ponedjeljak, 6. kolovoza 2012.

Alexander McQueen - Kabinet modnih kurioziteta

Alexandera McQueena su toliko slavili da sam bio skeptičan, i, konačno, mislio - pa ipak je to "samo" moda. Malo sam smekšao. Ima ovdje puno sf-a, narativosti i iznenađenja. On za sebe tvrdi da je romantičar, no meni je važniji nehumanistički aspekt - jest on poput estetskog kirurga sa škarama, ali "ljepota" je ovdje ne-ljudska, napada nas poput izvanzemaljskog Aliena. Visokoburžujski sf za modne piste. Morski pas kao krojač.

exhibition Savage Beauty

Na Vimeu

 Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, by Andrew Bolton, with contributions by Susannah Frankel and Tim Blanks; Photography by Sølve Sundsbø. Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2011.

Arguably the most influential, imaginative, and provocative designer of his generation, Alexander McQueen both challenged and expanded fashion conventions to express ideas about race, class, sexuality, religion, and the environment. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty examines the full breadth of the designer’s career, from the start of his fledgling label to the triumphs of his own world-renowned London house. It features his most iconic and radical designs, revealing how McQueen adapted and combined the fundamentals of Savile Row tailoring, the specialized techniques of haute couture, and technological innovation to achieve his distinctive aesthetic. It also focuses on the highly sophisticated narrative structures underpinning his collections and extravagant runway presentations, with their echoes of avant-garde installation and performance art.
Published to coincide with an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art organized by The Costume Institute, this stunning book includes a preface by Andrew Bolton; an introduction by Susannah Frankel; an interview by Tim Blanks with Sarah Burton, creative director of the house of Alexander McQueen; illuminating quotes from the designer himself; provocative and captivating new photography by renowned photographer Sølve Sundsbø; and a lenticular cover by Gary James McQueen.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty celebrates the astounding creativity and originality of a designer who relentlessly questioned and confronted the requisites of fashion.

About the Exhibition
McQueen always started every collection with an idea or a concept for the runway presentation before the fashions. After the concept, he would have this elaborate sort of storyboard with these various references from art, from film, from music—his influences from everywhere. There’s a famous story about how he was watching Friends one day, and Joey was wearing a green sweater, and Joey’s green sweater inspired an aspect of his collection. So he was such a sponge that inspiration came from everywhere. The actual creative process in terms of the clothes themselves were often designed directly on the mannequin during a fitting. So fittings, for McQueen, were incredibly important. I think that McQueen saw life cinematically, and I think that that approach to life was something that you see very clearly on the runway. So his interest in extreme weather conditions was part of that sort of dramatic view of life. And I think that one of the reasons why he loved nature so much was because it was so unpredictable. They were spontaneous; it was something that one can never control, and I think that was always something he liked to show in his collections.
Read More
The exhibition, organized by The Costume Institute, celebrated the late Alexander McQueen’s extraordinary contributions to fashion. From his Central Saint Martins postgraduate collection of 1992 to his final runway presentation, which took place after his death in February 2010, Mr. McQueen challenged and expanded the understanding of fashion beyond utility to a conceptual expression of culture, politics, and identity. His iconic designs constitute the work of an artist whose medium of expression was fashion. The exhibition featured approximately one hundred ensembles and seventy accessories from Mr. McQueen’s prolific nineteen-year career. Drawn primarily from the Alexander McQueen Archive in London, with some pieces from the Givenchy Archive in Paris as well as private collections, signature designs including the “bumster” trouser, the kimono jacket, and the three-point “origami” frockcoat were on view. McQueen’s fashions often referenced the exaggerated silhouettes of the 1860s, 1880s, 1890s, and 1950s, but his technical ingenuity always imbued his designs with an innovative sensibility that kept him at the vanguard.
The exhibition was organized by Andrew Bolton, curator, with the support of Harold Koda, curator in charge, both of The Costume Institute. Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett, the production designers for Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows, served as the exhibition’s creative director and production designer, respectively. All head treatments and masks were designed by Guido.

