Continuing his exploration of the battle between man and nature, McQueen’s ‘Horn of Plenty’ presentation (which can be seen in full here) was a return to a more brutal aesthetic for the designer. Taking place in a vast industrial wasteland, the show’s towering centrepiece was a scrapheap from which parts had been taken and made into headwear for the harlequin-faced models. The concept behind the set was that of recycling and renewal, a concept illustrated by the fact that props from his previous sets had been taken and spray-painted black in order to populate the scrapheap that dominated the stage. The designer spoke about how he wanted this show to be a retrospective of sorts, one that would mark his 15th anniversary in the fashion industry and enable him to manufacture the image of his legacy – a story which is particularly poignant considering that this would end up being his penultimate complete collection.
After playing it safe with his previous offering, McQueen decided to abandon this notion in entirely and showcase excess in all its greatness. The collection consisted mainly of stiff fabrics which had been worked into exquisitely-detailed silhouettes which featured countless ruffles and collars so high that they enveloped the neck entirely. Some of the clothing looked more like an abstract sculpture than something which was ‘ready-to-wear’ – more than ever, McQueen had succeeded in blurring the lines between couture and ready-to-wear with his craftsmanship. Photographer Nick Waplington was invited to visually document the process behind the collection and, in an interview with style.com he revealed that the designer would, unlike his contemporaries, create the garments himself using a roll of fabric and a pair of scissors.
The fabric choices of the collection were also innovative in their own way - by taking a well-known fabric such as silk and lacquering it to resemble a broken record was the designer’s own way of subverting the haute couture tradition, ‘cheapening’ it with materials that were made to mimic cheap household items. He also paid homage to the couturiers that had come before him – for example houndstooth was distorted, oversized and flicked with red but was still an unmistakable nod to Christian Dior, who became iconic for his use of the print. McQueen’s variation was printed onto fabrics so stiff that they more closely resembled abstract sculptures than actual garments, often featuring intricate patterns of protruding ruffles and necklines so high that they enveloped the models’ necks completely. The designer also referenced himself by reintroducing the chain-mail bodysuit and its connected mask which was originally debuted in his A/W 1998 collection ‘Joan’. This time around the bodysuit was worn under a floor-length printed red dress whose neckline scooped backwards into an exaggerated cowl and whose hemline was interrupted by a puff of fabric which kicked outwards from the knees down.
The designer was also self-referential in his frequent use of bird motifs – most notably, the image of the crow. This inspiration resulted in the two pieces which closed the show, both of which were made entirely from lacquered feathers. The first dress consisted of white feathers which created a tight-fitting pencil dress whose hips were moulded to emphasise the silhouette. It was accompanied by a white feathered top of sorts which protruded from the torso of the dress and climbed vertiginously, obscuring the back of the model’s head and forcing her to cross her arms. The second was arguably one of the finest pieces of McQueen’s career – made once again from lacquered feathers, it was moulded to the body and featured two huge wings which jutted out and literally gave the impression of a crow skulking along the runway. The designer once stated that he had always wanted to take ‘the beauty of a bird and transpose it onto a woman’ and, with this, he succeeded.
Overall, the collection has deservedly gone down as one of the greatest of his career for its re-interpretations of both the practices of the couture industry as well as re-imaginations of his own designs. It is this collection in which he pushes both his silhouettes and his concepts to the limit, creating a set which is almost post-apocalyptic in its design. The painted faces of the models act as a mask and the colour scheme of black, white and red hint at a hidden darkness beneath the collection that McQueen had never commented on. It was the ultimate antithesis of the show that preceded it and showcased the designer’s unique taste for exaggeration and melodrama better than any of his previous collections. With perilously high footwear and headpieces which often masked faces entirely, it was the epitome of the ‘don’t fuck with me’ look that had become synonymous with the McQueen woman. It was power dressing at its most extreme and served as the perfect retrospective to the designer’s turbulent career.