Thanks to Sex and the City, Ugly Betty, and The Devil Wears Prada, the fashion world has gotten used to seeing itself portrayed with an arms-folded-seen-it-shot it-worn-it all attitude of bemused boredom. Except the pose is all bunk, a myth. All you had to do to expose its falsity was attend an Alexander McQueen show.
Because then you would witness fashion editors eagerly scurrying to their seats, eyes darting with Christmas Eve anticipation, gleefully second guessing the oncoming spectacleand it always was a spectaclebuzzing to each other like techies who’d just scored a private audience with Steve Jobs.
McQueen never wavered about wanting to “shove fashion in your face.” So the outrageous, the surreal and the staggering were as much a component of each season’s collection as new fabrications and innovative silhouettes.
But if his audacity had been the primary calling card, we wouldn’t be so devastated by the loss of Alexander McQueen.
For each time, McQueen enthralled, ensnared and enriched us with another explosive synthesis of multiple unparalleled talents. He was a superb tailor, thanks to a master’s degree in design from Saint Martins School and apprenticeships on London’s venerated Savile Row. He had a relentless fascination with new technology that not only caused him to Twitter all day long, but initiated collaborations with computer and video artists that resulted in prints of incredible complexity, and fabrics that allowed silhouettes and cuts that were impossible to achieve as little as five years ago.
He was also, as he would only blushingly admit long into an interview, an unabashed romantic, which is why his creations spilled forth with exquisitely intricate folds of lace held by latticeworks of brilliant, hand-painted, weightless silks that would be the envy of Japanese calligraphers, and shimmering knife pleats that few couture houses in Paris could match.
Finally and most enjoyably, McQueen was a brilliantly diabolical, Barnumesque showman. No matter how extraordinary his clothes, you were never going to see them come down a stark white runway. Instead, McQueen encased models in constricting leather harnesses, then set them loose in the Conciergerie, the Paris jail where Marie Antoinette was kept, walking packs of wolves.
To show off diaphanous florals, he made his models take dance lessons so they could participate in a grueling marathon like they held during the Depression in the ’20s. He staged an homage to the classic ’50s Hitchcock blonde, complete with Kim Novak and Tippi Hedren dead-ringers sporting cinched-waist boucle and hats strewn with menacing stuffed birds.
He set models in violent wind tunnels, drenched them in soaking rain, positioned them at odds on a massive chess board, made them walk in 10 inch heels (for the record, not a single model faltered), streamed his last show live around the world to such popularity that the site crashed, and captured Kate Moss in a holographic image of such haunting beauty that the “jaded” fashion audience was standing on its feet howling with delight.
But it wasn’t all for show. Though he began his career as angry and cocky as he was gifted, McQueen had grown to realize that success was more than acclaim. He told InStyle, “You can do amazing shows and spray girls to look like robots, but that doesn’t put food in the mouths of people you work with and count on. I’ve had to discover the balance between commerce and showmanship. I think I’ve found it.”
This season, more stars than everSandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Kate Bosworth, Camilla Belleall looked their best in McQueen, which makes the news of his passing all the worse. “I want what I do to speak volumes,” McQueen told InStyle. There were so many more books left to be written.