McQueen rose quickly from lower-class high school dropout to internationally-acclaimed designer with extraordinary speed and volatility. His bold styles and eye-catching shows mesmerized audiences around the world – while also horrifying some.
Wilson asserts that Janet served as inspiration for many of Wilson’s designs.
1. Gothic Romanticism
Alexander McQueen was one of the most iconic fashion designers of his era, known for his fearless approach to fashion and theatrical runway shows that made an impressionful statement about identity, sexuality and societal norms. McQueen found inspiration from art history nature while his collection stood out with rebellious themes and use of raw materials that made its presence felt all around.
McQueen had always been drawn to history and its impact on culture, which eventually led him to study at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design where his passion led him to design. At Central Saint Martins he quickly become known for his innovative designs inspired by Jack the Ripper; one such graduate collection sold entirely was purchased by fashion stylist Isabella Blow – later becoming both mentor and longtime friend.
McQueen’s choice of raw materials was heavily influenced by Romanticism, an artistic movement that highlighted beauty and natural forms. He often integrated natural elements like wood, fur and feathers into his designs for embellishments. McQueen was also greatly inspired by Victorian history – an era which saw social change, extreme poverty and an explosion of Gothic literature which greatly impacted McQueen’s style – yet another source of influence on his work and style throughout his career. His interest in past events and their influence on contemporary society remained an overarching theme throughout his career.
2. The Victorian Era
McQueen fashion was heavily influenced by Victorian-era aesthetics. His use of floral patterns and wide, puffy sleeves were hallmarks of this period’s clothing; and this allowed the designer to craft dresses that were both feminine and bold at once.
Alexander McQueen designs were heavily influenced by Victorian Gothic elements, particularly grotesque and gothic styles. Alexander was particularly drawn to them and often included them into his collections.
Designer Oscar de la Renta famous for incorporating elements such as flowers, feathers, deer antlers and skulls into his designs for dramatic fashion shows that often included performance art elements and would create an air of mystery and danger among his audiences.
Victorians were fascinated with animal world, which became a central theme of Alexander McQueen collections. To take this fascination one step further, McQueen created hybrid creations between humans and animals such as VOSS’ Mussel Shell Bodice from Spring/Summer 2001 or milliner Philip Treacy’s Bird’s Nest headdress from The Widows of Culloden Autumn/Winter 2006 collections that illustrate this idea of cross-species design.
This designer also used animal life as a vehicle for exploring dichotomous forces like nature versus humanity and machine versus man, most visibly in his Plato’s Atlantis collection (Spring/Summer 2010) featuring aquatic hybrids, silk garments decorated with digital reptile prints, and models wearing shoes with claw-like armadillo claws.
McQueen excelled at challenging conventional notions of beauty by upending traditional notions of proportion and symmetry – producing clothing that seemed to reconstruct the body like a mechanic doll. McQueen was also renowned for anamorphosis; creating metallic crowns and masks which distorted facial features, transparent textile dresses that moved when people walked, triangle shaped suits that changed shape as people moved and triangle-shaped suits that moved along as people moved forward.
McQueen was known for his artistic designs featuring animals as subjects, particularly when merging human and animal worlds together. He often employed exotic materials like feathers (The Widows of Culloden dress from Autumn/Winter 2006), clam shells (VOSS Spring/Summer 2001) or flowers (e.g. Sarabande Fall 2007) in his work; also key was the theme of noble savagery that often appeared throughout his career; these often explored femininity versus masculinity, fragility versus strength, romance versus rebellion or nature versus technology all while weaving themes such as femininity versus strength versus technology as well as man versus beast.
McQueen was known for his far-reaching historicalism in his collections, challenging historical narratives with innovative visions that defied traditional thinking and accepted boundaries set by fashion shows. For instance, in 1995 Highland Rape collection he explored Scottish history through interpretation of Highland Clearances–forced removal of tenants from homes during 18th and 19th century–a concept informed by his Scottish heritage.