The Romantic Mind

“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.”—Alexander McQueen

McQueen doggedly promoted freedom of thought and expression and championed the authority of the imagination. In so doing, he was an exemplar of the Romantic individual, the hero-artist who staunchly follows the dictates of his inspiration. “What I am trying to bring to fashion is a sort of originality,” he said. McQueen expressed this originality most fundamentally through his methods of cutting and construction, which were both innovative and revolutionary. This technical ingenuity was apparent as early as his graduation collection from the Fashion Design MA course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Entitled Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims (1992), it introduced such iconic designs as the three-point “origami” frockcoat. In his first collection after graduating, entitled Taxi Driver (autumn/winter 1993–94), McQueen launched his “bumsters,” pants that sat so low on the hips that they revealed the buttocks. Indeed, McQueen was such a confident designer that his forms and silhouettes, such as the “bumster,” were established from his earliest collections and remained relatively consistent throughout his career. Referring to his early training on Savile Row in London, he said, “Everything I do is based on tailoring.” McQueen’s approach to fashion, however, combined the precision and traditions of tailoring and patternmaking with the spontaneity and improvisations of draping and dressmaking—an approach that became more refined after his tenure as creative director of Givenchy in Paris from 1996 to 2001. It is this approach, at once rigorous and impulsive, disciplined and unconstrained, that underlies McQueen’s singularity and inimitability.

Romantic Gothic and Cabinet of Curiosities

“People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality.”
—Alexander McQueen
One of the defining features of McQueen’s collections is their historicism. While McQueen’s historical references are far-reaching, he was particularly inspired by the nineteenth century, especially the Victorian Gothic. “There’s something . . . kind of Edgar Allan Poe, kind of deep and kind of melancholic about my collections,” McQueen noted. Indeed, the “shadowy fancies” that Poe writes about in “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) are vividly present in the majority of McQueen’s collections, most notably Dante (autumn/winter 1996–97), Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (autumn/winter 2002–3), and the posthumous, unofficially entitled Angels and Demons (autumn/winter 2010–11). Like the Victorian Gothic, which combines elements of horror and romance, McQueen’s collections often reflect opposites such as life and death, lightness and darkness. Indeed, the emotional intensity of his runway presentations was frequently the consequence of the interplay between dialectical oppositions. The relationship between victim and aggressor was especially apparent, particularly in his accessories. He once remarked, “I . . . like the accessory for its sadomasochistic aspect.” This position is strikingly evident in the gallery “Cabinet of Curiosities,” which focuses on atavistic and fetishistic paraphernalia produced by McQueen in collaboration with a number of accessory designers, including the milliners Dai Rees and Philip Treacy and the jewelers Shaun Leane, Erik Halley, and Sarah Harmarnee.

Romantic Nationalism

“The reason I’m patriotic about Scotland is because I think it’s been dealt a really hard hand. It’s marketed the world over as . . . haggis . . . bagpipes. But no one ever puts anything back into it.”
—Alexander McQueen
McQueen’s collections were fashioned around elaborate narratives that are profoundly autobiographical, often reflecting his Scottish heritage. Indeed, when he was asked what his Scottish roots meant to him, he replied, “Everything.” McQueen’s national pride is most evident in the collections Highland Rape (autumn/winter 1995–96) and Widows of Culloden (autumn/winter 2006–7). Both explore Scotland’s turbulent political history. Highland Rape was based on the eighteenth-century Jacobite Risings and the nineteenth-century Highland Clearances, and was the first collection to introduce McQueen tartan. Shown on semi-naked, blood-spattered models that staggered down a runway strewn with heather and bracken, the clothes were intended to counter romantic images of Scotland. In contrast, Widows of Culloden, which was based on the final battle of the Jacobite Risings, was more wistful, featuring exaggerated silhouettes inspired by the 1880s. McQueen’s message, however, remained defiantly political: “What the British did there was nothing short of genocide.” Despite these heartfelt declarations of his Scottish national identity, McQueen felt intensely connected to England, especially London. “London’s where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration,” he said. His deep interest in the history of England was most apparent perhaps in The Girl Who Lived in the Tree (autumn/winter 2008–9), a dreamy quixotic fairy tale inspired by an elm tree in the garden of McQueen’s country home near Fairlight Cove in East Sussex. Influenced by the British Empire, it was one of McQueen’s most romantically nationalistic collections, albeit heavily tinged with irony and pastiche.

