After two overwhelmingly pedestrian runway presentations, McQueen returned to form in spectacular fashion with one of his most critically-acclaimed shows ever. Returning once again to his Scottish roots, ‘The Widows of Culloden’ (which can be seen in full here) tackled similar subjects to his provocative ‘Highland Rape’ collection, albeit with a more romantic eye. Whilst the 1993 McQueen tackled the subject with ferocity and courted controversy, the 2006 McQueen took a softer, more poetic approach. Renowned for his romanticism, this collection is possibly one of the most lyrical of his career, designed to tell the story of the countless widows that resulted from the 1746 Battle of Culloden.
The show’s aesthetic was directly inspired by the traditional outfits of the 19th century – inspiration was taken from the tiny petticoats, elaborate ruffles and dramatic evening coats of the era. The silhouettes of the gowns were archetypically feminine, focusing around waistlines which were mercilessly cinched in and bustles which were added to every outfit in order to accentuate the curves of the female form, a silhouette which McQueen thought to be reminiscent of a classical statue. The fabrics were equally decadent, ranging from the designer’s own family tartan through to sumptuous black velvet and ornate brocades which almost resembled tapestries ripped from the walls of an ancient castle.
As always, there were several references to the classic McQueen aesthetic. The bird headpieces recalled the designer’s ornithological fascinations whereas the punkier leanings of his opening collections were re-introduced in a series of looks which teamed tartan with black lace to add a contemporary feel to the collection. Lace trouser suits and sharply tailored jackets all reminded us of the designer’s Savile Row beginnings but it was the final few dresses that truly pushed the envelope and showed real technical progression and conceptual progression. The first of these dresses has become one of his most iconic, a stunning floor-length bridal gown made from intricate white lace and completed from the waist down with a cascade of ruffles, its accompanying veil speared and caught upon the antlers that protrude from the model’s elegant updo. The look perfectly encompasses the underlying brutality of the collection and adds a chilly dynamic to the show’s romantic aesthetic. It is at once a reminder that these women are widows, that they were all married and that they were all victimised by war.
After the final precession of stunning looks, the lights dimmed and all attention turned towards the mysterious pyramid that loomed centre stage. Slowly, a video projection began to play. At first it seemed to depict only a small white glow which gradually revealed itself as the numerous ruffles of a dress. Then it grew larger and became a ghost, the haunting memory of the battle and its widows. Finally it was revealed to be the iconic Kate Moss, enveloped in a tourniquet of billowing white fabric spinning wildly as the audience clapped with delight. Not only representing the ghost of the widows’ past, the hologram also represented the spectre of the supermodel that had recently been assassinated by the media in the wake of the notorious ‘Cocaine Kate’ scandal. The woman in the pyramid was defiant and so was McQueen, taking his final bow in a T-shirt which read ‘We Love You Kate!’ The moment would soon become one of the most important in the designer’s career and lead to a revival of Kate’s success; it was a moment which showed friendship, loyalty and the intention to ignore media scandal and place the emphasis back on the two things that both did best – artistic expression and undeniable beauty.