4. The Middle Ages
McQueen used fashion not just to display clothes; rather he employed his collections as a medium for political comment and often found inspiration from historical events related to his Scottish heritage. One particularly controversial collection by him was Highland Rape (autumn/winter 1995-96), which addressed the Scottish Clearances when tenants in the Highlands were forcibly evicted; its display featured cruel theatrical captions like ‘burnsters’ and ‘heartbreak hill girls’ which McQueen used to disprove romantic images of Scotland; its semi autobiographical nature also included his experiences of racism within himself.
Alexander McQueen looked back to the Middle Ages for inspiration when creating his final collection, just months before his death. This included rich colours like crimson and gold along with intricate embroidery work and sober brocade fabrics – far removed from his earlier “bad boy done good” designs that had become part of his signature aesthetic.
Medieval iconography reflects the surge of neo-medievalism that is currently taking hold in fashion circles. This trend could be partially explained by popular fantasy games like The Elder Scrolls that showcase medievalism; players could look towards this period for style inspiration, leading them back into tailored capes and rigid maxi dresses, tailored capes, rigid maxi dresses, Moderngurlz reporting on medievalism in forms such as hairnets and oxidized silver jewelry as evidence of revival of medievalism from days gone by!
Alexander McQueen’s influence was most often felt through its dark, occult theme. Lee, as Alexander McQueen was known, delighted in shocking his audience – his 1992 MA graduate collection was inspired by Jack the Ripper while subsequent collections featured themes of rape, murder and Satanism – many collections also featuring cage-like structures with historic misogyny as signature looks.
Satanism dates back to the late 1960s with Anton Szandor LaVey’s founding of the Church of Satan and publishing of The Satanic Bible in 1975. While not technically considered a religion, Satanists venerate certain aspects of Satan such as freedom, knowledge, power and pleasure which he represents symbolically as their deity.
Though embracing Satanic imagery and themes, the Church of Satan does not promote criminal activities or violence. Some Satanist groups in the 21st century have moved toward more extreme approaches; one such organization is Order of Nine Angles which advocates human sacrifice and wants to infiltrate schools to counter faith groups evangelizing children.
Alexander McQueen showcased a fascination with pagan and occult themes throughout his runway shows for Fall/Winter 2007/8. For his FW07 show, McQueen traced a blood-red pentagram inside a black sand circle on the catwalk as models strutted moulded leather corset dresses with nipped-in waists and bold blue eye makeup while tottering along. Other designers also embraced dark themes; Givenchy stitched devil horns onto hoodies while Rick Owens sent out platform boots designed to act like waders while crossing a river of blood.
McQueen made his mark in fashion through his fearless style and extravagant runway shows, leaving an indelible mark upon fashion history. His collections often told stories or explored deeper concepts ranging from identity, sexuality, societal norms and religious iconography and symbolism. McQueen sought inspiration in art history nature and personal experiences in his design work; one theme being religion itself as one source of influence.
McQueen was fascinated with spiritualism and the occult, often drawing upon autobiographical influences to infuse his designs with autobiographical elements. For instance, his 1995 Highland Rape collection drew on his Scottish heritage, drawing parallels to Highland Clearances when tenants were forced off their land by landlords. Furthermore, in 2007’s In Memory of Elizabeth Howe Salem 1692 show models donned moulded leather corset dresses, bold eye makeup and an approximated fheilidh mor accompanied by tailcoat and badger sporran.
McQueen used religious themes as a powerful visual metaphor to represent his personal struggle with depression and mental illness, often using models dressed in traditional and contemporary McQueen designs to represent miracle bodies that could not be seen by backstage staff but were capable of walking on water, an allusion to German artist Hans Bellmer’s poupee (or doll) series which featured disassembled dolls into supernatural forms. For his SS 1997 show La Poupee, this used religious imagery as the focus for creating models who represented such bodies that couldn’t even be seen. For the La Poupee show, models dressed in traditional and contemporary McQueen designs were worn to depict what are known as miracle bodies – this referencing German artist Hans Bellmer’s Poupee series which saw deconstructed and rebuilt dolls into supernatural forms reconstructed dolls transformed into supernatural figures from its initial form.