Romantic Exoticism

“I want to be honest about the world that we live in, and sometimes my political persuasions come through in my work. Fashion can be really racist, looking at the clothes of other cultures as costumes. . . . That’s mundane and it’s old hat. Let’s break down some barriers.”
—Alexander McQueen
McQueen’s romantic sensibilities expanded his imaginary horizons not only temporally but also geographically. As it had been for Romantic artists and writers, the lure of the exotic was central to his work. Like his historicism, McQueen’s exoticism was wide ranging—India, China, Africa, and Turkey all sparked his imagination. Japan was particularly significant to him, both thematically and stylistically. The kimono, especially, was a garment that he reconfigured endlessly. Remarking on the direction of his fashions, McQueen said, “My work will be about taking elements of traditional embroidery, filigree, and craftsmanship from countries all over the world. I will explore their crafts, patterns, and materials and interpret them in my own way.” As with many of his themes, however, McQueen’s exoticism was often expressed in contrasting opposites. That was the case with It’s Only a Game (spring/summer 2005), a show staged as a chess game inspired by a scene in the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), which pitched the East (Japan) against the West (America). Films often inspired McQueen, as did contemporary art. VOSS (spring/summer 2001), which featured a number of exoticized garments, including a coat and a dress appliquéd with roundels in the shape of chrysanthemums, was inspired by a photograph of Joel-Peter Witkin entitled Sanitarium (1983), which depicted an obese woman connected via a breathing tube to a stuffed monkey. On McQueen’s runway, the fetish writer Michelle Olley played the role of the woman. Typical of McQueen’s collections, VOSS offered a commentary on the politics of appearance, upending conventional ideals of beauty. For McQueen, the body was a site for contravention, where normalcy was questioned and the spectacle of marginality was embraced and celebrated.

Romantic Primitivism

“I try to push the silhouette. To change the silhouette is to change the thinking of how we look. What I do is look at ancient African tribes, and the way they dress. The rituals of how they dress. . . . There’s a lot of tribalism in the collections.”
—Alexander McQueen
Throughout his career, McQueen returned to the theme of primitivism, which drew upon the ideal of the noble savage living in harmony with the natural world. It was the focus of his first runway collection after graduating, Nihilism (spring/summer 1994). He said of the collection, “It was a reaction to designers romanticizing ethnic dressing, like a Masai-inspired dress made of materials the Masai could never afford.” It famously included a latex dress with locusts, McQueen’s statement on famine. Many of the pieces were coated with mud, a conceit the designer repeated in Eshu (autumn/winter 2000–2001), a collection inspired by the well-known deity in the Yoruba religion. The clothes, including a coat of black synthetic hair and a dress of black horsehair embroidered with yellow glass beads, came close to fetishizing materials. This fetishization also occurred in It’s a Jungle Out There (autumn/winter 1997–98), which was inspired by the Thomson’s gazelle. The collection was a meditation on the dynamics of power—in particular, the relationship between predator and prey. Indeed, McQueen’s reflections on primitivism were frequently represented in paradoxical combinations, contrasting “modern” and “primitive,” “civilized” and “uncivilized.” The storyline of Irere (spring/summer 2003) involved a shipwreck at sea and was peopled with pirates, conquistadors, and Amazonian Indians. Typically, McQueen’s narrative glorified the state of nature and tipped the moral balance in favor of the “natural man” or “nature’s gentleman” unfettered by the artificial constructs of civilization.

