(Lee) Alexander McQueen made his fascination with death public knowledge and pointedly expressed this throughout his collections over the years. It should come as no surprise then that his SS10 sunglasses campaign featured barren skulls sporting his shades. However, the timing was a bit grim.
Waves of sorrow rushed through the fashion community in February of 2010 upon hearing the news of McQueen's suicide. The much loved designer was known for his obsession with the dark side, but no one expected this. The death of his mother had effectively shaken up his world and it seems that the grief was just too much to bear. He took his own life in his apartment after ingesting a significant amount of sleeping pills, tranquilizers and cocaine he sliced up his wrists and hung himself with his favorite brown belt. Described by those who knew him as incredibly sweet, introverted and kind, his passing has broken more than a few hearts. The fact of his suicide made it somewhat difficult to view all the retrospectives and read all the articles that discussed his love of death -- and I remember vividly the day that I first saw those sunglasses ads featuring the sunnies neatly placed on the bones of a skeleton. "Ack too soon." That was all I could say or think, and it really stuck in my head all day. But emotions aside, thinking back, that's probably the exact reaction McQueen would've wanted. He built his career by shattering the status quo -- he created the unimagined and he accomplished the unprecedented.
Andrew Bolton, curator of the McQueen archive exhibit Savage Beauty
and the Costume Institute, describes his work
"His fashions were an outlet for his emotions, an expression of the deepest, often darkest, aspects of his imagination. He was a true romantic in the Byronic sense of the word – he channeled the sublime." McQueen was best known for his runway exhibitions, the shows were always filled with drama, suspense and created narratives that spoke to performance art and avant garde installation. He knew how to tap into the emotion associated with beauty, but at the same time he loved to create juxtapositions that left the viewer fascinated yet somewhat uneasy. He played with dark and light in a way that ignored the function of clothing and looked beyond it to the deeper conceptual meaning. He loved to work within philosophical constructs
, often playing with the Romanticism movement's vision of the Sublime, "McQueen engaged deeply with other philosophical abstractions of the Romantic Movement – individualism, historicism, nationalism, exoticism, primitivism, and naturalism – which are presented as the dominant thematics of this exhibition. What comes to light is a vision of fashion that aimed to reconstitute the Romantic past into the Postmodern present."
[caption id="attachment_6656" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="SS10 Sunglasses ad campaign"]
[caption id="attachment_6654" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Met Exhibit: The Romantic Mind gallery view"]
Memento Mori is a Latin phrase meaning "remember that you will die." This was a concept that McQueen embraced, particularly in his final men's collection for Fall 2010. His beautifully tailored suits made their way down the runway featuring patterns of exposed bones. The backdrop showed ancient ossuaries -- the final resting place for human remains. McQueen's fascination with the macabre is present throughout his entire body of work, and he has commented,
"I don't want to do a cocktail party, I'd rather people left my shows and vomited. I prefer extreme reactions." This visionary approach to an industry of beauty put McQueen head and shoulders above the rest. His work never blended, it never was mistaken. He forged his own path on the runway and used design to channel his own realm in an expression to the public.
[caption id="attachment_6653" align="aligncenter" width="563" caption="AW10 dress"]
Imagination was the foundation of his design and his innovative eye touched every piece of his collections from conception to presentation. He took fashion beyond utility and explored what else could lie within the work. His cutting and construction techniques were revolutionary -- his origami three point frock coat and his "bumsters" pants that laid so low on the hip they exposed the model's bum were entirely of his own mind. He is a master of bespoke British tailoring and in fact comments
, "Everything I do is based on tailoring." He mixed the "precision and traditions of tailoring and pattern making with the spontaneity and improvisations of draping and dressmaking" -- a technique that he polished to a fine art while stationed as the creative director of Givenchy. His work came to head when he began his eponymous line in 2001 and he has been a critics favorite across his career -- winning the British Designer of the Year award in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003. He also was awarded the CFDA International Designer of the Year award in 2003.
[caption id="attachment_6657" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="AW09 The Horn of Plenty: a look at animal and man"]
The dialectical oppositions that he calls upon in his collections create an intensity that is rarely seen on the runway. He almost always looks to light and dark -- terror and romance, wonder and fright, life and death -- to achieve this effect. He has in this way become the anti-hero of fashion. A man seemingly consumed by the ideation and philosophy behind his line instead of the straightforward aesthetics of it all. And in doing so he has created some of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of our generation. The uneasiness that he presents in the collections may be a reflection of himself, with some even going so far as to claim that the themes of death he often used precluded his suicide, but it is safe to say that his creations, even if created from sorrow, brought joy the world round. RIP AMQ.
[caption id="attachment_6658" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="AW96"]
[caption id="attachment_6659" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="It's a Jungle Out There AW97"]
[caption id="attachment_6660" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="MCQ Advert"]
[caption id="attachment_6661" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="VOSS SS01: commentary on the politics of appearance via obese woman on the runway"]
[caption id="attachment_6666" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Savage Beauty"]
HALLOWEEN WITH McQUEEN Autumn/Winter 2011/12 from V Magazine on Vimeo.
AW11 Scarf Collection short film by Babette Pauthier
[caption id="attachment_6667" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The man himself"]