“Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment,” Lee Alexander McQueen.
17 March 1969 – 11 February 2010
Lee Alexander McQueen redefined the parameters of British fashion in the best and worst way possible. Referred to as everything from the second coming to a theatrical misogynist, his work paved the way for the future of haute couture. Exploring and beginning to understand McQueen’s work is a fashion pilgrimage, full of dead ends, wrong turns and pure non-sensical genius. Alexander truly was an icon of his time.
In his work, McQueen’s visuals of beauty were often purposely flawed. His models were never at rest or at ease, always fleeing some predator, be that history, social constraints or fashion’s confining gestures. McQueen was praised for raising the profile of British fashion around the world through often controversial and trailblazing haute couture. To pay homage to the icon, we look back at the most groundbreaking works he produced on the seven year anniversary of his death:
Plato’s Atlantis: SS10
The shoes, the shoes, the shoes. Plato’s Atlantis imagines a future where the ice caps melt, water levels rise and life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath the sea once more or perish. Dystopian, revolutionary and heavily alluding to death, the collection introduced an androgynous army to the catwalk. Distorted with prosthetic enhancements, the model’s were fierce and heightened with pronounced hips and, of course, the Armadillo boots.
Horn of Plenty: AW09
No doubt one of the most recognisable pieces of Alexander McQueen iconography, Horn of Plenty dubbed itself with overdrawn red lips and McQueen’s recurring use of feathers. The artists last AW collection, the pieces mocked and parodied the Horn of Plenty title. Referred to as “a slap in the face to his industry” by the New York Times, it was both witty commentary on consumerism and the inner workings of the fashion world.
Inspired by the murders of Joan of Arc and of the Romanov family, Alexander McQueen’s AW98 1998 show took on a dark, sinister feeling. Blood red contact lenses married themselves with the freakish collection, as models faces were completely obscured by fabric or left pale and death-like. Utilising elements of medieval art, Joan was hot, fierce and dangerously tempting.
Inspired by a Victorian mental asylum, Voss lined itself with padded walls and a white-tiled catwalk floor in what can only be described as McQueen’s most exciting, theatrical and groundbreaking show. The ominous box that stood in the centre of the room served as a grand finale to the show, with the walls caving down, shattering glass and revealing a naked woman reclining inside. She wore a metal mask fitted with birds’ wings and a tube that sprouted from her mouth, artistically alluding to a picture by American photographer Joel-Peter Witkin.
Highland Rape: AW95
One of McQueen’s introductory collections, Highland Rape was oozing in controversy, labels of misogyny and, of course, the iconic bumster skirts. Scottish references combined themselves with overtly sexual imagery to create what many consider to be the beginning of McQueen’s theatrical imagery. Describing the lower back, not the buttocks, as the most intimate part of the body, McQueen’s
No. 13: SS99
A dynamic and colourful show, No. 13 goes down at one of McQueen’s most memorable runways, integrating technology and a sense of the clinical to the work. Climaxing with two robotic arms spraying a spinning and dizzied model with paint, the fashion spectacle was inspired by installation artist Rebecca Horn and reiterated McQueen’s desire for lasting impressions.
Widows of Culloden: AW06
Exploring his strong sense of nationhood even more, McQueen revisited Scottish design eleven years after his controversial Highland Rape collection with Widows of Culloden. Conjuring images of tartan-clad Scottish heroines, the works completed the previous collection with an alternative and more emotionally rooted technicality.
What A Merry Go Round: AW01
Upping the ante and igniting a sense of fear and child-like terror onto the runway, What A Merry Go Round painted model’s with ghastly clown-like faces, drawing on a sense of childhood nightmares. The gothic collection, dripping German-Victorian harlequin aesthetics, set itself on a stage littered in neglected toys, provoking eeriness and erasing any sense of warmth, innocence or sentimentality. If that wasn’t terrifying enough, the show was set to the sound of the child catcher’s voice from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Latex-clad carousel horses and models that pole-danced, again, made the collection hugely controversial and widely talked about.
It’s a Jungle Out There: AW97
Again, one of the icon’s earlier works, It’s a Jungle Out There played with McQueen’s adoration for naturality. Though his future works would focus themselves on his love for birds and feathers, this broad collection celebrated not only the animal kingdom, but how different cultures utilised the arts of nature. Gazelle horns twisting on jackets and the cross of Jesus appearing on certain pieces, the collection commented not only on animalism, but mortality and religion, typical of McQueen and his atheist values in his work.