Romantic Naturalism

“I have always loved the mechanics of nature and to a greater or lesser extent my work is always informed by that.” —Alexander McQueen

Nature was the greatest, or at least the most enduring, influence upon McQueen. It was also a central theme, if not the central theme, of Romanticism. Many artists of the Romantic movement presented nature itself as a work of art. McQueen both shared and promoted this view in his collections, which often included fashions that took their forms and raw materials from the natural world. For McQueen, as it was for the Romantics, nature was also a locus for ideas and concepts. That is most clearly reflected in Plato’s Atlantis (spring/summer 2010), the last fully realized collection the designer presented before his death in February 2010. Inspired by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), it presented a narrative that centered not on the evolution of humankind but on its devolution. The collection was streamed live on Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.com in an attempt to make fashion into an interactive dialogue between creator and consumer. For the Romantics, nature was the primary vehicle for the Sublime—starry skies, stormy seas, turbulent waterfalls, vertiginous mountains. In Plato’s Atlantis, the Sublime of nature was paralleled and supplanted by that of technology—the extreme space-time compressions produced by the Internet. It was a powerful evocation of the Sublime and its coincident expression of the Romantic and the postmodern. At the same time, it was a potent vision of the future of fashion that reflected McQueen’s sweeping imagination.

VOSS, spring/summer 2001

Andrew Bolton: This particular dress came from a collection called VOSS, which was all about beauty. And I think one of McQueen’s greatest legacies was how he would challenge normative conventions of beauty and challenge your expectations of beauty—what we mean by beauty. This particular one is made out of ostrich feathers dyed red. And the glass slides are actually microscope slides that have been painted red to give the idea of blood underneath. And there’s a wonderful quote in association with this dress, where he talks about how there’s blood beneath every layer of skin. And it’s an incredible, again, very powerful, powerful piece.

In McQueen’s Words “There’s blood beneath every layer of skin.”

Plato’s Atlantis, spring/summer 2010
Andrew Bolton: As you can see here, McQueen designed many permutations of the frock coat. He made this one for the 2010 collection, Plato’s Atlantis. Here we have Sarah Burton—who was McQueen’s head designer for fourteen years—talk about the collection.
Sarah Burton: He was interested in this concept of hybrid. With those tailored pieces, specifically; they had tailored arms, but the body was jersey. So there’s this weird sort of hybrid and juxtapositioning of different fabrics and how would they react together.
So he took these jersey shifts, put them on the mannequin, and then cut into all of these tailored pieces and morphed the two together. When you watched him cut on the stand, it gave you goose bumps because he had a sort of bravery. He was never afraid of anything. It was never, “Oh, this is not going to work.” He was so confident and so clear about the way that he was doing things, and that was, I think . . . part of his genius is his knowledge of every single level of making clothes.
I remember on the last collection he did, he actually—on a piece of felt with a piece of chalk—chalked out a frock coat by eye, cut it out, and pinned it on a dummy and it was a perfect fit. That’s how familiar he was with that piece of clothing.

In McQueen’s Words “I like to think of myself as a plastic surgeon with a knife.”

“With me, metamorphosis is a bit like plastic surgery, but less drastic. I try to have the same effect with my clothes. But ultimately I do this to transform mentalities more than the body. I try and modify fashion like a scientist by offering what is relevant to today and what will continue to be so tomorrow.”

 Jacket, It’s a Jungle Out There, autumn/winter 1997–98

It’s a Jungle Out There, autumn/winter 1997–98
In McQueen’s Words
“When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there’s a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful. It kind of fends people off.”

