Monday, 15 March 2010


“What attracted me to Alexander was the way he takes ideas from the past and sabotages them with his cut to make them thoroughly new and in the context of today”, said the late Isabella Blow, patron and muse to Alexander McQueen.
Alexander McQueen was a true postmodernist, pillaging and deconstructing the past to inform his own creations. It was talent that elevated his work beyond pastiche, to design that had its own meaning and value.
The Fashion Archive takes a look back through McQueen’s dramatic archive of catwalk shows, spanning the last two decades.

At the Central Saint Martins Graduate show at London Fashion Week in February 1992, McQueen presented a collection inspired by Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel victims in 1888. Locks of hair were sewn into the clothes, in remembrance of the hair the prostitutes would have sold in nineteenth century London. Isabella Blow, then Fashion Assistant to Michael Roberts, Fashion Director of Tatler and The Sunday Times, famously bought the entire collection for £5,000.

A/W 1993
For this season, McQueen showed at the Ritz Hotel, with a collection inspired by the decadence, sleaze and violence of Scorsese’s 1976 film, Taxi Driver. McQueen wrapped his models in clingfilm and latex, or draped their bruised and bloodied bodies in prints of Robert De Niro’s character Travis Bickle.

S/S 1994
The Nihilism show was at the Bluebird Garage on Kings Road. Models, splattered in blood and dirt, wore clothes cut or transparent to expose erogenous zones like breasts and buttocks. McQueen said it was a statement of anti-romanticism. This show introduced McQueen’s infamous Bumster trousers which revealed buttock cleavage.

A/W 1994
The collection, shown at Café de Paris, featured a moulded plaster breastplate and knitwear cut to expose the breasts. An Elizabethan neckline, cut traditionally below the nipple, was modelled by a pregnant skinhead. “The inspiration came from Irish folklore about banshees heard wailing when a boat sank” [Alexander McQueen].

S/S 1995
This Hitchcock inspired collection saw models bound in scotch tape with blazers opened to reveal tyre marks across bare chests. Women’s breasts were again revealed through transparent panels and cut-away dresses. Suits and skirts were printed with bird silhouettes which have reappeared in his 2009 Autumn Winter collection.

A/W 1995
“People were so unintelligent they thought this was about women being raped – yet ‘highland rape’ was about England’s rape of Scotland” [Alexander McQueen]. The name McQueen gave this show and his slashing and shredding of some of the pieces sparked controversy about this collection. It featured Edwardian collars, lace fragments and dresses in traditional tartans cut deep or torn to expose the breasts.

S/S 1996
Inspired by this dark, heavily sexual and decadent vampire story, McQueen featured prints that looked like veins, animal prints, straightjacket sleeves and gauze body stockings. For one look, he trapped live worms beneath a plastic bustier.

A/W 1996
This highly theatrical collection was staged at a church in Spitalfields, where guests sat in pews next to skeletons. Models wore crucifix masks, denim splashed with bleach, and mourning veils in black lace. An opening of organ music was drowned out by gunfire. “It’s not so much about death, but the awareness that it’s there” [Alexander McQueen].

S/S 1997
“This was based on the work of a photographer called Hans Bellmer who dissected dummies and reconstructed them…it was the idea of the body reconstructed like a doll-like puppet” [Alexander McQueen]. Models walked through a 100ft water catwalk in figure hugging jumpsuits, sheaths and suits which again exposed the body through transparency and cut. Wing jackets referenced his preoccupation with birds, and black model Debra Shaw was controversially shackled to a large piece of jewellery.

A/W 1997
This show took place in Borough Market against a screen of corrugated iron, which was covered in bullet holes and surrounded by car wrecks. McQueen was inspired by the prominent black and white markings on a Thomson’s gazelle, referenced with face paint, horns and animal skin. Sleek silhouettes in hides, leathers and feathers were teamed with cowboy boots and traditional tailored suits, a nod to McQueen’s training at Savile Row.

S/S 1998
Originally called The Golden Shower, for this show McQueen installed a perspex tank as a catwalk in a bus depot in Victoria. Halfway through the show the catwalk filled with pools of black ink, and rain poured from the ceiling. White clothes became increasingly see-through as the rain fell. The collection featured a ribcage corset by Shaun Leane, cast from a human skeleton.

A/W 1998
For this collection, inspired by the brutal murders of the Romanov dynasty, models wore chain mail sheaths, blood red leather suits and sequinned dresses with prints of Romanov children. Pieces referenced monastic and clerical tailoring, and religious imagery continued to the show’s culmination, a satanic ring of fire around the catwalk.

