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.