“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition”
Lee Alexander McQueen
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savage beauty

SAVAGE MIND

THE ROMANTIC TAILOR

Throughout his life and career, Lee Alexander McQueen celebrated freedom of thought and expression, and championed the individual’s right to create unencumbered by the conventions of society. Fiercely independent, McQueen had the courage to follow his imagination wherever it took him, and to cut clothes guided by his intuition. In this manner, he was an individualist in the Romantic tradition, one who believed in the importance of creating completely original modes of expression in order to unveil new understandings of the human spirit. Nowhere was this individualist streak more evident than in his silhouettes and approaches to tailoring, described by Andrew Bolton, who curated Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as simultaneously “rigorous and impulsive, disciplined and unconstrained.”

“YOU’VE GOT TO KNOW THE RULES TO BREAK THEM. THAT’S WHAT I’M HERE FOR, TO DEMOLISH THE RULES BUT TO KEEP THE TRADITION” Lee Alexander McQueen
Highland Rape, Autumn/Winter 1995 Photograph by Robert Fairer
La Poupee, Spring/Summer 1997
Backstage, The Birds, Spring/Summer 1995 Photograph by GARY WALLIS
Within Savage Beauty, these qualities can be seen running through his early collections, Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims (Autumn/Winter 1992) and Hunger (Spring/Summer 1996), where he introduced silhouettes that would remain relatively unchanged throughout his career. Whether it was constructing a new silhouette based on the quasi-androgynous dress of the 1890s as he did with the ‘bumster’, the sharply cut trouser suits of No.13, or the strong shoulders and tight waists of It’s A Jungle Out There, “everything I do is based in tailoring”, said McQueen. Such were his cutting skills that McQueen would often abandon his sketches to create clothing spontaneously, directly on the stand, or on a model during fittings. In such moments of improvisation, the designer’s imagination and inspirations guided him in a manner that connects the unrestrained emotional world of the Romantics with millennial post-modernism.
What a Merry Go Round, Autumn/Winter 2001 Photograph by Anthea Simms
Backstage, The Hunger show SS 1996 Photograph by GARY WALLIS
“Tailoring is just a form of construction, it’s the rigour behind the design but at the end of the day you’re still dealing with a single or double-breasted jacket. The narrative is what makes it interesting, plus the romance behind it and the detail.” Lee Alexander McQueen
Having learnt the craft during apprenticeships on Savile Row, McQueen then set about breaking the traditional codes and conventions of tailoring. His method was atypical; McQueen would design from the side – the view of the body he considered to be the most unflattering – in order to create new expressions of beauty. This profile view emphasised the spine’s curvature, and was also the angle at which a frock coat, a bustle, crinoline, or an ogee line (the term used for a double curve that resembles an S), looked best. Having stated that he saw the role of a designer as similar to that of a surgeon, McQueen’s view was that the body was there to be altered – the most recognisable example of which was the elongated torso created through his signature ‘bumsters’. In the exaggerated shoulders and waists of his tailoring, Alexander McQueen’s designs were intended to empower – they allowed the wearer to bring out parts of themselves they wouldn’t usually reveal.
No 13, Spring/Summer 1999 Photograph by CHRIS MOORE
Backstage, The Birds, Spring/Summer 1995 Photograph by GARY WALLIS
“I want to be the purveyor of a certain silhouette or a way of cutting, so that when I’m dead and gone people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen.” Lee Alexander McQueen
What a Merry Go Round AW 01 Photograph by Anthea Simms
It’s a Jungle Out There, Autumn/Winter 1997 Photograph by Robert Fairer
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