Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin


It’s really quite peculiar, the current saturation of the fashion world with all things Alexander McQueen.  One could debate the ubiquity of his name in books, exhibitions and social media has something to do with the fact that 2015 marks the five-year anniversary of his death, but I for one haven’t seen that mentioned much at all.  However, according to the age-old adage, ‘too much of a good thing is never a bad thing’, and this is particularly true of probably the most enigmatic designer of our time.

Things kicked off about a week ago with the V&A Museum’s recreation of Savage Beauty* an exhibition on McQueen originally displayed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 2011.  Its great success prompted a (rather late) sequel in London, wholly pervasive in its advertisement on the doors of our cabs, and the walls of our tube stations.  Literature on McQueen has also expanded substantially over the last few years, though in this case it proves more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. 


 I must admit that I first became cognizant of this literary explosion while watching an episode of the Business of Fashion’s Breakfast Club, in which Colin McDowell, Imran Amed, Paula Reed, and Mesh Chhibber discussed the recent phenomenon.  Two books were discussed, the Andrew Wilson book that I’ve just finished reading, and Dana Thomas’ Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen.  Dismissing the Dana Thomas book in favour of the Andrew Wilson one for its greater focus, I went out and ordered the latter, eager to gain a more erudite knowledge of one of Britain’s most audacious, recalcitrant, and beloved designers.

One of the most compelling reasons to read a book such as this is the fact that it intertwines the designer’s work life and personal life.  Wilson uses this to great effect, managing to cover all of the major events in McQueen’s personal and work life, while also bringing more obscure anecdotes to the table, stemming from personal conversations and interviews the author conducted with McQueen’s family and friends.  This alone inherently elevates this book above the competition, but there are of course, yet more positive aspects.  My only personal lamentation is that it is written after the death of Isabella Blow, meaning she was unable to give comment.  Similarly, it does not make use of those close to her, such as milliner Philip Treacy, restricting itself to Detmar, her husband.


 This book is concise, deeply informative, and incredibly well-written, adroit in its ability to keep the interest of any reader, whether or not they possess prior knowledge of the man’s career.  Not that making McQueen’s personal character intriguing would be a great ask of any author; one thing that became quickly apparent to me was just how tortured this man really was.  A masochistic lothario, McQueen partook in a less-than-voluptuary lifestyle, even after signing his £450,000 per year contract at Givenchy.  McQueen grew up in a kind of desolation that could only belong to East London, and it clearly had a formative influence on his life, engendering prodigious spending even though he was personally dismissive of luxury.  The sexual abuse McQueen suffered as a child is linked in this book to his later sex life, as was his belligerence in dealing with people, friend or foe.  Indeed, Lee had watched his favourite sister beaten voraciously by his brother-in-law.  When accused of misogyny by one of his critics, he snapped, recounting what he had grown up with, claiming that his aim in designing was to be afraid of the women he dressed.  Concomitantly, it is revealed early in the book that this was the inspiration behind McQueen’s use of battered and bloodied catwalk models, a decision he was criticised for because it was ‘in bad taste’. Clearly then, as Colin McDowell posited, this book is not about fashion, it is about notoriety. 

Along with his experiences of a child, Wilson documents McQueen’s extensive drug use, and reveals shockingly that he knew he was HIV positive, yet elected to continue having unprotected sex, despite making charitable donations to various AIDS organisations.  Never shying away from controversy, the book also claims that shortly before his suicide, that he was going to design his last collection then commit suicide during the show by placing himself inside a Perspex or glass box and shooting himself in front of the audience.  This debauched lens through which McQueen’s life and career are viewed either detract or add to the value of the book, depending entirely on what the reader seeks to gain.  Those who know little about McQueen as a designer are not really the audience for this book, it is for those who wish to gain an intimate insight into McQueen’s life, and the trials and tribulations it brought about. It serves as a beneficial companion to Savage Beauty, written to induce from us a heavy suspiration upon the realization that the fashion industry destroyed one of its own brightest talents. 