“Bumster” Skirt
Highland Rape, autumn/winter 1995–96 (re-edition from original pattern)
Andrew Bolton: One of his most iconic designs in this particular gallery is the “bumster.” And there’s a lot of mythology around the bumster—that he was inspired by the builder’s bum. In McQueen’s mind, it was an experiment in elongating the body. For McQueen, the most exciting part of anybody’s body, male or female, was the bottom of the spine. And the bumsters is really about showcasing that part of the body.
Mira Hyde: My name is Mira Hyde, and I was living in the East End in an area called Hoxton Square, and Lee had moved into my building. He found out that I was a male groomer—I did hair and makeup for men—and invited me to do his next show. And that was how I first met Lee.
I was given a lot of the bumsters because I was quite small and I could wear them. It made you feel taller, especially when you wore them with heels, because then all of a sudden, you just look incredibly long legged and very long torsoed.
The bumcrack . . . sometimes you could see a bit of it, and sometimes it was just above it, but normally you would see just a touch. It was like a bum cleavage, and depending where I went, I would expose it, or I would wear a long shirt, depending on where I was. But I always got commented on it, everywhere.
Andrew Bolton: The bumster trouser caused a sensation when it was launched in the early nineties. I think what’s interesting about McQueen is how he would harness the attitude in the street. He was very much about anarchy and about the anarchy of the British street, the anarchy of British music, and trying to, again, harness that into his clothes. And the bumster was one of the garments that, very early on, would make his reputation as this provocateur.

In McQueen’s Words “[With 'bumsters'] I wanted to elongate the body, not just show the bum. To me, that part of the body—not so much the buttocks, but the bottom of the spine—that’s the most erotic part of anyone’s body, man or woman.”

The Horn of Plenty, autumn/winter 2009–10
Andrew Bolton: One of the most compelling items in this particular gallery is an ensemble that’s made out of duck feathers dyed black, which gives the impression of a raven. A raven was a Romantic symbol of death. It’s an item that’s very melancholic but also very romantic at the same time. It came from a collection called The Horn of Plenty. And The Horn of Plenty was a collection that was very much inspired by the 1950s haute couture. And you even see the silhouette here; you see the very nipped-in waist, the huge shoulders. McQueen loved a very hard shoulder and a very small waist. So even in this particular garment—even though it seems so extreme—he’s still referencing 1950s couture. He’s still playing with the proportions that he loved so much.
And feathers play such an important role in McQueen’s work. He loved birds. And feathers was a material that he would revisit again and again in his work.

In McQueen’s Words “It is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholy but romantic at the same time. It is the end of a cycle—everything has to end. The cycle of life is positive because it gives room for new things.”

Dante, autumn/winter 1996–97
Andrew Bolton: In the Victorian era, each stage of mourning demanded a different color, one of which was lilac. This corset’s jet beading is also associated with mourning. Here, we see McQueen finding poetry and beauty in death. The corset comes from his autumn/winter 1996–7 collection, called Dante. By this time, McQueen had gained an international reputation, but he was also still struggling to make a living. Louise Wilson, director of the MA program at Central Saint Martins, talks about those early years for McQueen—or Lee, as he is known to his friends:
Louise Wilson: There’s one thing you could say about Lee: he deserves every credit for what he did because it was incredibly hard when he left, and they had absolutely no money, and it was a very different time to now. And they lived in a squat. And although that all sounds very romantic, it was hell. And because of not having any money they took risks. And it sat outside of a fashion system.
Andrew Bolton: McQueen’s skill at making clothing helped him to succeed.
Louise Wilson: An architect doesn’t build the house for you; they employ the builders, whereas, Lee, in effect, built the house because he cut the patterns and he sewed the jackets. Basically, he didn’t need to depend on anybody. He didn’t have to employ a machinist. He didn’t have to employ a pattern-cutter at the very beginning. You know, if he had nothing he could still create.

In McQueen’s Words “People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality.”

