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As some of you know Alexander McQueen committed suicide earlier this year. He was one of my favourite living designers. I own a shirt, two jackets and a skirt of his. I have gotten a great deal of wear out of them and yet they still look new. They’re gorgeous, exquisitely cut, not to mention comfortable. When I wear them I feel taller and stronger and more stylish. They make me happy.
It’s hard to explain to people with zero interest in fashion why designers like McQueen have such loyal followers. Why his death made me cry. It’s even harder to explain it to people who actively hate fashion. But I want to try.
Clothes like the ones Alexander McQueen made are both something you can wear and what’s more fundamental than clothing? Food, water, shelter, clothing. Those are the basics for keeping us alive. Everyone has some kind of stake in clothing whether they give a damn about their appearance or not. Now, obviously, very few people are buying McQueen just to say warm. His clothes are expensive in the extreme. But the point is that they are wearable. Their performance as clothing is spot on.1
But McQueen’s clothes are also art.2
This is one of the most beautiful dresses I’ve ever seen.
McQueen’s clothes at their best are jaw droppingly beautiful. I have the same visceral response to them that I do to any other art that moves me: great paintings, sculpture, music, writing. It’s the same feeling that overwhelms me when I see a truly gorgeous sunset or a spectacular view.
The fact that its wearable art just makes it more extraordinary.
I love the sweep of McQueen’s clothes, the use of so many vibrant beautiful colours. I love me a designer unafraid of colour. But as you can see from the first image above and the first one below he could also rock black and white and grey. I love his attention to detail. When you see these clothes up close you see the care that’s taken at every level, the buttons, the lining, and the fabric. Like Issey Miyake, McQueen’s fabrics were right at the technological cutting edge. Many of the clothes in McQueen’s final collection are printed with digitised images from European art over several centuries. Scott has a shirt of McQueens’ which is a digitised pattern of a baroque jacket. It’s exquisite. Photos of that shirt do not do it justice. As I’m sure these photos don’t come anywhere close to showing just how beautiful McQueen’s final collection was.
I love that McQueen was greatly influenced by fashion of the twenties, thirties and forties. (My favourite fashion decades of the 20th century.) I love that his influences went broader than that. I love how truly inventive he was.
All my McQueen pieces were bought on sale. If I’d been able to, I’d have bought many many more pieces of his, but most of his work was well out of my price range (as they are well out of the reach of the vast majority of the world’s population). One of the major objections to high fashion is that it is obscenely expensive. Who can afford a $10-$1000k (or more) dress? Very few of us. But then who can afford to have an original Modigliani on the wall or have Zaha Hadid design their home?
An artist’s impact is not just in their original art. It is in the light they cast, the inspiration they give, the effect that their work’s existence has on the world. I understand clothing and textiles differently because of Alexander McQueen’s work. More to the point so do other designers and makers of clothes at every level of the fashion industry from Haute Couture through to the High Street.
His influence on my understanding of fashion was strong long before I was lucky enough to buy a few of his pieces. I loved gorgeous fashion long before I could afford to buy any. I adore the work of Vionnet. I own nothing by her. Her clothes, on the rare occasions they’re available, are prohibitevely expensive. They’re often purchased by museums, which I wholeheartedly support. If they’re in private collectors’ hands my and your odds of seeing them drop exponentially. But museums are open to everyone.3
Back to Alexander McQueen. He was a great artist and he will be missed.
I’ll leave you with the last look of his collection. Apparently it made people in the audience cry. I’m with them.
Posted by Justine at 17:56, 21 March 2010 under Fashion, Praising, Viewing | 16 Comments »
Wow. Reading that made me feel differently about fashion. I’ve never been interested in it, but perhaps I’ll change my mind in the future. Those dresses are awe-inspiring, to say the least. Thanks for writing this!
March 21st, 2010 at 6:04 PM
Lauren McLaughlin Says:
I’m with you on all of this. Among the many things I love about McQueen are his silhouettes. His clothes are in love with the female body in a way that dignifies rather than overly-sexualizes it. I tried on a McQueen jacket recently and it felt like an extra layer of my own skin. His final collection brought tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine Paris fashion week without him. It’ll be like a movie without the finale.
March 21st, 2010 at 7:03 PM
A. Grey Says:
I wouldn’t say that I’m any sort of fashion expert. But because I’ve been into art for so long (nearly went to an art-based college) I can’t help but be visually enamored of designers like McQueen. He was an artist of the human body and of textiles. An amazing artist. My sister and I had just found a dress by him we loved (which we could never afford, but that we vowed to get somehow anyway) the day we heard about his suicide on the radio.
We started freaking out as soon as the news broke. Most of the people nearest us got confused and thought that something about Steve McQueen had been said. When we explained it was Alexander McQueen, they just raised an eyebrow in confusion. Meanwhile, the manager of the farm overheard us and started freaking out as well because she too loved McQueen.
We might be a bunch of poop-shoveling, horse riding, tractor driving girls, but we know art when we see it in any form. And we respect the artist. Great post.
