Monday, August 10, 2009

Alexander McQueen's Woman; Spectacle & Identity

This dress, and the whole collection it was a part of, is mind-meltingly beautiful. I adored the idea of a traditional pattern like the houndstooth morphing across the fabric into those macabre magpies, and the way it steals forms from the past like the New Look and makes it hysterical, histrionic. The whole garment has this real sense of weight to it, watching it move with the model, there's a feeling that it guides and dictates the movement possible in it, which is restricting on one hand but also demands of the wearer that they align themselves with the dress. It's such an exceptional piece that it requires the wearer to take on a role, and perform it. The dress demands a personal conviction from the wearer; it is such a force of personality, and an extremely aggressive one. The sheer aggressiveness is the most compelling quality in all of McQueen's collections. Aggression, theater, and power are the the three lynchpins of his work with clothes as well as with creating the spectacle that showcases them.
The styling of this ensemble in particular literally adorns the model in trash as the crowning note of the ensemble, with spray-painted, plastic wrapped aluminum cans arranged as headpieces. That element of using something degraded or junk-like in the styling of the ensembles enhances the overall power and grace of the image. The fact that they are stomping down the stretch of runway in honkin high heels and otherworldly ensembles makes the women powerful, unquestionably not to be fucked with. In his shows the models are often walking in an engineered atmosphere of trauma or tension (sexual, narrative), which his shows often invoke either in the stage sets that they have to navigate or in the subject matter spelled out by the names of the shows; "Highland Rape", his fifth collection in 1995, being one of the most infamous.

The major criticism of his work is that it displays a malevolent, misogynistic bent in his conception of women, in that his collections, though moreso his earlier ones, often have women appearing traumatized or deathly by the effects of the makeup, made severe by the cut and tailoring of the clothes, and somehow battered by the overall styling of their appearance, as if they were emerging on the runway having been previously destroyed but now pieced back together as the spectacle of the fashion show. The particular theatricality of McQueen's shows has even been referred to as 'McQueen's Theatre of Cruelty' in The Independent's review of his second collection: "McQueen...has a view that speaks of battered women, of violent lives, of grinding daily existences offset by wild, drug-enhanced nocturnal dives into clubs". But the violence of the styling has evolved over a decade into a highly regal and triumphant parade of women as something to be feared more than afraid themselves.

The clothes seem to serve as protection, as a barrier between the woman and a world that threatens her. The service of making clothes for women has an aspect of determining what a woman will be in the world she inhabits, and McQueen allying his craft to dressing women cannot be misogynistic, because he wants women to be strong: "I design clothes because I don't want women to look all innocent and naive, because I know what can happen to them. I want women to look stronger". The desire to create a look, in the hope that appearance will affect being, to situate the body in a way that will affect action and character, is rooted in how fashion relates to the development of identity. The identities of McQueen's characters are strong and independent, there is no implication in his images that these women need a man for instance. In fact, he's interested in women as separate from men: "I like men to keep their distance from women", "I've seen a woman nearly beaten to death by her husband. I know what misogyny is...I want people to be afraid of the women I dress".

All quotes taken from Caroline Evan's Fashion at the edge: spectacle, modernity & deathliness.

1 comment:

  1. Looking up pics from the highland rape collection and this came up. Your fantastic post made me cry, thinking about this designer. Not only is the MAN McQueen's suicide a tragedy, but the extinguishing of such a blazing, brilliant creative force is a fucking crime against humanity. Not a crime--I don't know what to say, except that I wish he stayed with us.