“Plato’s Atlantis is Darwin’s theory of evolution in reverse… We came from the water and now, with the help of stem cell technology, we must go back to survive.”
Lee Alexander McQueen
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The last collection Alexander McQueen would complete before his death, Plato’s Atlantis (Spring/Summer 2010) is widely recognised as one of the designer’s finest. Merging Darwin’s theories of evolution and contemporary concerns of global warming – with the title referencing the legendary island of enlightened beings that had sunk into the sea two millennia ago – Plato’s Atlantis told the story of a world in which the ice-caps had melted, the rising seas had engulfed civilization, and humanity would need to evolve to survive in a future underwater world. Working in collaboration with photographer and SHOWstudio founder Nick Knight, it was live streamed over the internet. If the concept behind Plato’s Atlantis was ambitious, its execution was even more so, requiring and resulting in a number of innovations.

"This collection predicted a future in which] the ice cap would melt… the waters would rise and… life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath the sea once more or perish. Humanity [would] go back to the place from whence it came" LEE ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
Magdalena Frackowiak approaches for Plato’s Atlantis, Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2010 show.
The opening fashion film of Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2010 show, created by alexander mcqueen, nick knight and ruth hogben and starring raquel zimmermann
This process of “evolution in reverse”, of becoming human hybrids capable of living in the oceans, began with a dozen digitally printed dresses featuring images firstly from above sea level – roses and moths – before segueing into snakes – their amphibious nature suggesting a transition to water – and finally blue and purple images of ocean creatures such as stingrays, jellyfish and coral reefs. Such vivid rendering was made possible by new advances in ink-jet printing, which provided the opportunity to over-lay patterns of great complexity. Yet, the challenge lay in the construction: in weaving and engineering these prints so that all the patterns matched up with the design on every seam. This process was compounded by the varying properties of the fabrics used: fragile chiffons and taffeta, heavier woven jacquards, jersey and mohair. ‘Cut thread’ fil coupé satin organza, with its ability to fluctuate from a dense weave to a cobweb-like translucency and imbue the garments with an ethereal quality, proved particularly challenging.
Circle-engineered to the body, there were 36 prints in Plato’s Atlantis. Though he was to abandon his reference boards in order to “create something completely new”, McQueen named one of the digital prints ‘Abyss’ after the James Cameron film of a diver’s spiritual awakening at the hands of an alien living in the deep ocean. One of his favourite films, The Abyss provided much inspiration for the colour palette of the collection, with the eponymous print emulating the aqueous forms of the film’s benevolent alien. Images of rusted, seaweed covered shipwrecks inspired verdigris neckpieces, riveted metal shoes, and the ‘Rusty’ print – used on a fluted, ruffled chiffon miniskirt created from thousands of circles of fabric in an age-old couture technique to mimic the movement of jellyfish as they throb through the sea. Elsewhere, puffed sleeves were folded and pleated like the forms of a fish’s gills in order to convey the idea of devolution, and cameras mounted on robotic arms panned up and down, inspecting these hybrid beings and projecting details of the garments on to the screen at the back of the catwalk.
"Plato’s Atlantis is Darwin’s theory of evolution in reverse… We came from the water and now, with the help of stem cell technology, we must go back to survive"
Lee Alexander McQueen
Plato’s Atlantis backstage images by photographer anne deniau from love looks not with the eyes Book by anne deniau Published by abrams book
In addition to the printed dresses the collection is renowned for, Plato’s Atlantis also featured ‘Stingray’ jackets, rubberised jersey frock coats inspired by the curvature of a penguin’s markings, and tops made from ‘Schläepfer’ gauze that evoked the bioluminescent bloom of jellyfish. Yet, arguably the most memorable ensemble of Plato’s Atlantis was its final, ‘Neptune’s Daughter’, a look consisting of a dress, leggings and ‘Armadillo boots’, each embroidered entirely with large iridescent enamel paillettes that sparkled in the light. The opalescent paillettes brought to mind the scales of a sea creature – covering the model from neck to toe, the process of hybridisation was now complete. The culmination of a lifetime dedicated to taking his craft to new levels of refinement, and a passion for the natural world, Plato’s Atlantis can be considered the pinnacle of Lee Alexander McQueen’s search for the sublime.