Monday, 2 December 2013


Undoubtedly one of the contenders for the greatest McQueen show of all time, the only way to possibly see this show and take in its brilliance is by watching it in its entirety, which you can do here.. With this collection, pictures themselves aren't enough - this was a runway 'presentation' of the greatest kind, and everything from the behaviour of the models to the unveiling of Michelle Olley and the two-hour delay in the show's start were indications of how meticulously McQueen had planned every aspect of the presentation. Designed as a sort of social commentary, the first genius move by McQueen was to design a giant glass cube for the show - made from double-sided mirrors, the models were unable to see the audience and when the lights inside the cube weren't illuminated the audience could only see themselves in a gigantic mirror. McQueen deliberately started the show two hours behind schedule, leaving the audience having to look at themselves for the entire time - he has since commented with glee on how uncomfortable the audience were having to watch themselves as McQueen stayed backstage and watched their reactions on a CCTV camera.

The show was designed as a commentary on beauty, and the extremes that we will go to to preserve it. All of the models walked the runways with their head encased in what looked like white bandages, with only a few wisps of hair allowed to break free and, once illuminated, the set was padded on the inside to resemble a mental asylum. Opening with the iconic Kate Moss in a beige dress decorated with a cascade of ostrich feathers, the drama was evident from the very start. As the show progressed, it became evident that the models could only see themselves - their reactions to their own reflection ranged from ecstasy (one laughed hysterically at her own reflection) through to delirium as several of the women looked visibly distressed by what they saw. Although all of the reactions were obviously exaggerated, they were a true commentary on the relationship between beauty and insanity, and on how some people can drive themselves insane in the quest for perfection. 

In typical McQueen style, the collection was littered with references to the grotesque and the morbid. For example, one look was designed as a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's film 'The Birds' - comprised of a full-feathered dress and a headpiece depicting multiple crows swirling around the models' head, it was just one of several references to a dystopian society. The collection also featured the now-iconic razor clam dress, proof of McQueen's ability as a designer to work with any material at all. The dress was displayed on the runway by the legendary Erin O'Connor as part of a dramatic interval in the show in which she was drowned in dramatic lighting as she ripped the shells from the dress and poured them over her head - perhaps a reference to the way in which the beauty and fashion industries are destroying nature.

As for the clothes themselves, there were several beautiful looks - feathers featured heavily throughout the collection in a range of different colours, as did flowers. There were examples of traditional Japanese imagery; one look (which has now been featured in the New York Metropolitan Museum) consisted of two layers, the top of which was made from silk-screen prints of Japanese patterns and the bottom of which consisted of oyster shells. The beautiful contrast between the delicate silk and the rough shells are one of the purest representations of McQueen's signature juxtaposition between the beautiful and the grotesque.

This is the message that is conveyed by the final image of the presentation - eight minutes into the show, the music is swiftly intercepted only by the sound of a flatline as the lights dim completely. Throughout the show there has been a large glass box in the centre of the set, and we see the walls slowly lower. As the walls hit the ground and the glass smashes, it is revealed that there is a woman inside the box - she is an overweight woman, laid on a chaise longue with her face obscured by a gas mask with several tubes, trapped in the box with hundreds of moths which fly free as their cage is shattered. Included as a reference to the 1983 photograph 'Sanitarium', the woman is a brutal statement on how society treats those who are not beautiful - locked away, trapped and hidden. It also served as one of the defining moments of McQueen's career, and was an incredible display of his ability to blur the lines between fashion and performance art. 

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