In the summer of 1992, the London press wrote of the Alexander McQueen collection: “Jack the Ripper hunts down his victims” . Among the dark, sexy Dickensian silks, a frock coat with an origami tail, a fussy tuxedo and a red lining with human hair sewn inside. The presentation showed a wonderful gloss, but by that time the ambitious McQueen had already gained his experience. When the designer was sixteen years old, he abandoned his textbooks and took up scissors. He managed to charm the editor-in-chief of British Vogue , who was the first to take the talented designer under her wing.
At first, Alexander spoke of himself as a designer cultivating a reputation as a bad boy. He even boasted that exemplary behavior was not for him. On the catwalks during the show of his collections, you could see models with punk-style hairstyles, deep necklines and cutouts on the back to the buttocks. His outrageous Bumster pants, which were even ridiculed in the newspaper, received a new boost when the queen of pop, Madonna, appeared in an MTV commercial. After a while, these trousers were credited to the low-rise jeans trends. At the end of one of the shows, the designer again managed to amaze by showing a bow fitted on a bare butt. Confident in his exceptional talent, the writer Hamish Bowles once wrote that McQueen would never let himself succumb to American Vogue.
McQueen indulged in his fantasies in a tiny abandoned laboratory in Hoxton Square in London. He was able to create a bolt-on jacket reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands and acquire a dramatic style while working on commissions. His clothes soared to the heavens – so quickly they became a success (for example, when his models put on wings made of wood and lace). His collections of creepy elements taken from the underworld of nightmares burst into the world of gothic. Scary birds hovered over the wearer’s bandaged head, painfully tight corsets were adorned with metal ribs and spikes, and the heads of baby crocodile turned into epaulettes.
The designer’s breakthrough was the 1995 Highland Rape collection, which addressed the destruction of Scottish heritage by the British. Models appeared on the catwalk in tatters of lace, splashing fake blood around. “McQueen’s experiments have caused a lot of psychosis and madness in the fashion world” – so they spoke of the designer in Vogue in 1999. He was repeatedly accused of hatred of women. But McQueen constantly insisted that his only goal was empowerment. “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress,” he said.
This feverish creativity was associated with a desire for shock and admiration. “It all started with a show,” said house historian Trino Verkade in 2011. “Lee saw the collection as clothes and mise-en-scènes – thanks to the music.” On one occasion, McQueen lined up his guests and invited them to watch the show on pews next to grinning skeletons. He greeted them with the calls of birds, the ringing of bells and the sounds of car accidents. Models walked the runway through artificial rain, snow, gale-force winds, fire and ice. The Olis flew dangerously close to the giant bed of nails and danced until they dropped. They turned into clowns and conquistadors, mentally ill and wild animals, androids and humanoid chess pieces.
McQueen’s work turned his nightmares into reality thanks to the successful work of his colleagues: jeweler Shaun Leane, hatter Philip Treacy, stylist Katy England , art director Simon Costin and producer Sam Gainsbury. But to combine their work into a work of art, McQueen needed to be a true technical virtuoso. Underwire corsets, structured bodices, fragile tulle and lace are just some of the great designer’s ideas. In addition, coats that bulged like the sails of a brigantine, sparkling painted sequins on dark bodices, a seam on the spine made of mollusks and sea shells.
Some of his clothes were of the most elaborate design, with painstaking fringe and beadwork and glass beads, the art of which the master perfected in the 1990s during his stay in the Parisian fashion house Givenchy. It was there that his fantasy in the style of the Brothers Grimm acquired some romantic overtones. With the masters of Givenchy, the designer began to work more thoughtfully and intricately. “I learned tenderness, and what it means to soften,” he once said.
In 2000, McQueen signed a contract with the Gucci Group, which brought him a majority stake, but still allowed him to maintain his creative direction. The support helped him take his brand to the next level, commercially. Workshops were opened in New York, London and Milan, and fragrances were also sold along with glasses and bags. Menswear was introduced to the brand in 2004, followed by a second menswear line from McQ in 2006.
In the fall of 2009, McQueen impressed with the height of his art in a collection called “Plato’s Atlantis”. Hair and makeup were done by Guido Palau and Peter Philips, who helped McQueen transform the models into sci-fi sea creatures. Excited about his first live shows, Alexander McQueen began to dream of a radiant holographic show with glass pyramids around the world. “This is the birth of a new dawn ,” he told WWD, “I’ll take you on a journey you couldn’t even dream of.”
Just four months later, after the death of his beloved mother, the designer committed suicide. “Creativity is a very fragile thing, and Lee was very fragile, despite soy sharp corners,” said his longtime collaborator Tracy. “Lee was a shy, unassuming man, which is very rare in the fashion world,” commented British Vogue.
Sarah Barton, who had worked with McQueen for fourteen years, put the finishing touches on the unfinished collection and sent it to memory. It was full of romance, historical motives. This was shown very well in the final piece: high coat collars of gilded duck feathers worn over skirts of fine embroidered tulle. Winged creatures have always occupied a place in McQueen’s imagination. “I’m trying to transfer the beauty of a woman to a bird,” he said.
In May 2010, Barton took over as her mentor, drawing on his rich palette of designs. Since the beginning of Burton’s leadership in the house, the house has adopted more feminine designs, has become softer. Simpler pieces began to appear on the catwalk, without the formidable details that McQueen loved. In April 2011, her talent was embodied in Kate Middleton ‘s wedding dress for her wedding to Prince William . The royal event had a global impact on the fashion house, as well as a record number of visitors to the Met Costume Institute in 2011. Today, in fulfillment of McQueen’s longtime dreams of commercial growth, Barton puts more emphasis on durability, which is why the collection’s clothing is increasingly appearing in the wardrobe of women from the real world.