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)
Autumn/winter 2010–11
Dress and glove of printed silk satin; underskirt of duck feathers painted gold
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce
Andrew Bolton: When Alexander McQueen died in February of 2010, he left this collection, called Angels and Demons, unfinished in his studio. Sarah Burton, McQueen’s chief designer for many years, helped to complete it.
Sarah Burton: It was very much inspired by handcraft and the idea that in a way in our culture there’s the loss of the artisan, the loss of people doing things with their hands and making beautiful artisanal clothing or carvings or paintings or sculpture.
And he looked at all the old masters and he looked at sort of medieval arts and religious iconography. It was almost looking at the Dark Ages and finding that there was a light in the Dark Ages.
There was still a modernity in the way that the fabrics were developed. So, for instance, there’s a dress with a Hieronymus Bosch jacquard on it, Heaven and Hell. And what we did is we scanned the painting and digitally wove the jacquard. So in a way you’ve still got this juxtaposition of the old and the new, which I think is always important in his work.

In McQueen’s Words “I relate more to that cold, austere asceticism of the Flemish masters, and I also love the macabre thing you see in Tudor and Jacobean portraiture.”
“For me, what I do is an artistic expression which is channeled through me. Fashion is just the medium.”

“Spine” Corset
Untitled, spring/summer 1998
Andrew Bolton: McQueen found ideas everywhere: in the streets, in nature, in art, and in history. He was even inspired by a green sweater worn by the character Joey on the TV sitcom Friends. You can also see the influence of film in this somewhat sinister corset.
Shaun Leane: He was always fascinated by the spine. So he asked me to create a corset, which was the spine with the rib cage, so that the girl could actually wear this as a corset on the outside of her body, so we would see the beauty of these bone structures on the outside, attached to the dress.
And as we were doing it, Alexander came to me and said, “Will you put a tail on this?” And where he got that idea was out of the film The Omen. When the mother of the omen was discovered—her skeleton—she was half-raven and half-dog, and he was quite inspired by this.

In McQueen’s Words “I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.” 

It’s Only a Game, spring/summer 2005
Naomi Campbell: He knew exactly what he wanted, and he knew exactly what he saw didn’t look right on you, and what he wanted on you. So fittings were very . . . they weren’t long and exhausting at all. They were quick. I love when someone just knows and tells you from A to Z exactly what they want. I love that.
I know his looks when I was watching—as a spectator watching the show; they were drastic with women. A lot of people thought, “Oh, he doesn’t like women.” But it’s not true; Lee loved women. It’s just a show. It’s a performance. Those were the most terrifying shows to do as a model but then, after, the most fun because you pushed yourself to do something out of your comfort zone, you know?

In McQueen’s Words “[In this collection] the idea of the chess game meant that we looked at six different types of women, women on opposing sides. We had the Americans facing the Japanese and the redheads facing the tanned Latinos.”

The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, autumn/winter 2008–9
In McQueen’s Words
“When I design, I try to sell an image of a woman that I have in [my] mind, a concept that changes dramatically each season.”
“[In this collection] she was a feral creature living in the tree. When she decided to descend to earth, she transformed into a princess.” 

The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, autumn/winter 2008–9
Andrew Bolton: This crimson coat and delicate empire-waist dress culminated a collection from 2008–9, inspired by the queens of England. As Sarah Burton explains:
Sarah Burton: It’s an enormous volume of fabric that at the neck is all bulleted and at the hem is all bulleted. But although it’s duchess satin, it still appears very light. And I think he wanted this sort of, you know, this regality but a lightness to it.
Andrew Bolton: The collection, called The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, was dreamy and romantically nationalistic, albeit tinged with irony. Sam Gainsbury produced the runway show for the collection, which featured an enormous tree wrapped in transparent grey silk:
Sam Gainsbury: Mostly Lee would have a very clear idea of who the girl was, and then from that point he would decide where she was, and then he’d decide what she was wearing. He had an amazing tree in his garden in Fairleigh, in his country house, and this tree had always fascinated him. So for me it was about the beauty and the power of this tree.
Andrew Bolton: McQueen conceived a fairy tale about a girl who dressed in beautiful black rags—presented during the first half of the show. When she met her prince, she descended from her tree, and her wardrobe exploded with the color, opulent materials, and jewels you see here.

