McQueen continued his streak of success with his S/S 1997 collection, La Poupée (which can be seen in full here) – a collection inspired by the work of twisted German puppeteer Hans Bellmer, renowned for his freaky female mannequins who were often contorted or deformed. Considering that Bellmer’s work was designed to oppose Nazi definitions of beauty, the fact that McQueen was inspired by the artist seems natural; both tend to work within the realm of the grotesque and the mutated, and both take pleasure in rebellion.
Staying true to his signature showmanship, the designer crafted an extraordinary set which featured a flight of steps leading down to a flooded runway. The models all had blunt fringes cut to highlight cheekbones which were almost artificial in their severity, whilst their eyes were surrounded by bold sweeps of metallic silver eyeshadow. Many of the girls also wore heavy facial jewellery in the form of protruding spikes or silver cylinders which orbited the face, whereas the African model Debra Shaw created the most memorable imagery of the show by attempting to walk the runway whilst shackled with metal body jewellery. As usual the press rushed to create controversy, stating that a black woman in chains had to represent slavery – as usual the press were wrong, and McQueen chose the outfit because he liked the delicate way that it made the model walk, somewhere between demented and beautiful.
In terms of clothing itself, the clothing itself was different from previous collections in the sense that the adjective ‘pretty’ actually seems to be one of the most appropriate. Instead of using monochrome and blood red, the second half of the show was dominated by a startlingly feminine colour palette – dusty pink mixed with light yellow and lilac, creating a serene canvas onto which McQueen sprinkled smatterings of sequins and jewels. The show also saw the debut of a gorgeous oriental fabric – light pink silk, embossed with large florals and often worked into looks with exaggerated proportions such as a stiffly-tailored evening jacket or an oversized collar.
Overall, the collection was a true progression for McQueen and its elaborate set was a clear indication of a budget which was slowly increasing. The models used were getting higher in profile (Kate Moss, Kristen McMenamy), and every show seemed to be both more elaborate and more accessible than its predecessor. The collection also came around the same time that McQueen was chosen as the new creative director of Givenchy, a career highlight that elevated the designer’s rank immediately. This collection is an accurate representation of this stage of his career, in the sense that it was the perfect marriage between his love of spectacle and his eye for accessible design. It was perhaps less innovative than some of his previous work, but it was real proof that, when given a big budget and free rein, McQueen can always come up with something spectacular.