What, then, can we gain from this book?  For one, we may take away the understanding that fashion is not frivolous, rather that it is largely engrossing, capable of arousing strong emotions when executed by such an iconic designer.  McQueen was one of the few creatives who was not fazed by the money, and created clothing that made women feel beautiful and strong, uxoriously thanking women, whom he claimed to be the true heroes in his life. The British do love an underdog, especially one who went from having nothing to owning a £20m brand, and perhaps that is what this book’s appeal lies in.

Blood Beneath the Skin depicts McQueen as he was, a genius who was indeed reprehensible at times, but a tortured soul, who deserves our sympathy and gratitude for all he gave over the years, and for all he lost.  The sole regret one could have upon reading this is that, given this book was written with the approval of the McQueen family, we may well never know the true extent of the horrors that bedeviled Lee McQueen’s personal life.  Nevertheless, this book is an unflinching but wonderfully-readable account, backed up by fantastic research.  Indeed, as McQueen’s sister claimed, this is the biography Lee would have wanted.


Christian Robinson




*Weirdly, 600 copies of Blood Beneath the Skin were ordered by the V&A to accompany Savage Beauty, but two weeks before the exhibition opened, the publishers were told that the museum had been asked not to stock any biographies.  The V&A have made clear that they do not wish to make known the less-glamorous aspects of McQueen’s life, much to the consternation of Andrew Wilson.

Miranda Priestly was wrong

“Florals? For spring. Groundbreaking.” 
Yes these were the infamous words of the Devil who wore Prada- Miranda Priestly. After the SS15 Chanel Haute Couture show however,  if Miranda were real, she'd be probably have to renounce her position at Vogue and try to move to another Conde Nast magazine, House and Garden perhaps?

Why? Why would Miranda have to leave Vogue? Because none other than Karl Lagerfeld proved that florals can be groundbreaking for Spring. Set in the Grand Palais this January, Lagerfeld transformed his show setting into an enchanting greenhouse, blossoming with vibrant tropical animated plants and an origami jungle feature in the middle of the runway. "I thought of it six months ago, in a flash," said Lagerfeld. "There are 300 machines here under our feet, one to make each flower work."




Supermodel demigods from Kendall Jenner to Cara Delevigne, looked effortless carrying outfits that were stunningly beautiful and obviously nothing like what women might actually wear on a Spring day. Still, we can admire. The colour palette across the collection boosted vibrancy as Lagerfeld opted for bright blues, oranges and pinks. Yet Chanel's signature monochrome colours, of course, still featured in the most elegant fashion.

               

                   
           
                   

Silhouettes shouted simplicity and were tailored as unique separates featuring fluffy tulle flowers, embroidery and embellishment. Skirts were either long and narrow, or, short, full, A-shaped and lined with organza for a fuller bloom. A recurring silhouette, however, was the cropped boucle jacket exposing envious model midriffs. As Lagerfeld said, "Midriff is the New Cleavage". Hmmmmmmmmm is it though? Maybe after I invest in a gym membership, personal trainer, organic carrot-stick eating diet then we can consider this...

              

Another recurring feature of the show were the black boots sported by every model with every outfit. Whenever I think of black boots, I think about how much I overwear them in Winter, how heavy they are and obviously of my annual struggle to find a pair that actually fits around my calves. Think of it as my winter boots are like a Peugeot and the Chanel ones are like a Ferrari. They're lightweight, more attractive, more streamlined and about 50 times more expensive. Lagerfeld, nonetheless, has re-defined the black boot- they are no longer confined to Winter.


And who would have thought that the beanie would have such a large stage presence at a haute couture Chanel fashion show? With embellished jewels, 3D flower appliqués and descending veils, the beanie was reinvented from something you throw on to cover your unwashed hair before a 10am lecture (not really, none of us make our 10am lectures) into a glorified halo.


Finally the figures- 97,000 sequins, 3,000 flowers and 2,200 hours were invested into the Chanel show and so, the efforts behind the show are a story in itself.

   

- Demi Yip

Paris Men’s Fashion Week: A Retrospective

In the sphere of men’s fashion, there is no exhibition quite like that held all over Paris every January and June.  The brio of Milan, the efflorescent youthfulness of London, and even the deep coffers of New York don’t come close to the allure of the greatest of the big four. 

