As part of our course, we are required to watch a fashion film every week and this week’s film was MCQUEEN & I. I thought I’d write my thoughts on some of the topics that caught my attention while watching this. I certainly found it interesting and has broaden my knowledge on the designer himself and his ‘mentor’ fashion stylist and editor Isabella Blow.
Even before I got interested in fashion, I knew who Alexander McQueen was and how amazing and beautiful his catwalk shows were. I wasn’t aware of his working class background or his early education and success. Before the university fees were introduced, McQueen went straight to Central Saint Martins for a job but ended up getting a Master’s Degree. Nowadays, that would be very hard to do, less accessible and back then there wasn’t much pressure.
“Models – decorated or violated?”
Of course I’ve seen images of his runway shows but I never knew about his questionable portrayal of women in his shows. It not only unsettled his audience, the press, but also myself. We only saw various clips of different shows, but it was enough to make me feel uncomfortable. The ‘Highland Rape’ show had shock value, violence and it caused a lot of controversy back then. But the press never missed a show. Which was what McQueen wanted; it got publicity and recognition. Some of his other shows had negative connotations, from slavery to distressing and disturbing performance of a naked woman lying on a bed with wasps around her.
There was show that particularly captured my attention. It was the VOSS (SS01) and apparently it’s McQueen’s most celebrated and dramatic catwalk show ever. “The centre piece tableau that dominated the room was an enormous glass box. But because the room outside the box was lit and the inside of the box was unlit, the glass walls appeared as large mirrors, so that the seated audience saw only their own reflection.” Then the show began. This amused me because it was a very unique and clever concept to do, make the fashion press and audience look at themselves for over an hour before critiquing the clothes and the models. It reinforced the idea that the fashion industry can be ruthless and shallow and will have no trouble criticizing someone else, but will try to avoid doing it to themselves.
He later explained:
“Ha! I was really pleased about that. I was looking at it on the monitor, watching everyone trying not to look at themselves. It was a great thing to do in the fashion industry—turn it back on them! God, I’ve had some freaky shows.”
Isabella Blow – the ‘I’
I have heard of Isabella before but my knowledge of her was severely limited. I knew she was a Muse and she was the one who started McQueen’s career and it was interesting to learn more about her. She was a very complex person who had a natural sense of style and a tremendous eye for talent. I also never knew that she committed suicide due to depression over a series of problems like with her health (cancer) and her waning career. She was reportedly “anguished over her inability to find a home in a world she influence”. She was born into luxury and had an upbringing full of wealth and opportunities, which contrasts with McQueen’s. It’s very sad and a shame that both of them ended their lives.
When the Gucci group offered McQueen a quarter million contract, and promised him creative freedom, he couldn’t resist. The result was that his elaborate shows became even more ambitious, lasted thirty minutes each and with this period, McQueen’s physical appearance also changed. He lost weight, became cleaner, more refined and wore sharp suits and tailored clothes.
“You’re only as good as your last show. The bigger it gets, the harder it gets.”
The last part which documented his mother’s death and ultimately, his death was quite upsetting. His label will forever live on as one of the greatest British brands out there. This film contrasts with the previous films that our course watched (Dior & I, Bill Cunningham and The Eye Has To Travel) where those films focused on a more glamorous and inspiring side. MCQUEEN AND I opened my eyes to a more serious topic and darker side of fashion.