S/S 1999
In a change of mood, models during this show rotated on the catwalk like music box ballerinas. The show opened with physically handicapped athlete Aimee Mullins, who wore a rigid leather bodice against a delicate lace skirt. McQueen also designed her prosthetic legs. In a spectacular finale, Shalom Harlow’s white trapeze dress was spray painted by two robots live on the runway.

A/W 1999
Models ice-skated in this artificial snowy landscape, dressed entirely in white like Narnia’s Ice Queen. They wore trapeze and swing skirts under luxurious furs, and soft knits had cowl necks and hoods. Floor length black coats and hard-edged leathers reflected the darker side of the morality tale.

S/S 2000
As in the Spring Summer 1997 and 1998 shows, models walked through a lake of water. Later, however, the catwalk unexpectedly became a bed of nails as hundreds of metal spikes appeared through the water and models were lifted into the air. This was McQueen’s first showing in New York. Pieces included sheer knits, body hugging jerseys, and bird wing sleeves. McQueen referenced fetish with PVC and chain mail bodies and masks, and continued covering the face with a re-working of the burka.

A/W 2000
Wearing a collection inspired by the Yoruba people of West Africa, the models walked along a catwalk of broken stones in an industrial warehouse in Paris. McQueen fused traditional tribal motifs, like extended hair headdresses and fur trims, with modern western elements like fringing, denim and plaid. Tribal neck rings worked as collars, and have featured again this Autumn Winter.

S/S 2001
Nicknamed the Asylum Collection, this elaborate show cost £70,000 and took seven days to construct. Models watched themselves in a two-way mirror, walking around an inner cube which opened to reveal a naked body covered in butterflies and moths; recreating a photograph by Joel-Peter Witkin. The finale outfit, worn by model Karen Elson, was constructed from a vintage silk kimono and segments of a two hundred year old Japanese screen.

A/W 2001
McQueen subverted the circus, dressing nightmarish, sexualised characters pole dancing around a
carousel. Models became terrible clowns in feather trimmed sequinned flapper dresses, asymmetrical tailoring, harlequin legs and black leathers embellished with lace trains; clawed at by golden skeletons.

S/S 2002
This Spanish themed show saw models impaled by red flags, with traditional flamenco dresses cut in red leather. McQueen reinterpreted Spanish frills in densely folded fluted skirts. Matador suits featured padded hip embellishment, with the hats reworked in moulded plastic.

A/W 2002
Wolves prowled a catwalk lit by Tim Burton, in the spot where Marie Antoinette is thought to have died. The collection personified Germanic Puritanism. Monotone clothes were bound with leather straps and heads held tightly in leather caps. Old references recurred, and new inspiration was drawn from the German cabaret scene of the 1940s.

S/S 2003
A huge screen projected the image of a drowning girl, with models like beached pirates in dresses shredded like seaweed. As the girl was saved, the screen darkened and so did the clothes, from brown and beige to black leather and lace, set against the green and black backdrop of night-vision. One model on screen disappeared into the woods, and returned lit by a heat sensor, with the third section of the collection exploding into rainbow bright tropical colours in voluminous shapes with birds of paradise headdresses.

A/W 2003
Kimono style capes billowed out dramatically as models walked along a huge industrial wind tunnel over a landscape of earth and snow. “I wanted it to be like a nomadic journey across the tundra” [Alexander McQueen]. As this implies, there were strong Russian influences in the cut and construction of the clothes. Tunic dresses were layered like tiles, while extravagant furs suggested arctic expeditions. Japanese flag colours also came through, with traditional kimono shapes.

S/S 2004
With the help of Michael Clark’s choreography, McQueen re-enacted the dance marathon of Sydney Pollack’s film They Shoot Horses Don’t They. The models danced, ran, and collapsed their way around the stage, at first in old school glamour with stunning ostrich feather ball gowns. Then, as the marathon progressed, in fitted sportswear cut for movement in pinks and greys, and finally in western denim and plaid.

A/W 2004
This season McQueen wanted to “focus purely on design” [Alexander McQueen]. Models walked from a spaceship onto a huge glowing landing pad, in a collection largely made up of pale nudes in draped jersey and chiffon. A feathered gown with illuminated neckpiece provided the finale, focusing all attention on the clothes, as McQueen intended.

S/S 2005
The catwalk was transformed into a giant chessboard, as 36 models took their places and then fought against each other. Some looks referenced McQueen’s archive, while others were inspired by the film Picnic at Hanging Rock, set in the early twentieth century.

