On Thursday, February 10, 2010, the world lost one of its most influential people to have ever graced the industry of fashion. Lee Alexander McQueen’s artistic vision transformed the entire fashion industry. His own dark and twisted fairy tale reflected in his creative process— from his designs to his over the top runway presentations. His mastery of storytelling in fashion will forever be engrained in fashion’s core.
His fame was attributed to the theatrics of his runway shows; full of shock factor and uncomfortable messaging. Using the catwalk as a platform to represent the dark side of life garnered him acres of publicity and launched him into the spotlight.
Daily Mail quoted him describing his inspiration “I don’t want to do a cocktail party: I’d rather people left my shows and vomited,” he said. “I prefer extreme reactions. I want heart attacks. I want ambulances.”
The emotional experience runway guests endured will live on through the ages as fashion continues to evolve. To honor his legacy, here are the most awe-shocking runway moments from Britain’s favorite bad boy who transformed storytelling in fashion.
Voss – Spring/Summer 2001
The deafening sound of a pulsing heartbeat reverberated off the walls and filled the ears of spectators in the room. They sat in quiet anxiety for hours as they stared at their reflections in a centerpiece constructed out of two-way mirrors, set to resemble a psychiatric hospital. The tense and self-aware mood was set for one of McQueen’s most memorable presentations to begin. Lights on.
Kate Moss was the first to appear, dressed in a beige dress with a piece of white fabric wrapped around her head. McQueen later stated in an interview that Moss’s headpiece was a bandage representative of surgery to change the way one thinks. Other models were confined in razor clam bodices, silk screened garments and crimson ostrich feather skirts representative of blood, while they danced around the hospital room or manically laughed at their reflection in the mirror.
Being the great master of storytelling that he was, McQueen’s message on society’s skewed expectations of beauty resonated with every thread and theatrical display. His personal battle with fashion’s cruel expectations of beauty had never been more apparent.
“I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.” –Alexander McQueen
Highland Rape – Fall/Winter 1995
Models stammered on the runway with blood splattered on their chest, donning dead flowers in their hair. Blue latex bumsters (low-rise pants meant to elongate a woman’s legs), tailored pencil skirts and transparent lace gowns were featured on the figures of disheveled models. The audience gasped as they witnessed the presentation in disdain to the sound of blaring bagpipes and game keeping traditions.
Shock-factor was no stranger to McQueen. The press, who misunderstood the collection’s inspiration, deemed the presentation as “aggressive and disturbing.”
“[This collection] was a shout against English designers . . . doing flamboyant Scottish clothes. My father’s family originates from the Isle of Skye, and I’d studied the history of the Scottish upheavals and the Clearances. People were so unintelligent they thought this was about women being raped—yet Highland Rape was about England’s rape of Scotland,” McQueen clarified.
McQueen’s fourth collection embraced his ancestral pride and celebrated femininity, all while displaying his talent and versatility as a designer.
The show ignited fury in the headlines, further launching the designer’s platform into the public spotlight.
Plato’s Atlantis – Spring/Summer 2010
High pitched whistles echoed throughout the chambers of the room as a giant LED screen projected a woman laying in the sand. She looked as if she had just washed ashore. Her bleach blonde hair was scattered in all directions, and she stared blankly into the sky. The screen flashed, and the same women appeared on the screen again, only this time, she was sporting a gold chest plate, and snakes began to thrash their way through the sand around her. The two robotic arms that outlined the runway were holding cameras and turned their heads towards the stage entrance. Lee Alexander McQueen’s final runway presentation was about to begin.
Acclaimed as one of McQueen’s finest collections, he drew his inspiration for “Plato’s Atlantis” from theories of evolution and concerns over the threat of global warming. He envisioned the emergence of a new Atlantis; a future world where sea levels would rise, requiring the evolution of humanity for survival.
The progression of water evolution was prevalent throughout the presentation. Models wearing reptile patterns and digitally printed dresses featuring structured hips filled the runway as they sunk in McQueen’s famous “Armadillo” ten-inch heels. Colors and textures progressed throughout, flowing from forest greens and browns moving to vibrant aqua and blue.
McQueen’s open embrace of change and adoption of technology forged a new frontier for the future of fashion.
“Usually communication is done through entertainment media like film and music,” he stated. “But fashion is part of that… If I like it or not, my shows are a form of entertainment.” McQueen’s final collection was live streamed for public viewing on ShowStudio.com. The audience demand was so high that both the designer’s and studio’s website crashed due to the crowded servers.
Untitled – Spring/Summer 1998
Flashes of lightning and roaring thunder boomed throughout the abandoned concrete warehouse. The runway was set using a platform created of acrylic tanks filled with water that was lit from below. Originally titled “Golden Shower,” McQueen’s sponsor-pleasing “Untitled” collection was about to begin.
Models stomped the runway sporting pinstriped tailored pants and structured jackets. McQueen’s fascination with nature and evolution were front and center with the use of python printed fabrics crafted into skin-tight dresses. To further represent the fusion of humanity and animals, a corset cast from a human skeleton was paired over a sparkling black dress.
As the show wrapped to an end, the finale began as yellow rain showered the models, who were now wearing all white.
It’s a Jungle Out There – Fall/Winter 1997
“Fashion is a jungle full of nasty, bitchy hyenas,” McQueen stated when explaining the concept of the collection. He found his inspiration while watching a nature documentary on the barbarity of the African Savannah. The drama prevalent in every McQueen spectacle began before the show even started. Naomi Campbell was fired, the facility lost power causing a stampede out of the venue that resulted in the knocking over of a prop that set the stage on fire. McQueen couldn’t have been more pleased.
“The whole show feeling was about the Thomson’s gazelle. It’s a poor little critter—the markings are lovely, it’s got these dark eyes, the white and black with the tan markings on the side, the horns—but it is the food chain of Africa. As soon as it’s born it’s dead, I mean you’re lucky if it lasts a few months, and that’s how I see human life, in the same way. You know, we can all be discarded quite easily. . . . You’re there, you’re gone, it’s a jungle out there!”
McQueen quoted in Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness.
Models with teased hair resembling lions manes with catlike ears peeking through wore headpieces adorned with horns. Their eye makeup was painted to mirror the markings of the Thomson’s gazelle. The clothing stayed true to its animalistic concept, featuring jackets and skirts made from the hide of boars and cows. Dresses had cutouts in the shape of leaves or tiger stripes; with accents of animal heads, tails or horns.
Critics praised “It’s a Jungle Out There” for his rebellious attitude and mockery of fashion’s elite.
“No matter what happens at Givenchy, he will survive the jungle in his own house, where he is unmatched for talent, bravado, ideas and cutting skill,” Amy Spindler wrote in the New York Times.