Next month the long-awaited documentary McQueen is scheduled to show in the Picturehouse Central London, celebrating the extraordinary creative talent of one of the most innovative designers in fashion history, namely Alexander McQueen. Before the documentary airs, we present a breakdown of how McQueen reshaped fashion.
Sifting through McQueen’s rich archive, it’s almost impossible to collate just five standout trends that reshaped fashion as the legendary designer consistently spoiled us with breath-taking spectacles, unique themes, and beautiful, magical creations. But it is safe to say he was not scared to shy away from controversy. To be precise, following Coke Kate Gate, McQueen stepped out at the finale of his SS 2006 show in a T-shirt emblazoned with “We Love You, Kate”. With an unparalleled talent and passion, since his death eight years ago, Alexander McQueen has left a lasting legacy on the fashion world.
McQueen began his career as an apprentice on Savile Row – the spiritual home of personalised British men’s tailoring. It was this exact position that earned him a reputation in the world of fashion as an expert at creating an immaculately tailored look. As Alexandra Shulman, the former editor-in-chief of British Vogue comments: “He was incredibly clever at cutting clothes.” Furthermore, his experience at Anderson & Sheppard, and Gieves and Hawkes taught him the disciplines of shape and proportion in traditional tailoring. During this time of his career, he made a suit for Prince Charles.
As Eilidh Macaskill, the editor of InStyle magazine explains, McQueen wasn’t just about crazy looks on the catwalk. “He also created beautiful, beautiful wearable clothes… the razor-sharp suit, the pencil skirts, the beautiful prints in the spring and summer collection”. It is not only Macaskill who displays this opinion but Sawyer believes the way McQueen’s clothes were tailored had an impact beyond the catwalk. “The cut is everything. It affected fashion and it filtered on to the High Street.”
McQueen was deeply inspired by women, and he surrounded himself with strong female figures, including his beloved mother Joyce, as well as fashion editor and mentor Isabella Blow. He was accused of being a misogynist after his show entitled Highland Rape, which saw dishevelled models walk down the catwalk wearing ripped torn clothes and revealing undergarments. McQueen contested, stating that it wasn’t about the rape of women, but rather about his Scottish history and experiences in his personal life. Blow once commented that McQueen changed the way women walked by moving the silhouette past the hips. While his outlook on women sometimes appeared brutal and he often played with the idea of women as prey and predators, they were never victims and their clothes were amour. “They don’t look vulnerable,” Professor Claire Wilcox, senior fashion curator, told the Guardian. “Actually, they look like they might punch you.”
Bumster (low-slung jeans)
Alexander McQueen was the man who made “bumsters”, which appeared in 1996, spawned the trend in perilously low-rise, crevice-revealing jeans. There were thoughts that McQueen originally got his inspiration from the “builder’s bum”, which was when trousers were worn accidentally too low, yet the designer later said it was about elongating the female form. He commented, “It wasn’t about showing the bum… To me, that part of the body – not so much the buttocks, but the bottom of the spine – that’s the most erotic part of anyone’s body, man or woman,”.
“The bumster for me is what defined McQueen,” says Michael Oliveira-Salac, the director of Blow PR and a friend of McQueen’s from his early days in the fashion industry. “For me, it was the look that put him on the map because it was controversial.”
“Those little bumsters were in his first shows. It was like 20 people in England were wearing them back then.”
Due to its extravagance, it was a look that developed over time, although very few dared to bare all and go as low as McQueen’s signature buttock-baring style. As hipster jeans became pervasive throughout the 1990s and 2000s, a new term, “muffin top”, was invented to describe the resulting over-hang of hip flesh caused by low-riding waistbands. As a result of this women’s waistbands have edged closer to the waist once more – but when McQueen first sent out his models in bumsters, it was a radical departure and attracted many views of debate.
Mr Oliveira-Salac says the style achieved what McQueen set out to do.
“It wasn’t about it being frivolous, it was about being different.”
A new form of beauty
McQueen was romantic, passionate and intense and he was fascinated by death and nature. Animal symbolism often featured within his work, a nod to fragility and strength. One of his most famous creations came by way of the Armadillo shoe, which was shaped like a lobster claw and with a staggering 12-inch heel. Lady Gaga managed to get through an entire music video wearing the Armadillo shoes.
“He didn’t just create fashion, he created spectacles,” says the fashion designer Scott Henshall. “He had Sophie Dahl encased with butterflies, he had models sprayed with paint to enter his finale catwalk shows and he really elevated fashion to what it should be.”
Furthermore, for McQueen the creative palette extended further than just clothes, says Mr Oliveira-Salac.
“It wasn’t just about the clothes – it was the whole look. The lipstick and the make-up was very prominent.”
McQueen’s new form of beauty has been credited for adding a sense of fantasy, rebellion and edge to fashion.
Theatrical catwalk show
From birdcages to feathered wings, McQueen has changed the face of the catwalk with theatrical drama. Designer Sir Paul Smith comments, “his shows were often very theatrical… I seem to remember one show where there were antlers”. To elaborate on McQueen’s theatrical drama, he used new technology and innovation to add a twist to proceedings. In 2006 he projected a holographic 3D image of model Kate Moss on to the runway. He further experimented with streaming his catwalk shows live on the internet. Earlier shows featured a volcanic catwalk that erupted in flames and a giant Plexiglass snowstorm. As commented by the BBC, “his extravagant and colourful shows were always a hot ticket in the fashion world”.
What do you think McQueen did to reshape fashion?
Text: Ella Buxton
Images: NSS Magazine, Vogue, Pinterest, Art-Sheep, Savage Beauty,