Alexander McQueen is a fantastical
fashion designer who tells tales with his clothes. He was born in the East End of London in 1970; he started out modestly enough as an impressive pattern-cutter at the age of sixteen in some tailor workshops. He then studied at the esteemed Central Saint Martin's College of Art & Design, graduating in 1991. He promptly emerged on the fashion scene (which was particularly lethargic for the time) amidst much hype, and he was then dubbed an ‘enfant terrible
’. He was named Best British Designer of the Year in October 1996, and days later, was named John Galliano
’s successor as new chief designer at Givenchy
. Alexander introduced his own label and secured tabloid
headlines with the unveiling of his infamous, very
', as well as gaining a small but ferociously devoted clientele.
His clothes are often less often things to wear and more often all out, sparkling, rocketing, explosive spectacles. This is not merely to be an exhibitionist for the sake of being noticed, he actually works thematically and contextually. He is now one of the leading lights of international design.
His runway shows actually leave the runway almost forgotten. They are shows, they are gleefully outrageous displays of colour and ideas; McQueen is well known for his extreme flair and innovation. Fashionistas have been seen to actually fight over tickets to one of his shows, which are the highlight of London Fashion Week. In the past, he has surrounded models with rings of fire, saturated them with water, sent them wandering through a wintry forest or skating on ice, and had them sprayed with automated paint guns in this bizarre art-in-motion extravaganza. His odd creations startlingly stand on their own even when surrounded by these spectacular distractions.
One show which stands out in my mind is the one where he decorated the runway with a pool of water to represent oil, filled it with spikes and stakes and then sent the models gloomily flying over the pit. He sasys he was making a statement about the oppresson of Islamic women in the wealthy, oil-producing countries of the Middle East. The outfits indeed have Middle Eastern influence, but McQueen gives them a strong Western attitude. "There are gripes against fundamentalism in the Middle East -- like covering the women up," he says. "That's why there's so many of these nude bikini-type swimsuits, because I don't believe in repression against women."
My favourite show however was one where the audience gathered round a glass cell, where eerie music was played whilst models with bandaged heads and gowns made entirely of feathers, with stuffed, stiff, dead looking gulls on their shoulders drifted around ‘searching’ for a way our of their trap. The bandages were suggestive of lobotomies, and it possessed a very dystopic, Hieronymus Bosch sense about it. There were ruffles and bone and sheer things and mussels.
Each of McQueen’s creations is declarative and angular, and yet astonishingly fits naturally with other pieces. He is known as ‘the bad boy of fashion’, and yet, although his pieces are bold in theme, they maintain an unnoticed dignity, which sells. (Quite obviously). But it is his carefully disseminated image which has made him a star in his own right, and has won him rock ‘n’ roll clients such as as David Bowie and The Prodigy’s Keith Flint.