“I try to push the silhouette. To change the silhouette is to change the thinking of how we look.”
Lee Alexander McQueen
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savage beauty

primitivism

THE NOBLE SAVAGE

An avid collector of National Geographic magazine, Alexander McQueen’s fascination with nature, its beauty, strangeness and cruelty, is apparent throughout his work. Yet rather than merely recreate forms and patterns apparent in the organic world, certain garments within the designer’s oeuvre explore a recurring narrative of metamorphosis – a shape-shifting state of ‘becoming’ between the realms of the spirit and the physical, or the animal and the human, which is often associated with tribal understandings of the world. Many of these narratives referenced the Romantic 19th century ideal of the ‘noble savage’, living in harmony with the natural world. Such was McQueen’s respect for nature, he even dedicated an entire collection to man’s destruction of the environment in Natural Dis-tinction, Un-Natural Selection (Spring/Summer 2009), which was presented on a catwalk decorated with a menagerie of taxidermied animals.

"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
"I try to push the silhouette. To change the silhouette is to change the thinking of how we look. What I do is look at ancient African tribes, and the way they dress. The rituals of how they dress... There’s a lot of tribalism in the collections"
Lee Alexander McQueen
Eshu, Autumn/Winter 2000 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
In It’s A Jungle Out There (Autumn/Winter 1997), a leather bodysuit featuring taxidermied baby crocodile heads nestling against the stand-up collar depicts an amalgam of reptilian and mammalian elements to evoke the predatory landscapes of Africa; the hunter and its prey, and the ever-present battle between life and death. Within the same collection, a ponyskin jacket with impala horns enacts a similar moment of metamorphosis, and a dialogue between the tailoring techniques McQueen honed on Savile Row and the energy of the primal. The painstakingly cut and sewn silk lining of the jacket belies the superficial crudeness of the skin’s assemblage – paired with bleached denim jeans, the character is placed within another moment of becoming; one caught between the natural and the modern globalized world.
“I like things to be modern and still have a bit of tradition”
Lee Alexander McQueen
Natural dis-tinction un-natural selection Spring/Summer 2009 Photograph by ANNE DENIAU
“working with the atelier (at givenchy) was fundamental to my career... i was a tailor at savile row. at givenchy i learned to soften. for me, it was an education. as a designer i could have left it behind. but working at givenchy helped me learn my craft”
Lee Alexander McQueen
The relationship between civilisation and the primordial power of nature is explored further in Irere, a collection inspired by the Roland Joffe film The Mission in which a Jesuit missionary in 18th century South America attempts to protect a native tribe from Portuguese forces. Taking its title from an indigenous Amazonian word for transformation, Irere was presented in three sequences. First, models walked out as pirates who had survived a shipwreck, the fragility of their femininity conveyed in the ‘Oyster’ gown constructed from boned tulle and shredded chiffon. This was followed by another torn chiffon dress – a hint that the girl had survived and was to be transformed by mischievous spirits she would encounter in the forest, represented by a series of designs in black worn by masked models. For the finale, darkness gave way to a riot of colour, as models emerged as birds of paradise in bold printed chiffon gowns, and thus the cycle of transformation was complete – the power of the natural world had transcended the man made.
Irere, Spring/Summer 2003 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
Eshu, Autumn/Winter 2000 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
It’s a Jungle Out There, Autumn/Winter 1997 Photograph by Robert Fairer
It’s a Jungle Out There, Autumn/Winter 1997 Photograph by Ben Stockley
Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2002 Photograph by STEVEN KLEIN
"Animals ... fascinate me because you can find a force, an energy, a fear that also exists in sex."
Lee Alexander McQueen
Natural dis-tinction un-natural selection Spring/Summer 2009 Photograph by ANNE DENIAU
Natalia Vodianova, Harper’s Bazaar India 2003 Photograph by peter lindbergh
“I’m a romantic schizophrenic. Some people think I’ve become softer with this spring collection, but it’s always been in my work. There may be an Edgar Allen Poe romance to it – it’s not a heart-on-your-sleeve type thing – but that’s just my personality. I’ve always been very sensitive, very romantic, but not everyone has seen that.”
Lee Alexander McQueen
Natural dis-tinction Un-natural Selection Spring/Summer 2009 Photograph by ANNE DENIAU
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