Alexander McQueen, April 1994 (The Pink Paper)

Alexander McQueen is celebrating his 25th birthday with a party at Maison Bertaux in Soho. He’s wearing a suit for the first time in three years. Why the formality? ‘I really don’t know,’ he says with the kind of lost look that suggests he doesn’t really know what he’s doing here at all. It’s typically Lee (Alexander is a middle name) – you’re never sure if he’s desperately eccentric or incredibly down to earth. Whatever the reality, his work marks him out as a genius.

McQueen’s designs have struck just the right balance by exciting the sensationalist tabloids and also the more conservative and powerful glossies. Isabella Blow from British Vogue bought his graduation collection and set him up in business while his high-concept, highly styled shows have ensured his position in the history of fashion’s cause celebretants.

His success and esoteric style has met with predictable bitchiness. The Evening Standard suggested a ‘designer with a penchant for blood soaked clothing’ should approach scandal mongers Benetton for backing. The collection they referred to was actually adorned with mud, and then only those pieces made especially for the catwalk. ‘This designer came up to me backstage,’ he says, of another occasion when sour grapes were peeled, ‘pointed at a jacket and said “this looks like a bullet proof vest.”’ ‘Better not wear it then, I said, or I won’t be able to get the bullet through.’

Unlike too many of his contemporaries, McQueen has not travelled the well-trodden path to World’s End, which has seen every other student designer assimilate Vivienne Westwood’s entire ouvre and regurgitate. Instead, he has demonstrated an individuality that by the end of this century will see him usurp Westwood as the UK’s greatest fashion expert. His technical expertise alone – with spells of working with Romeo Gigli and Koji Tatsuno under his belt – guarantee him this. ‘This hasn’t happened overnight,’ he says, ‘I’ve been in the business since I was 16 and my style is still evolving. Sooner or later I’ll find my niche and try to evolve it more productively.’

The only similarity with Westwood is his refusal to follow trends. Currently preparing for New York Fashion Week, where he is being represented by Martin Margiela’s agent, his Autumn/Winter 1994 collection of womenswear (a ‘classic with a twist because that’s the only way you can do it’ menswear collection will be shown for the first time next season) is an eclectic mix of fully blown romance offset by an aggressive edge. A painterly theme is evident throughout with palimpsest brushwork on Empire line suits, and drips, splatters and hand prints elsewhere. The show was inspired by Belle de Jour crossed with a ‘post-shipwreck seascape.’ ‘I took the themes of the Bunuel film and made something ethereal, with long gowns; people who are cloistered and restricted but then all of a sudden they find a part of their life that’s been closed. There’s a lot of sexuality in there.’ The show was presented with an initially near-silent soundtrack at the Café de Paris, a pregnant skinhead bustling down the catwalk in reams of transparent netting tightly fitted around her bust. Then things became louder and louder, visually as well as audibly, a female rapper barking in staccato: ‘Am I a bitch? Yes! Am I whore? No! You wanna fuck? Let’s go!’ ‘My mum was in the front row,’ says McQueen, ‘and she thought it was shocking but she understood the meaning behind it all. Usually it’s black male rappers saying “let’s fuck”, but this time it’s a woman.’

The collection itself was cinematic and otherworldly; the wardrobe from the best film that Derek Jarman never made. In describing the conceptual process behind such a loosely iconoclastic collection Lee doesn’t like to intellectualise much. ‘There’s an intellectual input, of course, but you should be able to work it out yourself. Clothes don’t come with a notepad. It’s ecletic. It comes from Degas and Monet and my sister-in-law in Dagenham.’ He is dismissive of the passing revival of deconstruction. ‘I can do it because I can construct in the first place,’ he says, ‘for a lot of others it’s just a way of getting by without any talent.’

Rather than look to the street, Lee looks to the female form. ‘Pattern codes and proportions are my starting point,’ he says. Taking the pragmatic view that the whole point of clothes is to make oneself attractive, he injects his designs with an upfront sexuality. His bumster trousers reveal an inch or so more than hipsters: ‘It reveals the part of a man’s body that I really like, so I presumed that it was the same for straight men and women.’

The current polemic about gay men designing for women is something he finds preposterous. He is dismissive of Colin McDowell, author of the controversial book The Designer Scam: ‘What a load of cack, he’s a right fucking queen! I’m a man and I can only design from that perspective. The female body is like any other body, it has lumps and bumps and you make the most of it; I make women look sexy and hip or chic – never dowdy.’ He has a cast iron defence against any allegations of misogyny. ‘Hang on,’ he says, with a worried look, ‘turn the tape recorder off for a second. What does misogyny mean? Ah. Right. Well, I use lesbians as models as much as possible because if anyone’s going to tell me they hate something, it’s going to be a lesbian. They’re not going to wear anything by a man that doesn’t emphasise their sexuality.’ McQueen’s clothing may be implicitly political but he is outspoken and presents his work with a grand flourish. Fashion has a reputation for trivia, something he has never been fond of.

His business is far from lucrative and he doesn’t lead the rareified life of Calvin, Giorgio or Gianni, having come close to homelessness on occasion. ‘The dole is paying for all this,’ he says. Ironically, working in a traditionally elitist medium gives him the opportunity to exert some degree of influence. ‘It’s nearly the year 2000 and we’re still living in Dickensian times. I always try to slam ideas in people’s faces. If I get someone like Suzy Menkes in the front row, wearing her fucking Christian Lacroix, I make sure that lady gets pissed on by one of the girls, you know what I mean? These people can make you or break you, and they love you for just a moment. I may be the name on everyone’s lips at the moment, but they can kill you…’

Long live McQueen.


One Response to “Alexander McQueen, April 1994 (The Pink Paper)”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John O' Ceallaigh, markcoflaherty. markcoflaherty said: Alexander McQueen's first interview, on his 25th birthday… Nearly a year since he passed. RIP Lee. Such a genius. […]

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