In order to find inspiration for his S/S 2009 collection ‘Natural Dis-Tinction Un-Natural Selection’ (which can be seen in full here), the program notes stated that McQueen had been looking into the works of Darwin and his theory of evolution. This research was evident in the abundance of animal print in the collection as well as the warehouse location of the show which was lined with taxidermy animals ranging from polar bears to tigers. The show appeared to be divided into two halves – one of which depicted a life untouched by man and another which depicted man’s interference with nature, creating an overall commentary on man’s influence on evolution. The theme was not unusual for McQueen, and it is one that he would go on to visually discuss in more detail with his following two collections.
Despite the serious nature of the show’s subject matter the designer stated that his intention was ‘not to preach’ – an intention which became clear when the clothing was unveiled. The silhouettes were all signature McQueen and the runway was awash with animal prints of all varieties as well as some subtle variations. The looks also showed technical precision and the sense that you were getting more for your money; for example, a closer look at a pink floral shift revealed flowers trapped beneath nude chiffon whereas silk evening jackets were nipped and tucked in various places to create animalistic proportions. The steel drums and tribal chants of the soundtrack were the perfect accompaniment to the first half of the show which felt like a walk through a beautiful jungle – silks were screenprinted with tiny yellow florals and loops of fabric moved with the models to give the impression of a bird in flight, whereas vibrant pink flamingos adorned sharply-tailored miniskirts and the exaggerated proportions of strapless minidresses created a series of makeshift exoskeletons.
The second half of the show was darker, just nowhere near as dark as we would expect from a mind so grotesque as that of McQueen. The colour palette started to shift into inkier hues and black crystal jumpsuits began to crop up alongside crystallised portraits of the iconic McQueen skull. The show’s invitation even bore the image that would soon be used as the cover of the ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition book, a lenticular image which blended a photo of the designer’s face with that of a skeleton. Despite the beauty to be found in pieces such as the zip-lined leather cocoon dress or the grey python-print blazers, there was the sense that McQueen was holding back with his imagery.
The previous season was the first in which the fashion house had announced any profitability, and this collection seemed to pull a few punches for the sake of commercial appeal. The designs were typically stunning but there were a few missteps and certain ideas which felt they could have been pushed further. McQueen is renowned for his ambitious staging and overwhelmingly beautiful showpieces, so in this sense the show felt like less like a spectacle and more than a vague introduction to the two collections that would follow. The concept was meaty and there was plenty to discuss, but McQueen the businessman seemed reluctant to delve deep for fear of losing profit.