However, it remains very easy to criticise much of what is produced by the leading figures that show in the city of love.  That is why, to my delight, this year’s A/W15 was one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. 

Wednesday began inauspiciously though, as a stellar Lemaire show was succeeded by Y/Project, who put on probably the worst display of the week.  Coats were poor in both fabric quality and design and garment drape and structure was unflattering.  Coming across to me as a departure from everything Yohan Serfaty stood for in the industry, I sat back in incomprehension.



Things improved quickly with an exceedingly creative performance from Walter Van Beirendonck, turning the fuck up with eagle blazers, playful patterns, stellar outerwear, and front-facing butt plugs? Regardless, it was an entertaining collection that took a stand against terrorism. I don’t know how the man finds the time for all of this. 




Following a huge Valentino collection that varied in its beauty, Haider Ackermann presented what I thought at least was his most impressive showing to date.  Ackermann stuck with his core theme of the decadent Edwardian dandy, but enriched it with lascivious fabrics, deep colour palettes and insouciant styling.  The man clearly has a vision, and that alone is enough to make it today.  Intriguingly and cleverly, the Galleria Museum, where the show was held, was lit in such a way that could not give rise to pretty, detailed photographs.  To my knowledge, Ackermann was the only Instagram-less event of the week, forcing attendees to LOOK at the clothes, which merits applause in itself.    




Wednesday ended with a lacklustre Raf Simons show, which though slightly better than previous collections, still came across as dated, merely a continuation of previous work.  Nevertheless, it was an improvement on his recent work.





Thursday began with an excellent show from Issey Miyake, making fantastic use of cobalt and rose coating to create an insanely colourful yet wearable collection.  I particularly enjoyed the transition made from more reserved pieces to the wild and extravagant as he closed the show. 



Rick Owens dicked about a lot in his show (pun intended), but I prefer not to let exposed penises overshadow the clothes.  While I enjoyed the knitted suits, the double breasted coats seemed a tad overdone.  The technical patterns used were impressive, and I actually loved the boot-cum-sock he made with Adidas, even though I know many won’t take to it.



Early afternoon brought with it the most impressive exhibition of the day.  Boris Bidjan Saberi affirmed this season that he will continue to retain that hard-hitting industrial aesthetic, in spite of the growing effeminacy of Rick Owens and Japanese brand Julius taking a slicker, more futuristic approach.  Saberi opened with rich reds and oranges, and progressed into cooler colour palettes, displaying fantastic silhouettes throughout which evinced both wearability and high design.  There was a notable lack of draping, an unusual step but perhaps one in the right direction. 



Damir Doma followed, whose collection was neither beautiful nor interesting.  Some of it was wearable, but nothing screams at you to buy it.  The less said about it the better, to be honest.



Japanese fashion’s greatest luminary, Yohji Yamamoto, rounded off the afternoon.  Displaying a collection that seemed like a retrospective of his career, Yohji split the audience.  Whereas some loved the clothes (they were beautiful), many were lefting asking ‘where is the statement?’  Aside from there being no message, Yohji recycled elements of previous collections, such as the bruising on the models, and the reliance on very ‘Yohji’ details.  I’m sure it would all look beautiful in the showroom, but in my eyes there wasn’t any real need for a show. 




As afternoon segued into evening, Dries Van Noten showed off a sumptuous collection, using gorgeous quilting and rich lavender to give off an oriental vibe.  A prolific display, deep khaki and navy was infused with lush layering.



Julius_7 closed Thursday with a panoply of amazing formal wear, taking a departure from their usual aesthetic.  Taking aside the divisive marshmallow jackets, the bladed trousers and puffed shoulders on garments were personal highlights, as were the Kuboraum sunglasses they consistently employ in their shows.  Julius_7 is often criticised for being cold and lacking romance, but honestly, who cares when it looks this good?



Friday kicked off with a bombastic Junya Watanabe show in which the models truly lived the clothes.  One might argue that the extremely formal, tailored collection would be better suited to a Pitti Uomo show, but it was an exhilarating departure from Junya’s take on workwear.  Innovative tailoring was complemented by typical Junya denim and beautiful scarves.



Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus followed stellar shows by Ann Demeulemeester and Cerruti 1881, but could be impugned for being a little schizophrenic.  Indeed, the collection seemed quite discordant, leaving many questioning what the concept was.  Nonetheless, there were some very good pieces, including cut blazers, asymmetrical jackets, tailcoats, and the skirts.  Indeed, many of the blazers were made from one piece of fabric cut on the bias and continuously stitched without any side seams, a fantastic feat of construction.




Riccardo Tisci brought us a true creative extravagance, with this seasons Givenchy collection collapsing into a dark circus theme.  Sexual ambiguity was again, a theme, but Givenchy once again lends itself favourably to streetwear.  Highlights were tops dipped in black sequins, pinstripe suits and Aztec prints. 




Berluti were fantastic this year, creative director Alessandro Sartori incorporating jersey and a mineral punch apparently inspire by Venetian glassblowers to create a fusion collection of the formal and the leisure.  Outfit construction was great, and was further embellished by luxuriant colour palettes such as emerald, burgundy and cobalt.



Moving onto Saturday, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon may be branded garish upon reviewing this season’s Kenzo show, but we should be accepting by now of what the brand stands for.  I’m all for playfulness as long as it retains some wearability, and I was a fan of the UFO theme and the vivid colour palettes.  Looks were well constructed, and the shoes and bags stood out as much as the clothes did.  Some uglier pieces like the wide green pants were made up for by statement pieces such as the metallic layered jackets.



Miharayasuhiro displayed some average looks, but the vast majority of it was outstanding, a truly complex and awe-inspiring collection.  Silhouettes were complemented by fantastic footwear, and there was excellent use of weathering.



Sunday ended our week, but heralded the undisputable show of the season, Thom Browne A/W15.  The show began with a performance in which a man woke up in a white apartment, sat down at his typewriter, and failing to produce anything, changed into a black suit, and died as his apartment inverted colours.  A funeral procession followed, with black snow falling.  Cleverly, each of the models stopped at the bed to pay their respects.  Aside from this intriguing concept, the clothes themselves were nonpareil in execution and beauty.  Dark dandy elegance was manifest, supported by truly wonderful layering and texture.  Moreover, there was a bold and dramatic touch in the implementing of feminine accessories and headwear.  Thom is approaching legendary status now, blessing us with consistently brilliant shows and pulchritudinous clothing.  Maintaining a signature style while experimenting with myriad colours and themes, he is now in the eyes of many, Le Grand Couturier. 




Aside from the runway, the Paris showrooms brought forth many highlight collections.  Despite some filler pieces, Undercover took inspiration from David Bowie to develop fantastic graphics and perhaps the cleverest lookbook in recent memory. 




Pigalle mixed streetwear with business casual well, presenting lots of stand-out pieces in palatial surroundings. 




Despite some questionable use of floral patterns, White Mountaineering really stood out this year, with fantastic use of herringbone, ponchos, and white and beige palettes.  Moreover, they successfully designed techwear, outerwear and even formalwear. 



In their final foray into ready-to-wear, Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf gave us a gentlemanly collection that broke rules, with astounding use of deep blues and reds. 




The Viridi-Anne followed up a couple of weak seasons with a very strong collection, adding a subtle punch to the normcore aesthetic. 




Gosha Rubchinskiy’s time should be up by now.  This season’s collection hit like a poorly-executed Eastern-bloc version of Ralph Lauren, lazy and strange overall.  Russian youth was still the inspiration, as can be seen from the sock-tucking and the use of ‘sport’ prints.  Gosha as a concept is probably over by now, and doesn’t really deserve a place at Paris Fashion Week.



Ahmed Abdelrahman blew me away again this year with an exquisite collection, one that took forms of Bedouin vestimentary tradition and imbued it with luxurious, voluptuous Italian and English fabrics. 





Overall, this season’s Paris Fashion Week gives one hope.  Thom Browne is now the leading light, and shows no signs of dropping off unlike Rick Owens, the last ‘saviour of men’s fashion’. Reputable brands such as Damir Doma and Saint Laurent continue to disappoint their fans, but many designers were shown to have stepped up this year, both in construction and styling.  Men’s fashion’s greatest spectacle, therefore, has reaffirmed its dominance.