This season the house of Alexander McQueen is going back to its roots, to Lee McQueen's East London roots to be precise. Set on the banks of the River Thames, McQueen's fervent penchant for making the grim and the unsightly both beautiful and mesmerising comes to life via creative director Sarah Burton's eye in a film by Jonathan Glazer. The award-winning director's repertoire stretches far from what one might initially consider suited to a film about beautiful gowns and meticulously tailored suits, but look closer at Glazer's command of psychological, unnerving and ultimately captivating deep dives into characters - take sci-fi hit Under The Skin (2013) or gangster crime film Sexy Beast (2000) for example - and you'll find he's perfectly suited for weaving a new tale for the British brand.
The scene opens on Jill Kortleve trudging through the murky waters; we hear the mud sludge and we wince at what remnants of the city might be soiling her powder pink McQueen gown. A couple kiss on the river bank against a brick wall. She slides her hand in to his pocket- surely she's not going to...ah, no. She pulls out his leather card holder, and smirks at her trickery. It's here we begin to get a sense of a Dickensian London, of Oliver Twist, pick pockets and kind bar maids. As lads march up and down the sidewalks booted and suited in McQueen, high above the river bank they seem to be from a time closer to our own than the figures near the water's edge. The First Light of the city lays bare the stories which lie along the Thames, here finding their roots in Lee Alexander McQueen's penchant for diving into history.
For the first time during her long tenure, Sarah Burton is showing menswear and womenswear together. In Glazer's film, what rings most true is the romance of clothing stripped back to its bare bones - the craftsmanship of McQueen shines. Raw, knife edge tailoring meets leg of mutton sleeves, ruched and exaggerated in black satin and white cotton. As Kortleve lifts her skirt, her strength and attitude reminds one slightly of a modern day Nancy; a bright light in the dirty city.
A man in a top hat chases a boy down the river; is this perhaps a glance back in time, the ghost of a police man chasing a pick pocket? As the models lie underneath wooden rafters, there is stillness. Glazer's film ends with a young woman lying in the sticky sludge of the mud, her taffeta dress is quickly engulfed by the same mud which swallowed Fagin's precious jewels. But this jewel does not sink. Instead, she sits straight up, and proudly takes in the city she calls her own.