Essay: Shoes by Alexander McQueen
Fashion is currently experiencing a minimal moment, reviving and reinventing the nineties' notion of unadorned and severely purist Minimalism for a new decade. But Newton's law of motion seems to have an echo in fashion: for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore it makes perfect sense that as influential is a rebellious strain of baroque ornament running counter to fashion's rush to wipe the slate clean. Fittingly, the final collection created by the great Alexander McQueen is this season's supreme example of this contrary bent.
Into an Autumn/Winter season dominated by the camel coat, McQueen let loose a few wild wolves - byzantine gold embroidery, jacquards and brocades depicting Old Master paintings, a collection with all the decorative exuberance and grandeur of the Renaissance, literally, from head to toe. No detail was overlooked - although these shoes were barely seen, worn beneath a floor-length dress that magically transmogrified marble into fluid silk chiffon, they are still painstakingly decorated, heels exquisitely formed into silvered angels.
The work in these shoes is patently obvious, standing in direct opposition to Jean Baudrillard's assertion that Modernism is about concealing the labour behind a product. Indeed, these shoes hark back to the decorative excess of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, expressing wealth and luxury in the most ostentatious and visible manner. Elaborately hand-embroidered nude tulle sits atop intricate arabesques of silver inspired by the work of sculptor and wood-carver Grinling Gibbons, whose work adorns none less than St Paul's Cathedral.
Appropriately enough, the carved heel of these shoes also relates directly to the figureheads gracing the prows of Renaissance warships, themselves an expression of the wealth and might of the ship's owner. McQueen often talked about sending his women into battle, and his aesthetic - often confrontational and even violent - was born, he said, of his sister's experience as victims of domestic violence.
This Autumn/Winter 2010 collection betrayed a more fragile McQueen. In this collection he transformed his women not into warriors but into angels. The prows of those ships were also used as a means of expressing the name or nature of the vessel in a non-literate society. Perhaps McQueen's collection - of which these elaborately decorated shoes were an integral part - was equally about expressing his ideas, moods and emotions visually to an audience that, perhaps, would not have been able to read them written in simple black-and-white.