Alexander Lee McQueen once quoted “I find beauty in the grotesque.” This was a notion which was very much affirmed by the late designer’s extensive and indicative body of work. Although McQueen’s collections were a masterpiece through their marriage of theatrical talent and technical flare, they often left visitors to his sartorial spectacles with a sensation of disturbance and an equal state of respect and repulsion. An acute attention to shocking detail was always observed; he transformed models’ eyes to blood red, affixed skeletons to their faces and placed one completely naked, in a glass enclosure brimming with moths.
¨ McQueen´s legacy was one of profound but deeply transgressive beauty. He was an undisputed bastion of the gothic romantic aesthetic. ¨ – Charles Daniel McDonald
Alexander drew inspiration from everything except the mainstream; he courted his inspirations which ranged from the magnificent to the macabre and everything in-between. Some of the more twisted and dark themes of his spectacular runway shows ranged from the Gothic fairy tales of the Grimm brothers, the infamous turn of the century serial killer, Jack The Ripper, Victorian mental asylum patients, atrocities committed by the British armies at Scotland´s haunting Glencoe as well as paying homage to one of his ancestors who lost her life through hanging at the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Here are his five force majeure´s.
JACK THE RIPPER STALKS HIS VICTIMS MA GRADUATION COLLECTION (1992)
McQueen’s morose approach to aesthetics was apparent from the very first stages of his career. His now legendary 1992 Central Saint Martin´s MA collection was inspired by none other than Jack The Ripper – the North London serial killer who hunted and murdered prostitutes for several years over the 1880´s. McQueen was no stranger to the legacy of Jack as he grew up in the East End area of London. Fashion hearsay suggests that one of his relatives reputedly rented a bedroom to one of The Rippers fatalities. Each garment in his graduation collection featured a lock of his hair which was encapsulated between two layers of acrylic, which also thoughtfully tied into the notion of Victorian London customs such as exchanging hair with lovers, which many times was bought from prostitutes to save damaging their flowing manes of that time.
Featuring an alternative line-up to the traditional front row, fashion journalists were joined by a skeleton for McQueen’s A/W´16 show which took place in Spitalfield´s Christ Church. This landmark building was designed by architect / Satanist Nicholas Hawsmoor and it acted as a suitable host for Alexander’s latest chapter of frightening, fairy tale fashion entitled Dante, after the 14th century Florentine poet, recognised in art circles for his images of conflict and religious iconography. Using the narrative or war and peace, the show featured male models styled in the mood of Hispanic teen gangs straight from Paul Morrissey´s 1984 film, Mixed Blood. Horns and antlers sprouted prominently from their female counterparts with some wearing a crown of thorns and another face gently masked in a fine silk cover, complete with skeletons hand clasp.
As well as one of the most visually engaging shows in terms of its beauty and aesthetics, models wore bald caps and red contact lenses and his protagonist for this season, Joan, was given a darkly political overtone. As the title suggests, McQueen was inspired by Joan Of Arc, a 15th century French female warrior who led her country’s army to victory in their battle against the English. During her final hours, she was captured, tried for heresy and burned alive at the stake. McQueen’s attention to detail left nothing overlooked – Industrial lamps swung eerily over the catwalk as the models made a staccato strut towards their audience wearing elegant dresses, sharp suits, floor length coats and chain mail, armour made from silver plated metal. For the grand finale, a masked model took place on a ring of fire ferociously ignited around her.
For many fashion critics, VOSS was McQueen´s finest work. Padded walls and a white-tiled catwalk floor set the scene for his spring / summer offering which was inspired by a Victorian mental asylum. The models paid reference to this notion in their overall styling; some had their arms pinned down by decadently embroidered coats which were made to look like straight-jacket, some had their heads bandaged, whilst other had taxidermy birds roosting in their haywire hair. At the end of the show, a box which was installed in the middle of the room fell apart at all sides to reveal a glass case with a naked woman sprawled inside. Surrounded by hundreds of live moths, she wore a metal mask embellished with birds’ wings and a thick tube which projected from her mouth. During this, the sound of a heartbeat which had been accompanying the show was broken off by a haunting flat-line alarm with McQueen justifying this notion as being ¨about trying to trap something that wasn’t conventionally beautiful to show that beauty comes from within.”
WHAT A MERRY GO ROUND (A/W´01)
This show was straight out of your darkest childhood nightmares. What A Merry Go Round saw the models delicate faces transformed into borderline terrifying human canvases. McQueen´s rationale for the show was “We show children clowns as if they are funny, but they’re not. They’re actually really scary,” and he meant it. The show was staged to resemble a sinister children´s nursery which was decked out in giant teddy bears, ventriloquists’ dummies and rocking horses – all covered in a sprinkling of cobwebs. The show was set to the sound of the cult 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where the un-nerving child catcher´s voice set the pace for the models as they walked; some of whom had golden skeletons clasped to their ankle as they navigated the black runway in this haute house of horrors.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Media: Alexander McQueen