This, what seems to be a partly neglected show by the critics, is one of my top favourite. Inspired by the witchcraft trial in Salem, where also relatives to Lee were hung, made him explore witchcraft and worship in general, leading to Paganism and the Ancient Egypt. He aimed to present the models as protective and fertile, as phantoms of once broken but altogether stronger victims.
The set is designed as a pagan worship ritual: a pentagram shaping lines aligned to the five different elements. The screens give a beautiful glimpse of these trapped phantoms looking down over us, first whispering then giving away a terrible cry. And with that, the show can begin.
Alexander McQueen: A/W 2006 The Widows of Culloden
In this collection he revisits his origins and the inspirations of one of his most famous shows; Highland Rape. Immaculate tailoring, birds on heads, rawness and sophistication. With a soundtrack from Schindler’s List the whole atmosphere breathed an intimate and secretive darkness, not quite as shocking as the rest of his shows. But what of course is most reminiscent of this show is the hologram finale of Kate Moss. The trick seems advanced but in fact it uses an old and simple idea called the Pepper’s Ghost, which involves only light and reflective glass. Simple or not, it vowed and moved a whole fashion world at the time.
The Stages of Alexander McQueen: A/W 2003 Scanners
”Tell yourself, in that final flowing of cold through your limbs, that you love what you are.” – Crystal Pite
The reason why I include this into the listing of McQueen’s best shows is the dramatic spectacle of the finale: the model wearing the kimono in the stormy raised transparent tunnel. The whole show enacts a wasteland, seemingly dry and windy stretches in Asia, and the soundtrack amplifies the effect with windy beats. The collection throughout is tailored to perfection and justifies a quiet bare set, except for the silent drama on the end.
Taklimakan desert Western China, Eastern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (NASA)
This curation has arrived to my favourite Alexander McQueen show ever. A Gothic influence yet a contemporary staging, which captivated the audience in its largest sense of the world as they felt trapped within their own mirrored reflection and saw the models trapped within the box. The box – ”a recreation of a psychiatric hospital in a London warehouse, complete with padded cells and surveillance mirrors – Voss’ catwalk was inspired by Death Row.” Lee himself saw this as one of his finest moments, to be able to turn the fashion world on themselves, and he kept them staring at their own reflection for two hours in attendance of the show (meanwhile he was giggling backstage). Another word for the scenery used by the brand and the press was the one of asylum: a sanctuary of peace and a housing for the insane.
Adding to the wonder of the show, an installation inside the box (inside the box) of the Joel Peter Witkin painting Sanitarium was re-created, with the writer Michelle Olley inside of it, nude and covered in moths.
This has inspired me so much that I am myself working on an installation and a play using this simple but effectful technology: of seeing while being seen.
Joel Peter Witkin, Sanitarium, 1983
And there is nothing like it after that in fashion, however in theatre:
All theatre, staging the real in miniature, is a form of ritual. We highlight the things we are disturbed by to deal with it. The act of letting go, even destroying, is a ritual used in ancient religions in order to be able to embrace the new. They are often enacted in a circle, so as to close the energy revolving. Lee himself was very obsessed by death but rather saw the symbolic ritualism in it: ”It is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholic but romantic at the same time. It is the end of a cycle – everything has to end. The cycle of life is positive because it gives room for new things.”
Alexander McQueen, S/S 1998 Untitled (Golden Shower)
This was at the beginning, but the first time he had a sponsor and a budget. Set designer Simon Costin was working with him on the art direction, Sam Gainsbury on the production. It was initially meant to be called Golden Shower, but someone at American Express eventually found out what it meant and had to be changed to Untitled. Still pornographic, barely-there dresses came up on the catwalk only to be soaked in water. What we can’t see in the video is that the runway was cleared for 10 minutes and black ink filled the lit up plexiglass and that is how the lights went out.