Featuring a heavy-metal soundtrack interspersed with children’s music and horrific goth clowns dancing around a traditional carousel, McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 2001 collection (which can be seen in full here) highlighted all of his best-known attributes. Playing on his skills as a showman, the set was dressed up like a gothic fairytale complete with skeletons being dragged across the floor and libidinous models writhing up against the poles of the carousels – like some perverse reinterpretation of the Brothers Grimm, McQueen managed to create a spectacle that straddled the lines of acceptability.
As for the clothing itself, the general rule appeared to be ‘the shorter the better’. Hemlines were hitched up and the mood for the most part of the show was almost aggressively sexual; orange and black were the main colours, reflecting the Halloween-like theme of both the collection and the presentation. McQueen also played on the clown make-up of some of the models, showcasing distorted versions of the harlequin checkerboard print in sheer materials as well as metallic golds and shimmering blacks. There was also, naturally, more than a mere hint of leather and chain embellishment – designed to accompany the metal soundtrack, the models walked the runway in cool, punky versions of the LBD with gelled black hair, showing that even the most classic dress formulas can be reworked.
There was an also an element of the dishevelled about the clothes themselves – hemlines appeared ripped and tattered, whereas flapper dresses and tailored suits were all slightly deconstructed to add a DIY edge. The aim of the show appeared to be to take a slick 1920s aesthetic and subvert it entirely. The flapper girls were present and so were the feathered headpieces (designed by McQueen’s friend, the iconic Philip Treacy) but they were taken and proverbially raped, turning showgirls into strippers and beauty into sleaze.
Overall, the show displayed a new take on the designer’s notoriously macabre aesthetic. It was a more literal interpretation, one which took a charming 1920s circus and painted it black by injecting a healthy dose of Gothicism into an otherwise romantic setting. It is one of McQueen’s lesser-known shows but one which is still both relevant and influential – for further proof, see Marc Jacobs’ final collection for Louis Vuitton. It may not be down as one of McQueen’s greatest collections, but it is still a fine example that he does horror better than any of his predecessors.