. Molly Bloomer, 8, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., called it her “go-to show for the whole pandemic,” adding that she recently made a “cemetery dirt parfait” dessert featured in a 2020 episode. Her mother, Becky Bloomer, 41, said the series was a form of “magical escapism” for her daughter during lockdown.
“Molly got to travel the world when she wasn’t able to leave the house,” Ms. Bloomer said, by watching an episode in which Mr. Voltaire visits monster-themed restaurants including the now closed Kawaii Monster Café in Tokyo, which inspired Molly to start taking Japanese language classes. Last year, ahead of a performance in Kansas City by Mr. Voltaire, he invited the Bloomers to a personal meet-and-greet; Molly, then 7, didn’t quite meet the age minimum for the 21-and-over show.
For other fans, Mr. Voltaire is more than entertainment. Matthew Adams, 24, a craftsman in Orangeville, Penn., who writes gothic poetry under the pen name Rythian Black, first discovered Mr. Voltaire’s music around 2010, when he was in middle school. “I was always into the weird and spooky,” he said. “I wanted to be someone different.”
“Voltaire has had such an impact on my life, turned it 180 degrees in the right direction,” he added, noting that “Gothic Homemaking” inspired him to pursue refinishing furniture and other objects in a gothic style, and to start his own YouTube channel, “The Black Emporium,” documenting his projects.
Superfans of the series might have noticed that there is one thing noticeably absent from its episodes: a bed. A visit to Mr. Voltaire’s apartment revealed no trace of one either.
So where does he sleep?
“If you were standing in a vampire’s parlor, it would make the most sense that the denizens of his home sleep hanging upside down in the closet,” Mr. Voltaire said. “Which I’m perfectly comfortable having people believe.”