In McQueen’s Words “I don’t really get inspired [by specific women]. . . . It’s more in the minds of the women in the past, like Catherine the Great, or Marie Antoinette. People who were doomed. Joan of Arc or Colette. Iconic women.”

It’s Only a Game, spring/summer 2005
Dress and obi-style sash of lilac and silver brocade; jacket of lilac silk faille embroidered with silk thread; Andrew Bolton: McQueen designed the 2005 collection It’s Only a Game around the idea of a chess match between America and Japan. Each ensemble corresponded to a particular chess piece.
The queen wears a short, thigh-high dress, which is wide at the hips, a silhouette based on the eighteenth century. A kimono collar, obi sash, and an undershirt beautifully embroidered to look like tattooing are all drawn from Japanese culture. Next to her, the king appears as an American football player, with shoulder pads and a helmet covered in Japanese tattooing.
In the runway show, the models moved as if they were pieces in a life-sized chess game, an idea inspired by a scene from Harry Potter. Taken as a whole, the collection revealed McQueen’s remarkable ability to look across cultures for inspiration.
Model Naomi Campbell was a close friend of McQueen’s and describes what it’s like to wear a McQueen ensemble:
Naomi Campbell: Everything was extreme. It wasn’t like you want to look beautiful. But you became this completely other creature. And you felt like you went into that vibe, and you went with it. It was regal but it was also with a story to tell, and it was futuristic. It was all in one. It was not predictable in any way or form.

In McQueen’s Words “[In this collection] the idea of the chess game meant that we looked at six different types of women, women on opposing sides. We had the Americans facing the Japanese and the redheads facing the tanned Latinos.”

In McQueen’s Words “[In this collection] the idea was to turn people’s faces on themselves. I wanted to turn it around and make them think, am I actually as good as what I’m looking at?”
“The show was staged inside a huge two-way mirrored box, whereby the audience was reflected in the glass before the show began and then the models could not see out once the show started.”
“These beautiful models were walking around in the room, and then suddenly this woman who wouldn’t be considered beautiful was revealed. It was about trying to trap something that wasn’t conventionally beautiful to show that beauty comes from within.”

Eshu, autumn/winter 2000–2001
Andrew Bolton: The 2001 collection Eshu was inspired by the Yoruba people of West Africa, mixing tribal details with luxurious fabrics. This dress, embroidered with yellow glass beads interwoven with horsehair, is a tour de force of the couture. McQueen contrasts the sophistication of the beading with the rawness of the hair. Sarah Jessica Parker:
Sarah Jessica Parker: I described his clothes once—and I hope this isn’t offensive—but they were like sometimes ugly-beautiful. You couldn’t just call them “beautiful” because it seems like saying, “It’s fine. You know, the dinner was fine. You know, the clothing was lovely. They were lovely.”
But I think it’s this sort of raw sex of his clothes with the very unusual androgyny, an attempt at that at the same time. He kind of married these opposites—these sort of contrasting ideas—you know. A very high neck, which is very, very hard to wear. It’s not particularly sexy. But because the fabric was so close to the body, everything hugged in a really amazing way. You would tend to consider a high neck where you mightn’t with anybody else’s, because it still felt really sexy.

In McQueen’s Words “[I try to] push the silhouette. To change the silhouette is to change the thinking of how we look. What I do is look at ancient African tribes, and the way they dress. The rituals of how they dress. . . . There’s a lot of tribalism in the collections.”

