Extinguished Genius

The sumptuous documentary McQueen charts the meteoric rise of the fashion designer Alexander McQueen and brings to the fore the colliding worlds of creatively artistic high fashion and the machinery of corporate profits.

Combining both biographical history in addition to anecdotal stories from a bevy of friends and colleagues, the film opens the mind behind some of the fashion world’s most memorable catwalk shows and garments.

British fashion designer Alexander McQueen dances down the cat-walk to the applause of his models and audience after his show during London Fashion Week, February 27. During the week over forty international designers show their spring and summer 1998 collections. - RTXHNHM

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Alexander McQueen was an ambitious and driven visionary who singlehandedly changed a woman’s silhouette with his infamous “bumster” pants in the 1990’s, forever altering the length of the torso, an innovation that is still present today in womenswear as well as menswear via the “low-rise” cut of skirts and pants.

Having started as a teenage tailoring apprentice on Savile Row, his star quickly ascended with the completion of his degree at Central Saint Martins and the purchase of his final student collection by the eccentric and influential tastemaker, Isabella Blow. From there he made two landmark collections under his own name, after which he was whisked off to Paris to become Creative Director for Givenchy. Whatever he designed was sure to gain press, for the collections were grounded in themes of darkness, decay, angst—themes that he would pursue throughout the rest of his career.

Shuttling back and forth between Givenchy in Paris and maintaining his own label in London, he soon saw the writing on the wall: his days at Givenchy were numbered and after a short stint he returned to London to resume his own company and immerse himself in his independent designing. Eventually, the Gucci Group took him under their umbrella and with complete creative control, Lee (as he was known to family and friends) could flourish in his imagination with full funding and unlimited budgets for design.

McQueen Image 3The film juxtaposes these incredible successes with the tragic lows of his life and psyche. Dealing with demons, the advent of which go back to his childhood, Alexander McQueen had many ghosts. It is these ghosts which unleashed the incredible drive and passion he had for his field but also what ultimately led to severe unhappiness and struggle in his personal life.

Through a series of five sections, the backgrounds of the collections run in tandem with the events of his life occurring during each section. A full picture of the man and designer reveals itself with each succeeding period, finally reaching a crescendo of unfortunate loss; first his once friend and advocate Isabella Blow to suicide, the devastating death of his treasured mother and finally, himself, to a lonely hanging of his own doing in his London flat.

While celebrating Alexander McQueen’s life and work, the film’s perspective is also tinged with great sadness and despair; somehow I think Lee would have found this a fitting portrayal.

Somewhere, his big boy face is grinning with appreciation.

McQueen is currently running at Landmark 57 and other theatres.