With a mountain of former catwalk show props in the centre of the stage and rumours swirling that he had been inspired by his own archive, it was a fair enough assumption that Alexander McQueen was in a quietly retrospective mood for Autumn/Winter 2009. But around McQueen, assumptions are a dangerous, dangerous thing to make.
True, he had evidently been looking at his own back-catalogue, but he had also been fast-forwarding through his fashion shows, re-examining his old source material and even digging through his haute couture years at Givenchy. The McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion he read under the covers as a teenager had also been given a flick, and old friend Philip Treacy had been drafted in once again, explicitly with a brief to amaze. What it boiled down to, in sum, was a spectacular, credit-crunch crushing, rip-roaring white-knuckle rollercoaster of a twisted ride through McQueen past, present and indeed future.
Last season McQueen was inspired by evolution, this season by recycling. The pile of detritus culled from his shows set the tone - throughout, McQueen motifs were revived, revisited and indeed reworked, not least in the signature, sinister McQueen palette of black, white and stunning, bloodied scarlet. Every collection, it seems, got a look-in: his savage, anti-fashion early-nineties years were represented in nylon 'bin-bag' dresses, trussed leather bondage and menacing, attenuated silhouettes; his Givenchy collections by the high chopine platforms, touches of Japonism and the couture techniques that embellished the stunning showpieces - namely a flurry of feathered frocks that belied his constant, consistent ornithological obsessions. Suits and coats in dogtooth checks, sucked in at waist and billowing at skirt, recalled haute forties couture, but equally his own oft-proven prowess with dissected tailoring, geometrics and optical illusion. Rather than showing archive clothing pieces (far too easy) he pulled out some of the show-stoppers created with Shaun Leane: his metal yashmak armour from 'Eye' sat under an elegant evening dress, alongside winter 2000's 'Eschu' coiled necklaces and claw earrings. Treacy's hats embellished the recycling theme, piling everything from smashed and slashed umbrellas to Chinese coolie-hats and lampshades on the models' head in a gravity and reality-defying mish-mash of high art and high camp. Even the Jon Gosling soundtrack was a McQueen remix - remember that Marilyn Manson finale from Autumn/Winter 2001? Or the throbbing, mesmerising soundtrack from that spring's 'Voss'? This was a fashion train-spotter's paradise.
This is tried-and-tested ground with McQueen in more ways than one. Each of his collections always contains well-worn McQueen classics, his frock-coats, his jumpsuits, his overblown drama for evening. But he's never quite pushed it this far before. At the same time, although everything was similar, it still felt fresh, new, inspiring and desirable - the show was theatre at its very best, but the showroom will no doubt be filled with reinterpretations of these clothes that, although retrospective, chime loud and clear with contemporary consumers. Perhaps it's all a matter of timing - in a season when everyone is trying to reinvent notions of hard, savage, aggressive femininity, this was a rather stern reminder from Alexander McQueen about exactly who does it best.