“Oyster” Dress
Irere, spring/summer 2003
Andrew Bolton: One of the highlights in this gallery is a dress called the “Oyster” Dress, which is made up of hundreds and hundreds of layers of silk organza, almost like a mille-feuille pastry. And the collection told the story of a shipwreck at sea and the subsequent landfall in the Amazon, and it was peopled with pirates, conquistadors, and Amazonian Indians.
And I think that what’s interesting about this particular dress is you see how McQueen evolved as a designer in terms of the fact that he was always well known as a tailor. With this particular dress, you see a much softer approach. As Sarah Burton explains:
Sarah Burton: He wanted this idea of it—was almost like she drowned—and the top part of the dress is all fine boning and tulle, and the chiffon is all frayed and disheveled on the top. The skirt is made out of hundreds and hundreds of circles of organza. Then, with a pen, what Lee did was he drew organic lines. And then all these circles were cut, joined together, and then applied in these lines along the skirt. So you created this organic, oyster-like effect.
Andrew Bolton: He learned softness at Givenchy; he learned draping at Givenchy. And this particular dress, I think, is a real tour de force of the couture and is a great reference to the skills that McQueen learned at the ateliers at Givenchy.

In McQueen’s Words “Working in the atelier [at Givenchy] was fundamental to my career . . . Because I was a tailor, I didn’t totally understand softness, or lightness. I learned lightness at Givenchy. I was a tailor at Savile Row. At Givenchy I learned to soften. For me, it was an education. As a designer I could have left it behind. But working at Givenchy helped me learn my craft.”

Sarabande, spring/summer 2007
In McQueen’s Words
“I liked the padded hips because they didn’t make the [piece] look historical, but . . . more sensual. Like the statue of Diana with breasts and big hips. It’s more maternal, more womanly.”

Sarabande, spring/summer 2007
In McQueen’s Words
“Remember Sam Taylor-Wood’s dying fruit? Things rot. . . . I used flowers because they die. My mood was darkly romantic at the time.”

Plato’s Atlantis, spring/summer 2010
Andrew Bolton: The exhibition ends with the collection Plato’s Atlantis, which was McQueen’s last collection while he was alive.
Sarah Burton: It was the idea of sort of the reversal of evolution, how life would evolve back into the water if the ice caps melted and we were being reclaimed by nature. We had all these engineered prints that he’d developed, sort of looking at the morphing of species, natural camouflages, and aerial views of the land.
We had research on the boards, and what he told us to do is he said, “I don’t want to look at any research. Turn all the boards around.” So he literally just worked from the fabric.
So what he would do is he would have an engineered print, and with that print he would place it on the form, and he would pin and construct these pieces that looked like they’d morphed out of the body themselves.
And only by taking the fabric and seeing how the fabric moved, you could come up with something new—by creating it on a body because clothes are to be worn; they’re not two-dimensional things. They are something that has to sit and mold onto a human being.
Andrew Bolton: The collection was streamed live over the Internet in an attempt to make fashion into an interactive dialogue with the audience. I think what’s particularly interesting is for the Romantics, nature was the primary vehicle for the Sublime, and for McQueen, technology was also a channel for the Sublime, particularly the extreme space/time compressions produced by the Internet.

“Jellyfish” Ensemble
Plato’s Atlantis, spring/summer 2010
Sarah Burton: I think with Plato’s Atlantis, it was real perfection the way he executed every single piece. But knowing Lee, he would have probably gone somewhere completely different after Angels and Demons. He would always surprise you, and that was the joy of working with him, is he would always take it somewhere that was unexpected.
Every time he would take up a different theme or a different angle or a different technique and he would always push it forward, like, relentlessly pushing forward. And you could never really predict what he was going to do because he was so much his own person. His vision was so pure.
And he was really funny, and he was really good fun to work for. And, you know, he was incredibly loyal and incredibly inspiring.
Andrew Bolton: McQueen once remarked, “I’m overly romantic,” but it was precisely his romantic yearnings that propelled his creativity and advanced fashion in directions previously considered unimaginable.

In McQueen’s Words “[This collection predicted a future in which] the ice cap would melt . . . the waters would rise and . . . life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath the sea once more or perish. Humanity [would] go back to the place from whence it came.”
Plato’s Atlantis (spring/summer 2010) program notes
“There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible.”

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