When deciding on an artist or piece of art for this post, Alexander McQueen was the only thing that sprung to mind. This may be unsurprising, given my never-ending adoration for this man in general, but visiting ‘The Museum of Savage Beauty’, the incredibly popular exhibition dedicated to Mcqueen’s work at the V&A, also made me realise how important the correlation between fashion and art really is.
Genius, talent, a prodigy; just a handful of words I could use to describe the haute couture wizard that was, Alexander McQueen. For a life which ended far too young, I think people must be made aware of the crossover between fashion and art that McQueen tried so desperately to achieve.
Of course, McQueen was first and foremost a fashion designer, however, I prefer to call McQueen’s designs art, rather than fashion. To me, despite the world having affiliated McQueen with purely fashion design, he is one of the greatest artists of all time. After all, anybody ordinary can create a garment, it’s easy. McQueen, however, was anything but ordinary. He was exceptionally extraordinary. His designs had meaning, thought, and intellect behind them, instead of just looking ‘pretty’, which most of the time, they didn’t anyway. That wasn’t the point of them.
From McQueen’s graduation show, Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims in 1992, to his last titled spectacle before his death, Pomp and Circumstance in 2011, he continued to create performances that were as shocking and iconic as the next.
Highland Rape is possibly his best-known show. Inspired by the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of British forces in the Scottish Highlands within the 18th and 19th centuries, McQueen evoked his ancestral pride with this diverse collection. Beautifully cut tartan suits, which revealed women in a way no designer had approached her before, were presented with torn lace with unfinished hems. This was a concept entirely new to high-end fashion, and with this collection, McQueen succeeded in his dream of putting forth strong statements about femininity enraptured in art, using clothing and textiles as his chosen medium. Highland Rape was one of many other McQueen’s shows that emitted such attitude, and this makes them absolutely interlinked with performance art.
However, there is one show that, in my eyes, has forever changed the way I’ll look at fashion design, and ultimately connected fashion and art as one. McQueen’s SS99 show, No. 13, was an awe-inspiring parade like no other. The catwalk presented women, such as Paralympic athletes, each sporting wooden, prosthetic limbs. Many were dressed in hard, leather bodices, with high necks that restricted the models in such a way that the audience were sort of disturbed. Nonetheless, these bound and restrained Paralympians would leave the audience feeling rather introspective after what they were about to witness…
The finale of No.13 was un-heard of (even for McQueen). A limp model was hunched on a rotating plinth in the centre of the show. Either side of her, there lay two industrial robots which appeared to be attempting to interact with her slow movements. Over time, the flailing of the robots grew more intense, and they became juxtaposed with the beautiful ballerina dressed in a white trapeze dress. The audience were astounded with the violence the robots evoked, as they sprayed harsh hues of black and yellow in psychotic lines all about the revolving ballet dancer. Not only was this arresting performance something that simultaneously startled and amazed the audience, but it also provoked comments upon the interaction between man and machine, an incredibly apt topic as the onlookers ascended into the 21st century. This was the most striking finish of his shows to date, a truly iconic moment that will forever live on in fashion, art realms, and even the public conscience.
Alexander McQueen’s exceptional rise from a working class high school dropout, to an internationally notorious artist, is nothing short of phenomenal. His dangerous styles and reckless shows inspired, amazed and some-what troubled the world of fashion. I truly believe that his legacy will be kept alive, and hope that his powerful outlook on fashion as a high-art form will continue to both provoke and inspire people too.
Words by Milly Cooke
Cover image: “Give me time and I’ll give you a revolution”, Alexander McQueen.