Beauty and the beast. That's a neat summary for much of Alexander McQueen's work, not so much the cleaved separation there is in the fairytale itself but the idea of the fusion of the two - the lovechild of beauty and the beast. Rosemary's Baby? Could there be a more quintessential McQueen reference than that?
Sarah Burton's Autumn/Winter 2012 collection captured that sense of beastly beauty. Above the catwalk hung many-looped bulbs and wires glowing with a cold, white light. They looked like spermatozoa, frankly, and the collection itself took a kick from the concept of genetically engineering the perfect McQueen woman. What would she be like? Well, very little woman it turns out, balanced on horse-like hoofs, frothed with fur and feathers and eventually flower-like fronds of mille-feuille ruffles. The silhouettes were short and structured throughout, the structure causing the clothes to undulate like an animal's skeleton under the textured surfaces of, say, shaved fur or ostrich feather. A few dresses mixed pelt and plume together, astrakhan seeming to disintegrate into wispy fronds to creating another unholy hybrid, this time mammal and bird.
It was a mesmerising, dystopian vision in the most McQueen of traditions. It was also the most structured collection Burton has ever offered, eschewing all but the vaguest nod towards daytime clothing. This was about the expression of an exceptional, unimaginable idea. And a terribly dark one at that. There was a beauty to these clothes - the opening exits, all in white goat and pony-fur with high, heel-free boots shaped like a rearing's horse's hind legs, had the tension and beauty of Stubbs' equestrian 'portraits'. These dresses were muscular, rippling with movement on the catwalk like barely-caged beasts.
When it boils down to it, that's exactly what the McQueen woman is. Maybe that's why it didn't work quite so perfectly when she was transformed, Day Of The Triffids-style, into a gigantic walking flower. It was a flower straight out of a Balenciaga couture collection, a decidedly odd bloom in fuchsia, lilac or black with a woman's silver-visored head as pistil amidst petals of organza. The elaboration of those clothes felt like they restricted the McQueen woman, although, as a flower, a triffid is exactly what she would be: strangely beautiful, intelligent, highly-evolved, and deadly.