A/W 2005
This collection was bursting with Hitchcock references, with a Vertigo invite, Rear Window set, Tippi Hedren inspired clothes, and of course with the show’s title itself. McQueen cut to a 1940s silhouette, with pencil skirt suits, jumper dresses and a very feminine body enhancing collection, culminating in splendid fishtail evening dresses.

S/S 2006
Unusually, there were no theatrics to speak of, as McQueen presented a more traditional and pared down catwalk. Models wore mini-dresses with deep v-necks and capes. Short suits mixed with leathers and sheers. Embellished wrestling belts nipped in waists, and soft fabrics were draped in Grecian style empire line dresses.

A/W 2006
In tribute to the women who lost their husbands in the bloody battle of Culloden, McQueen returns to Scotland for his inspiration. Despite feather and stag horn headdresses, Elizabethan ruffs, veils of antique lace and rich Scottish tartan, this show will be best remembered for the haunting hologram of Kate Moss, a vision in floating organza.

S/S 2007
This show took place at the Cirque D’Hiver in Paris, inspired by the 1975 film Barry Lyndon and iconic eccentric Marchesa Casati. Real flowers adorned the dress worn by model Tanya Dziahileva, and petals dropped behind her as she walked. “Things rot. It was all about decay. I used flowers because they die” [Alexander McQueen]. Where much of the collection was mourning clothes, McQueen exaggerated funereal elements and played with body shapes through padding.

A/W 2007
McQueen’s mother traced back their family history to one of the victims of the Salem witch hunts. Drawing on this, the catwalk became a huge painted pentagram, with a 45’ inverted pyramid overhead. The screen behind showed images of frantic locusts, naked bodies, skulls and fire, dark and demanding. The collection included Grecian dresses and warrior-like moulded bustiers, worn with striking Egyptian make-up.

S/S 2008
In remembrance of the death of Isabella Blow [2007], La Dame Bleue was based around her personal wardrobe. Much of this was obviously a collection of McQueen’s own work, as she was his muse, but also included pieces by Yves Saint Laurent and Junya Watanabe, which gave the collection a Japanese influence. Behind the catwalk, neon lights were arranged into the shape of angels’ wings.

A/W 2008
“I’ve got a 600-year-old elm tree in my garden and I made up this story of a girl who lives in it and comes out of the darkness to meet a prince and become a queen” [Alexander McQueen]. In tune with the theatricality of the story, the clothes are regal, almost livery, heavily embellished and sumptuous. This exquisite collection was inspired by the Indian Empire.

S/S 20009
Models emerged from beneath a revolving globe amongst an array of
animals, with a focus on the issues of climate change and industrialisation. As usual, clothes were cut to emphasise
and celebrate the body shape, but this time cut was secondary to the politically inspired prints.

A/W 2009
For Autumn Winter 2009, Alexander McQueen presented his show Horn of Plenty in Paris, and remained true to his philosophy of reference and re-creation. The show was typically extravagant and theatrical; arguably one of his best. Set to Marilyn Manson’s Beautiful People, McQueen celebrated the best moments of his career. Models looked like blow-up dolls, or Manson himself, with hair curled and bound under plastic and extraordinary Philip Treacy umbrella hats.
McQueen referenced pivotal moments in fashion history, most noticeably Dior’s New Look. He also revisited his own past, using archive pieces from jewellery designer Shaun Leane, and decorating the set with a scrap yard of props from past shows. McQueen’s preoccupation with Hitchcock’s The Birds was apparent in graphic prints, similar to those from the Spring Summer 1995 show. Garments made entirely of gull and crow feathers made models into bird-like creatures. Bold stripes and Harlequin prints in red and black, as well as clown-like make-up, drew to mind the circus theme of the Autumn Winter 2001 What a Merry Go Round show. Russian references of the Autumn Winter 2003 show are echoed again here, as is Japanese styling, which has been present subliminally through several collections. These were not passive references; there is an energy in the clothing which translated to the viewer. McQueen challenged the past with his defiant and aggressive new vision.


  1. If you include a picture of Mullins on the runway, you'll show McQueen's breathtakingly wide ranging artistry more clearly.

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  3. I just wanted to let you know that we've recorded a song and made a video in dedication to Isabella & Alexander McQueen, as we are tremendous fans, and this is dedicated to them. Thanks for listening, and thank your for writing about them.

    Princess Jesus

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  5. the information are good but 1)you could add some more and 2)you don't have the "plato's atlantis" and "angels and demons". But you helped me with my thesis a little