March 21st, 2010 at 7:05 PM
My philosophy as an average-looking female has always been to minimize attempts to make myself more beautiful. I remember trying on one dress as a teenager which I fell in love with; but it cost $25.00 (probably considerably more expensive in 1972 dollars), so I didn’t purchase it. Since I’ve never had/will never have enough money to purchase a designer outfit, and I see no logic to wearing dresses (you can’t *run* in dresses or *hike* in dresses), I suppose I’ll just have to classify this as another form of art that I can’t relate to. I wouldn’t want any of the clothes on this page unless I could sell them for money to donate to charity; give me a comfortable t-shirt any day.
March 21st, 2010 at 7:08 PM
I never understood fashion until I started reading Jezebel (and the link from this blog to that website just made my brain explode – in a good way), because I’ve never taken any care with my appearance (and I don’t particularly plan to, as I get little to no joy from making myself look better, but I understand that people do and why that’s so), and I always tried to think of fashion as only a means by which to dress people, and I would try to force my own general clothing choices (like an adolescent monk) as the ideal for everyone. But Jezebel, and their coverage of Alexander McQueen especially, helped me see it as another kind of art, which then made everything make sense, and his designs are just remarkably gorgeous and fascinating.
March 21st, 2010 at 7:26 PM
McQueen obviously liked women and enjoyed making them look and feel beautiful. Watching so many of the fashion shows, I get the distinct impression that many of the haute couture designers really don’t like women and are secretly laughing at getting away with making women look foolish and being paid for it.
March 22nd, 2010 at 5:47 AM
Thanks for this. Though I love to make my own clothes, I’m not very up on my designers. This was educational, reading more about McQueen. And what a coincidence that you mentioned the one designer I do know a thing or two about (and LOVE)–Vionnet. There’s a wonderful book about her by Betty Kirke.
March 22nd, 2010 at 7:46 AM
Julia Rios Says:
I don’t really follow fashion, but I love hearing about it from people who are interested in it. Ekaterina Sedia often posts really good entries on the subject, and I have learned some things about why I like the sorts of clothes I tend to like by reading those, and posts like this one. The dresses in this are beautiful. I agree that the sweep of McQueen’s designs is gorgeous, and they all look very well-made and durable, too. I’m very sad to have learned about him only after his death. One of the things I really enjoyed about the Magic or Madness trilogy was the bits about Tom designing clothes. Looking at these pictures, I can understand a bit more about how Tom thought about texture and shape.
March 22nd, 2010 at 11:27 AM
Ditto what Joanna said. Personally, I’m ready for an end to the 6 inch platform heels. You can’t wear them without looking like a streetwalker. I don’t think they were ever meant for off the runway, but in London I see women wearing them all the time. V strange indeed.
March 22nd, 2010 at 2:47 PM
I completely agree – Alexander McQueen was my favourite designer ever since I saw a dress of his when I was about 14 and decided I was going to get married in it. (I don’t even really care about weddings – I don’t have anything else planned for mine except that I am getting married in that beautiful McQueen dress). It feels weird and kind of self-centred to be really gutted about the death of someone you didn’t know, but I was.
And thank you for describing fashion in such a perfect and articulate way. It’s pretty much exactly what I think but could never put into words because alas, I suck at writing. So thank you for this post in general
March 22nd, 2010 at 6:22 PM
Great post – never really thought about fashion design one way or the other before. I would love to see a picture of your McQueen items to see a “real-life” example!
March 22nd, 2010 at 7:02 PM
@Joanna ….are we talking about Lagerfeld?
March 22nd, 2010 at 7:43 PM
@Ali…Lagerfeld and so many other designers who try for shock value. We have the fashion network in our cable package and I sometimes just sit and watch shows for a while to see what’s happening. I’m all for wearable art, but I think that too many of these designers forget about the wearable part and treat the person inside as just an object to hang clothes on. I also have a sneaking suspicion that this contributes to the famine victim look of so many of the models…clothes hang better on twigs.
I have sat and watched some shows from India and South East Asia, they really know how to make a woman look beautiful. Gorgeous (in all senses of the word) fabrics, models who look like they may actually have eaten within the last week and shapes that flatter rather than insult the body inside.
The sad thing is that many women are so caught up in the hype of the haute couture world that they will wear these clothes because of the name and the cache of people knowing that they can afford to wear such things. Common sense and fashion/beauty don’t have to be at opposite ends of the spectrum as proven by Mr McQueen.
Rant over *grin*.
March 22nd, 2010 at 8:37 PM
It would be way too much of a breach of privacy to want to see your A-McQ pieces…
But yum, if I could afford it, wouldn’t it be lovely?
March 23rd, 2010 at 11:16 AM
Pam Adams Says:
By amazing coincidence, I just re-read Paul Gallico’s Mrs. ‘Arris Goes To Paris, about a London charwoman who falls in love with the designs of Christian Dior.
March 23rd, 2010 at 2:08 PM
Those first two dresses especially are amazing.
Dresses in museums always make me feel slightly regretful. I mean, of course it’s great that they are there so that everyone can see them, but they are so.. static. Fashion is meant to move. There’s a Vionnet dress on display in the V&A at the moment and I can see it’s wonderful (and although it looks simple as simple I cannot work out how it is made) but I want to see how it would hang and shift and twirl.
March 24th, 2010 at 7:30 AM
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