“People find my things sometimes aggressive. but I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality.”
Lee Alexander McQueen
Music Credits

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From late-Victorian mourning wear, to 20th century vampires and even Harry Potter, the extensive aesthetic and sartorial cannon of the Gothic proved to be an enduring source of inspiration for Alexander McQueen. Going hand in hand with his respect for history, the Gothic depicted the past as a time of superstition, repression and mystery, and provided McQueen with a distinct conceptual language and aesthetic in which to explore how the concerns of love, death and the supernatural played out at different points of history. The runway presentation of Voss (Spring/Summer 2001), offered one of McQueen’s most unnerving interpretations of the Gothic within a contemporary context – a recreation of a psychiatric hospital in a London warehouse, complete with padded cells and surveillance mirrors – Voss’ catwalk was inspired by Death Row.

"people find my things sometimes aggressive. but i don’t see it as aggressive. i see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality." LEE ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
What a Merry Go Round Autumn/Winter 2001 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
“I oscillate between life and death, happines and sadness, good and evil”
Lee Alexander McQueen
Contemporary modes of the Gothic were also evident in The Horn Of Plenty (Autumn/Winter 2009). Taking its title from the Victorian pub in which Jack The Ripper’s final victim was last sighted, McQueen presented enlarged interpretations of his signature silhouettes on a catwalk floor of shattered glass – most notably, the ‘black swan’ dress made from dyed duck feathers. Darkly romantic, the Gothic aesthetic was pushed to extremes in the styling, where models walked the catwalk with their faces whitened to further emphasie the over-sized glossed, painted lips which brought to mind figures such as Leigh Bowery and Marilyn Manson, whose song ‘Beautiful People’ provided a key hook to the show’s soundtrack. The exaggerated forms of the garments on display also suggested another idea: that of the designer as surgeon – a Dr Frankenstein or Dr Moreau – and the body as a medium that could be manipulated in excessive and macabre ways.
Voss, Spring/Summer 2001
"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."
Lee Alexander McQueen
Backstage at the Atelier Photograph by ANNE DENIAU
Horn of Plenty, Autumn/Winter 2009 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
Supercali, Autumn/Winter 2002 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
Voss, Spring/Summer 2001 Modelled by Erin O’Connor
"I’m about what goes through people’s minds, the stuff that people don’t want to admit or face up to. The shows are about what’s buried in people’s psyches" LEE ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
Backstage, Horn of Plenty, Autumn/Winter ‘09 Photograph by ANNE DENIAU
McQueen’s vision of the Gothic drew as much upon historical research – with In Memory of Elizabeth How, Salem 1692 (Autumn/Winter 2007) explicitly referencing the persecution of one of his ancestors in the notorious witch trials – as it was inspired by cinema. Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Autumn/Winter 2002), a collection conceived as a tribute to Tim Burton and his depictions of eccentric and often melancholic outsiders. It was McQueen’s most explicitly Gothic collection, with ethereal long black dresses and customized school uniforms recalling Winona Ryder’s character in Burton’s Beetlejuice – and the designer collaborated with the filmmaker to create the mise-en-scene for the collection’s catwalk presentation, which took place in Paris’ La Conciergerie, Marie Antoinette’s final prison before her execution by guillotine.
Backstage, Horn of Plenty, Autumn/Winter 2009 Photograph by ANNE DENIAU
“this collection was inspired by tim burton. it started off dark and then got more romantic as it went along”
Lee Alexander McQueen
Cinema’s influence on McQueen’s vision of the Gothic are plenty: the Edwardiana of It’s Only A Game (Spring/Summer 2005) can be traced to Peter Weir’s Australian Gothic film Picnic at Hanging Rock, set in 1900, and the ivory lace dress accessorised with antlers and a torn veil of The Widows of Culloden (Autumn/Winter 2006) suggests Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham, jilted at the altar in Great Expectations. For the finale of Joan (Autumn/ Winter 1998), a dress made from red bugle beads evoked both the 19-year-old French martyr and the blood-drenched climax of Brian De Palma’s film Carrie. Ultimately, for McQueen, the Gothic wasn’t a fixed set of codes and conventions, but a prism in which to playfully comment on the notion of fashion as a transformative medium – a fairytale told in fabric.
Supercali, Autumn/Winter 2002 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
Autumn/Winter 2010 Photograph by ANNE DENIAU
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