“Alexander McQueen”, Magazine Forté Issue 03

Despite the unpredictable career and style of Alexander McQueen, his suicide this winter came as a complete shock.  Adored by magazine editors, buyers, celebrities, and the fashion press, he appeared to be at the height of his career.  Hailed as a genius of clothing design for his impeccable tailoring and construction skills, his extraordinary runway shows and public persona helped him to transcend the elite fashion circles of London and Paris, making him a celebrity.
Unlike most of the fashion world’s most famous designers, he was unafraid to embrace the gritty underside of urban life, taking inspiration from the detritus of a young, careless life: London nightclubs, horror films, street style.  He built his reputation on realizing clothing that embodied the sparkling ideals of nature and beauty, as well as costumes for the darkest scenes to emerge from a depressed imagination.  He was capable of showing complete honesty in his work.
The clothes he produced were remarkable, but his runway presentations were spectacular.  What many of his peers view as a parade of glamorous photo opportunities, exercises in displaying the latest collection for buyers and press, McQueen used the opportunity to produce extravagant circuses, ranging from the operatic to the the grotesque.  Disregarding the fashion world’s habitual attempts to pander to ideals of glamour, sex appeal, and youth, McQueen’s shows made the old standards seem outdated, irrelevant.  He staged productions that exhibited terrifying futuristic technology, nightmarish scenes from horror films, and haunting scenes of destruction, and trauma. But even at the height of his theatricality, his shows never compromised his talents or hid his romantic disposition: at his best, they were unfailingly exquisite declarations of love and despair, and, occasionally, even an immature sense of humor and delight.
His last complete runway show, “Plato’s Atlantis”, featured models resembling reptilian sea creatures from the future.  With sculpted hair and graphic, computer- manipulated serpentine prints, models were transformed into graceful snakelike creatures, gliding over a pristine white runway like pale, glittering monsters.  Enormous remote- controlled cameras followed their every move, eventually moving their gaze over the audience, the images projected onto the clinical white walls, resembling security camera footage.  The glamorous heroines of a post apacolyptic sci- fi horror movie, McQueen proposed a glimpse of what futuristic glamour and femininity.  For Spring/ Summer 1999, McQueen had model Shalom Harlow standing on a rotating platform while her pristine white dress is spray painted by two robotic paint machines.  The spray paint machines were on loan from Fiat, the Italian car manufacturers.  Her despair at having her perfect white dress soiled, followed by her resign from trying to escape the paint guns was McQueen’s vision of a future where humans fear, but ultimately surrender, to technological rule.
McQueen’s macabre tastes were perfectly suited to live in horror films.  For Spring/ Summer 2004, he replaced a runway presentation with a stage reenactment of the 1969 film “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, a dark film depicting elegant, dazzling dancers testing their psychological and physical limits in a Depression- style dance endurance contest.  Outfitting professional dancers in the season’s collection, the audience watched an abbreviated reenactment of the film instead of a traditional runway show.  One year later, McQueen’s Spring/ Summer 2005 runway show was directly inspired by the film “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.  The story is about a group of friends who go to a picnic, where all but one of them mysteriously disappear.  McQueen’s collection is modelled after the girls’ classic prep- school wardrobes, which come to contrast the characters’ hysterical demeanors.  Soon, most of them mysteriously disappear, leaving the rest of the characters to contemplate murder, the ominous natural world, and criminal tension, while the characters maintained their beautiful, feminine appearances.  For Spring/ Summer 2008, McQueen once again turned to dark fiction as inspiration, this time looking to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic “The Birds”.  Showing perfectly tailored period pieces while evoking a dark, menacing mood was a recipe for his uncompromising artistic design while attaining broad commercial success.
Many of his most memorable shows were his darkest, his most violent, displaying horror and psychological drama.  His 1996 collection, entitled “Highland Rape”, was a reference to the Scottish genocide that claimed a number of McQueen’s ancestors.  Dressing models as rape victims, complete with bloody wounds and torn clothing, was a controversial highlight early in his career.  In 2001, the Spring/ Summer show commenced with delaying the show by an hour, while the audience uncomfortably avoided its own reflection in a huge mirrored cube in the center of the stage.  He seemed to relish making his guests feeling slightly uncomfortable and self- conscious.  The show concluded with the walls of the box falling down, revealing a nude obese woman breathing through a tube.  She released black moths into the air.  For Fall/ Winter 2006, the designer replaced models with a giant hologram of model Kate Moss wearing one of the designer’s dresses for the season.  While the rest of the show continued, the image remained as a beautiful ghost.  One is his last shows, Fall/ Winter 2009, featured many of his most well- received designs, darkly reinterpreted for pessimistic times: the show took place at the height of the global recession.  The centerpiece of the stage featured an enormous pile of stage props from a number of McQueen’s previous shows, all painted black, resembling the world’s chicest landfill.
That McQueen revised some of his best designs was nothing new for him: many of his collections featured the best of his previous collections, revised and reinterpreted to suit his mercurial moods.  This is not to say he was entirely tortured; at least publicly, his sense of humor was apparent in many of his projects.  He chalked “I’m a cunt” into a suit made for the Prince of Wales.  One season, he took a final bow at his runway show wearing a bunny costume.  As perfectly executed as his clothes and presentations could be, as adored as he was,  it was apparent that he remained restless, unsatisfied.  We must assume that such elaborate productions come at the high cost of emotional and creative exhaustion.  He gave it everything he had.


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