Alexander McQueen often railed against the idea that fashion was purely aesthetic: why couldn't fashion be a vehicle for change?
It feels inappropriate to write a 'review' of the pieces shown under the Alexander McQueen label for Autumn/Winter 2010. These were the final pieces Lee Alexander McQueen created before he took his own life. The patterns for the garments were cut on the stand by McQueen himself.
Undoubtedly, these circumstances will affect how each and every person views this collection of clothing. By necessity, they have removed the garments from fashion - implying, as it does, a built-in obsolescence, a seasonal variation.
McQueen's influences, by contrast, were eternal, immovable. He looked to Old Masters and Byzantine art: the earthly delights of Heironymus Bosch danced across one harnessed bodice, arabesques of gold across several more, shoes supported by struts of elaborate ormolu. The decoration, the rich fabrics, the Old Master references, all transformed his models into icons, Catholic Saints, Madonnas. There were grander references to Baroque cathedrals in those garments, the great curls of decoration scrolling over rich satins like altar vestments, while an oil-painted altarpiece itself was printed across one dress, looped up asymmetrically. McQueen has played with these types of images before. In 1997, he reproduced images of a crucified Christ across jackets - shortly after his own 'crucifixion' by the press following his first Givenchy haute couture collection. The oil this time was of the birth of Christ, a new beginning, and imagery of angels predominated. The colours were white, red, and gold.
The collection was brief. In its ornate surfaces, rich, brilliant colour and focus on exquisite, hand-crafted evening attire, it is a bold riposte to next season's feeling for minimalism and practical daywear. Alexander McQueen was always a rebel: to run in such overwhelming, fantastical and - above all - wilful opposition to the orthodox mood of the times is well within his grand tradition of daring and exuberance.
As ever, there were disturbing undercurrents. Alexander McQueen often railed against the idea that fashion was purely aesthetic: why couldn't fashion be a vehicle for change? Why shouldn't fashion tackle the big subjects: sex, religion, death. His clothes, consequently, were full of those images, never shying away from the confrontational, and even violent. This collection was no exception. Models were transformed, through McQueen's gowns, into something approaching divinity. Yet, their arms were shackled to their sides, their forms weighed down with elaborate embroidery, their movements impeded with trains. McQueen was profoundly aware of the presence of the clothing on and around the body - he placed a priority on how his clothes felt, rather than how they looked, something few other male fashion designers do. Here, women were not only deified by fashion, but also imprisoned by it. Compare this with his 'Angel' gowns - heavenly images mirrored on duchess satin, wings placed in parallel positions across the back, skirts billowing with free chiffon in celestial motion.
In contrast to McQueen's last show, the dazzle and unbelievable spectacle of his trademark theatrical fireworks in full blaze, this collection was presented to tiny groups perched mere feet away from the garments in a gilt-scrolled salon. And, as ever, it was spectacular, emotional, filled with the drama and pulsing high of a stellar talent being pushed to the very limits of its genius. I don't think I have used the word 'genius' before, when writing about fashion, but here it feels appropriate. The air throbbed with a mingling of emotions - loss, sadness, regret and, overwhelmingly, love.