Wednesday, 8 January 2014


After symbolically collating the last 15 years of his work with his ‘Horn of Plenty’ collection, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ (which can be seen in full here) saw Alexander McQueen draw a line under his past and move firmly towards the future. Utilising technology to its full potential, the designer announced a collaboration with renowned fashion photographer Nick Knight which would see the entire show streamed live on the photographer’s influential website ‘ShowStudio’ – a move which would take the notoriously exclusive world of the fashion show and smash it apart, broadcasting this usually private event to an audience of millions. It was only when international superstar Lady Gaga tweeted that the show would also debut her new single that excitement reached fever pitch, leading to the servers crashing immediately from overwhelming demand and representing a new peak in the designer’s career.

Capitalising on Gaga at the height of her fame was a genius move, exposing McQueen’s work to a new mainstream demographic. Her ‘Bad Romance’ video was a veritable fashion feast and featured several looks from the show, including the head-to-toe finale look complete with the now-iconic ‘Armadillo’ shoes. No expense was spared on the show’s set either, which boasted a gigantic illuminated runway with a video projection screen as its backdrop. It was the screen which housed Knight’s contribution to the show, a fashion film depicting model Raquel Zimmerman bathed in blue light and writhing naked in sand, her taut body covered with pythons. It was a chilling image, and one which led us neatly into the story behind the collection.

Footwear, Alexander McQueen S/S 2010
Never knowingly optimistic, McQueen’s vision for the show was that of an apocalyptic future drowned under the rapidly-melting icecaps. By heavily referencing the mythical island of Atlantis (first mentioned in ‘Plato’s Atlantis – hence the show’s title), the designer transported his audience to an ethereal underwater world populated by the horn-faced models that skulked the catwalk. There was also a fascination with hybridisation, one which apparently stemmed from the idea that land animals – especially reptiles – are just newly-adapted versions of their marine counterparts. This is how the aesthetic of the show came to be divided between its first half – land, and it’s second – sea.

It was the screenprints that stole the show - technicolour amalgamations of various animal hides, almost all of which were superimposed onto barely-there mini-dresses with severely nipped-in waists and bell skirts. A closer look at the clothes reveals the staggering amount of detail and the sheer volume of different patterns and colours which adorn them – from exotic orange python skin through to X-ray images and silver scales, the range of prints on show was nothing short of mesmerising. Dark, gothic florals made an appearance on a series of dresses too, but they were interrupted by a glacial white shimmer that represented the destruction of the ice caps and their threat to nature. There were also references to the designer’s Savile Row background with a series of grey frock coats which had holes cut into them, revealing flashes of the turquoise fabric beneath.

Trousers were fitted with shiny grey flanks that protruded from the hips to mimic the smooth body of a shark, whereas short dresses were fitted with moulded hips which consisted of ruffles of organza that rippled like the ocean’ waves as the model walked. The underlying melancholy of the collection was present, but the overall collection served more as a tribute to the sea and its splendour. Introducing the grotesque elements of the reptilian scales and the monstrous horns created the beautiful juxtaposition between fragility and aggression that had become the designer’s staple, and introduced his unorthodox view of beauty to a new audience.

The styling and accessories added a new dimension to the show’s aesthetic, and helped the audience plunge deeper into McQueen’s underwater kingdom. Models walked the runway looking almost extra-terrestrial with a variety of hairstyles which had been braided and sprayed to represent ferocious horns, their hair swept fiercely from their faces to emphasise the horn prosthetics which protruded from razor-sharp cheekbones. Elfin faces were swept with light blue and white powder, creating the impression of frozen skin. Eyebrows were bleached out completely and lips were painted nude so as to erase facial features and create the aesthetic of a techno-reptilian hybrid – commenting after the show, McQueen dismissed the notion of a ‘sci-fi’ aesthetic, claiming “it’s not sci-fi – it’s evolution”. However, it was the now-infamous ‘Armadillo’ shoes that caught the attention of the fashion media. Deliberately bulbous and 12-inches high, the casting criteria for the show stated firmly that “if the girls can’t walk in them, they can’t walk in the show”. This fascinating footwear came in a variety of colours and soon became known as a challenge of sorts, with some of fashion’s most daring visionaries snapping them up immediately.

It remains one of fashion’s greatest tragedies that McQueen died at what could be arguably be called the peak of his career. The silhouettes and design within the show weren’t new territory for the designer, but the way in which he presented it hinted at true innovation and showed a designer prepared embrace technology and its limitless possibilities. It was this presentation with its powerful message and ethereal aesthetic that underlined McQueen’s reputation as a visionary and put him firmly at the edge of change. It is cruelly ironic that his last two collections were arguably his greatest, hinting at limitless potential which was never to be realised. As a final show, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ and its dystopian themes gave us a glimpse into the mind of a troubled genius and presented us with a final aesthetic feast that reminds us that his death is one of fashion’s greatest losses.

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