If there was ever a designer whose soul intention was to encompass the victim and the survivor in his creations, it would be McQueen. As his collection grew so did his need to empower woman, transforming the weak and incapable through his garments; he created a warrior, uncovered beauty when it wasn’t visible to the untrained eye and romanticised what most would view as tragic. In doing so he managed to capture the attention of the fashion world as a whole, despite being misunderstood by many, he continued to create and stun viewers until his very last show. This review includes texts written by Evans (2004) Quinn (2002) and Harriman (2011)
The main focus of this review will be on McQueens astounding ability to create in ways other designers could not. How he manipulated the fabric he worked with through cut, texture and construction leaving the viewer with an uncomfortable aesthetic, in conjunction this analysis will also outline four main themes analysed by Evans (2004). The themes being: Victimisation, Femme Fatale, terror and disenchantment. Addressing the four main themes the McQueen woman, instead of transforming into a new person, simply grows out of the Victim and into the aggressor, remaining beautiful and gaining respect throughout.
McQueen who firmly stated that he used fashion as a way to depict the unveiling times, Harriman (2011), did so through his designs. By deconstructing garments he managed to capture the essence of who he was and who he wanted the woman who wore he clothes to be. The garments themselves became a sort of armour for his wearer, empowering her through the usage of non-traditional materials, sharp objects as jewellery and below the belt tailoring that seemed unjust to the academic fashion writers of the times. In doing so not only was the emotive message clear, but he provided the viewers with a tangible one which over time allowed the viewer to understand his twisted psyche.
Using fashion as a way to address social issues and rebirth historical events never escaped McQueen. The whole point of fashion was to make a point, regardless of the shock value and criticism he received for pushing the boundaries of what was viewed as the norm. Perhaps the uncomfortable image of a model staggering down a run way covered in dirt and what appeared to be blood stained clothes seems extreme, in terms of what we as a society allow to remain unspoken. McQueen believed that breaking the silence around the treatment of woman was obligatory. Described as “aggressive and disturbing” Evans (2004) Highland Rape challenged the victimisation of woman and “England’s rape of Scotland” McQueen (1995) however the latter was not considered.
Not only did the models portray what seemed to be a devastating reality but the garments they wore gave itself to the story, torn and slashed creating a feeling a vulnerability amongst the spectators only fuelled the fire. The Harsh styling often used by McQueen was intend to lend itself to the historical event he portrayed through his garments. The way in which a garment was constructed was the soul of the show and the meaning it carried along with it, had they been constructed in a typical format the entirety of the message would fall away.
“Promoting power and sexuality, seduction and art for the modern woman, fashion visually constructed the femme fatale.” Harriman (2011, p.7) McQueen often stated how he wanted to create a woman who was feared by men, a woman who used her sexuality openly as a weapon against the opposite sex. Someone who respected as an equal. Dante, 1996, explored and suggested that there was strength and beauty to be found in death, that the allure of a woman to a man should be deadly. Through his immaculate tailoring and construction McQueen created garments that encouraged strength in the wearer, elegant materials contrasted with the bold structures suggesting the wearer was soft however if deconstructed like much of his garments one would find someone to fear, this was clearly evident in the corset piece, Dante, with extending lapels, Joseph(2013), its beauty juxtaposed with its stiff upholding illustrated her supremacy, lending itself to the idea that a woman could protect herself in an uncertain world.
Arguably McQueens intention was to create a being that was beyond a woman, providing so much strength and power through his garments that she morphed into something superior. Evans (2004) A little terror goes a long way in this cruel world, a defence mechanism used by the predator he so desperately wanted to create. Without gender there can be no boundaries however sexuality remained a key theme throughout, conceivably sexual violence does not refer to a specific gender as sexuality rules all species. Using Gazelle horns in “It’s a Jungle out there” referred both to a weak animal however extended the already tall model, giving her hight allows for power and provides a certain amount of dread, the model too looked alien like instead of human, Evans (2004).
Amongst this all is the underlying tone of disenchantment, for what would a good show be without some tragedy, romanticising the darkness within us all was imperative to McQueen, incorporating it in his shows was essential, the ghosts of the past so far back as to the Victorian era along with his own provoked anxiety amidst the senses. A bold intertwine of beauty and trepidation.
Dismembering the ideas of what fashion embodies allowed for McQueen to carefully deconstruct a specific idea. To set in motion a plan he so strongly believed in. Through what seemed like self-destructive garments that defined the laws of fashion, worn by woman who discarded their place in what was no longer a mans world but a world with men in it Evans (2004). Violent gestures incorporated in his garments through slashing and tearing contrasted elegantly with military tailoring that created structure in a world full of tragedy. A woman who could endure pain was a woman born a victim but grown into a feared and respected leader. Quinn(2002)
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Evans, C. (2009) Alexander McQueen. In: issue #7 – Summer 2004: At war with the obvious. p. 96-107.
Quinn, B. (2002) Techno Fashion. New York, Berg Publishers, pp 38 – 50.
Harriman, A. (2011) Alexander McQueen and the Neo-Victorian Femme Fatale ARTH 702 – R. Bagnole.
Joseph, J (2013) Alexander McQueen Dante Jacket savage beauty.Style Noir. Weblog [online]. 26 February. Available: http://www.stylenoir.co.uk/alexander-mcqueen-dante-jacket-savage-beauty/ [5/9/2013]
Joseph, J (2013) Alexander McQueen Dante corset.Style Noir. Weblog [online]. 26 February. Available: http://www.stylenoir.co.uk/alexander-mcqueen-dante-jacket-savage-beauty/ [5/9/2013].
Alexander McQueen (2011) Coat, Dante, autumn/winter 1996-97. Savage Beauty. Weblog [online] 4 May. Available: http://blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen/tag/dante/ [5/9/2013].