There is dispute as to whether it is this collection (video link here) or ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ that should be classed as McQueen’s last – although S/S 2010 was the last that he completed, this posthumous collection was around 80% complete at the time of the designer’s death. I have chosen to take a further look at it both for reasons of posterity and also because the pieces revealed a more elegant side to the designer’s palette, taking classic works of art and superimposing them onto a series of breathtakingly beautiful garments. It’s perhaps ironic that McQueen became truly fascinated with religion and its concepts of the afterlife just months before his suicide, and although the posthumous collection has no official title it is known as ‘Angels and Demons’ – a title which fits the collection perfectly.
McQueen’s untimely death left Sarah Burton and the rest of her creative team with the task of tying up loose ends and presenting the collection – a task which the designer’s Burton pulled off spectacularly. Choosing an intimate Paris showroom to display the pieces was a touching move, and the room’s gilded mirrors and gold-edged furnishings were the perfect accompaniment to the clothes themselves. His most ornate collection ever, ‘Angels and Demons’ saw the designer abandon his fascination with technology and focus on bringing the lost art of couture back into focus. He did this by re-imagining some of the artworks with which he had been fascinated throughout the collection’s conception – Botticelli, Fouquet and Lochner were all cited as particular inspiration for the pieces.
The thread that links each piece is that of decadence in an extremely literal sense. Full length cloaks were worn over gowns of gilded gold leaf and belted sharply in reference to the designer’s trademark silhouette. Thousands of tiny gold beads adorned one beautiful crimson gown which came with its own matching cape, and elsewhere the designer showed a silk evening gown whose layers gently enveloped the models curves in swathes of fabric printed screen-printed with a work of Byzantine art. Gold angel wings were lightly printed onto the back of the gown, and each look was finished with a feathered Mohawk, whose plumage was gold-painted to match the clothing.
As is always the case with McQueen, the best was saved until last. The best was, in this case, a structured frock coat with a high collar, made entirely from the same gold feathers that decorated the Mohawks. A thick layer of white organza struggled to break free from the coat, creating an elegant silhouette and re-introducing the theme of entrapment that was always present within the designer’s work. In a way, ‘Angels and Demons’ and ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ combine to make a definitive retrospective of the designer’s talent – whereas the former showcased his ability to make breathtaking garments, the latter displayed his willingness to push the boundaries of runway presentation. The new low-key style of presentation is one which would become the signature of McQueen’s successor, Sarah Burton – not necessarily a bad thing, especially considering that the clothes still shown under the house of McQueen are as beautiful as ever. However, despite Burton’s best efforts, this show underlines the fact that McQueen and his talent were, and will always be, irreplaceable.