Fashion History: Alexander McQueen

As a lover of fashion, there’s nothing that excites me more than this time of year. Fashion designers new and old show off their collections every week in all of the major fashion cities in the world. This week, in particular, belongs to Paris, which is exhibiting one of my favorite fashion houses, Alexander Mcqueen, tonight at 8 p.m.! You can bet that I will be in virtual attendance. Although there is something to be said for the label’s current design work, it certainly pales in comparison to the theatrics of its former self. I cannot help but reminisce on the creative controversy it once invoked. Words like provocative, lewd, misogynistic, absurd, disturbing, and sickening were all used by the press to describe former head designer Lee Alexander McQueen’s work. Through his showmanship and talent, McQueen riveted audiences at the turn of the century. He specifically captured my attention when I learned that he collaborated and designed for my idol, Lady Gaga. Although his time in the fashion world was cut short due to suicide, his legacy and mark in fashion live on. Here’s a look back at some of the shows that made McQueen a cult figure in the fashion world. 

1) Highland Rape 1992

In McQueen’s Words

“[This collection] was a shout against English designers . . . doing flamboyant Scottish clothes. My father’s family originates from the Isle of Skye, and I’d studied the history of the Scottish upheavals and the Clearances. People were so unintelligent they thought this was about women being raped—yet Highland Rape was about England’s rape of Scotland.” – from Vogue

This collection showcases the beauty of vulnerability. Considered one of his most controversial shows, it’s also one of his most personal. McQueen himself was a victim of sexual assault and this collection, in turn, feels almost autobiographical. Never shying away from darkness, he portrayed through metaphor a historical event he found deeply disturbing and personal. Throughout the show, you’ll find Scottish prints as well as incredible lacework. Not many fashion designers can claim they developed a silhouette but within this show is a design referred to as, “bumsters,” an invention that led to the low-rise jean trend of the ’90s. Although highly misunderstood at the time, it now stands as a testament to McQueen’s unabashed theatrical talent.

2) La Poupée 1997

La Poupée, or “The Doll,” was a fashion show that heavily focused on the constraints of the fashion world and the human body. The idea behind fashion is to emphasize or overexaggerate parts of the human body. Mcqueen was inspired by an artist named Hans Bellmer, who was known to chop up dolls and rearrange them into new creations. To me, this show represents how otherworldly fashion design can be. It represents how models are dolls for the fashion designer, and they can be transformed in front of the public in the designer’s eyes. Particularly, in this show, McQueen portrays this with a number of metal constraints that inhibited the models from appearing or walking normally.

3) No.13 1999

For me, this is one of the greatest fashion shows of all time. It’s full of beautifully tailored pieces that are serene and harmonic. The music is very calming and the turntables make the models appear like fashion ballerinas in a music box. Many of the designs feature a McQueen favorite: lace. However, he also experimented with many materials like wood. The show took a drastic turn in the finale; this is a performance that ever since has become a cultural staple that is referenced in many shows, including “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

4) VOSS 2001

Presented in a glass cube with an asylum feel, Alexander Mcqueen again does the unnerving and unthinkable. Before the show starts, all of the journalists and attendants were forced to stare at their own reflection. This encouraged the audience to self-examine themselves and created a self-conscious, hyper-aware feeling. When the lights came on, it was clear that the models are unable to see out of the box. McQueen challenged a number of fashion norms by presenting models with taxidermy attached to them and bloodred luxury ostrich feathers on a dress. When the show seemed to have come to an end, it was shocking to see the glass fall to present a naked pregnant woman surrounded by moths. No matter what confusion McQueen’s work may stir in me, there’s nothing I respect more in a designer or showman than invoking emotion, understood or not.

5) Plato’s Atlantis 2010

McQueen’s show was live-streamed at the beginning of the decade and it shot through the cultural landscape of the developing web. Featuring gigantic infamous heels, bold prints, and futuristic designs, this show inadvertently is tied in closely with the rise of Lady Gaga. Bad Romance first premiered at the finale of the show, and it was written specifically with the runway in mind (walk, walk fashion baby, work it move that b**** crazy”). Many of the pieces in this show ended up in the music video for Bad Romance and cemented a long-lasting collaboration between McQueen and Gaga. This shows McQueen’s willingness to take fashion to extremes; beauty is not always comfortable.

Below are photos of McQueen’s clothes from the show on Gaga in the Bad Romance music video:

As you can see, McQueen left a void in the fashion world. He was a designer that understood how to make darkness, tragedy, and horror beautiful. Fashion is a theatrical presentation, and being able to convey something larger than clothes is an art that should be more exercised. I hope you enjoyed a look back at some of the shows that made Alexander Mcqueen one of the most renowned and respected designers of all time. And I hope you all enjoy the show tonight!