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Alexander McQueen: portrait of an audacious designer with a legendary destiny

 

Andrew Wilson’s new biography of Alexander McQueen, "Blood Beneath The Skin," traces the unusual path of the designer. On the occasion of the book’s release, Numéro takes a look back at the universe of this visionary, who has tragically left us.

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His shaved head, legendary frankness and Cockney accent earned him the nicknames “bad boy” and “hooligan.” Conformists claimed to be offended by his provocative spirit— while secretly taking pleasure in the shiver of the forbidden that he breathed into an increasingly policed industry. Like others before him, Alexander McQueen rejected the criticisms that are the lot of free spirits and avant-gardistes. And each season we rushed to see his audacious and spectacular runway show, which constituted a significant event, a moment of poetry that went beyond a simple collection presentation. His clothes, quasi-haute couture, romantic and dark, would have been enough to make his reputation. But for Alexander McQueen, the clothes were part of a larger message conveyed by the show as a whole.

 

Was McQueen an artist?  He certainly knew how to put on a performance. The designer pushed every limit of the traditional runway show, shocking the public by incorporating disturbing elements into his presentations. Horror infiltrated the beautiful in order to guide it toward the sublime. “I use things that people hide: war, religion, sex, and I force people to look at them,” he once said. In 1995, he used sex as a political metaphor. In his Highland Rape collection, the torn clothes and haggard appearance of the models alluded, he later explained, to “the rape of Scotland by England.” In 1999, Aimee Mullins, an athlete and double amputee, walked the runway on prosthetic legs made of sculpted wood. In McQueen’s world, handicaps rub up against ideal beauty, enlarging its definition. Beyond a desire to shock, Alexander McQueen sought to recenter the body in fashion. Illustrating the inherently morbid nature of the quest for perfect beauty, the dialectic of fantasy inscribed itself violently in flesh. Ultimately, fantasy erased and replaced flesh entirely, as it did in March 2006, when Kate Moss was rendered as a hologram, and in Deliverance, 20 minutes of wild defiance inspired by the film "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They." Sadism and cruelty were on the menu: wolves among the sheep. And the wolves were in the Conciergerie, too, where in March 2002, McQueen’s winter presentation was accompanied by the howls of caged dogs.

 

McQueen experimented with dance, painting and theater,  and all were present in his Dante-esque productions. The creative crossfire produced sparks. In 1999, Shalom Harlow held herself immobile on a rotating platform while two giant arms sprayed her white dress with yellow and black paint. McQueen demanded of his models the real work of an actor: Shalom Harlow mimed terror and hid her face in her hands, before running backstage shaking. McQueen’s endless questioning is existential; its energy visceral and tragic. Art, it must be said, isn’t often compatible with life—indeed, it has the upsetting tendency to destroy it. In McQueen’s work, again and again, models disappear, their bodies remodeled by corsets, extreme shoes and virtuoso structured lines. Diaphanous, nearly bloodless, they are overwhelmed by climbing roses, as in his October 2006 runway show. Are they living paintings or recumbent statues set upright? The poetry of Alexander McQueen had little use for such questions.

 

By Delphine Roche

 

Alexander McQueen – Blood Beneath the Skin d’Andrew Wilson, published by  Hardcover editions.
 

Photo by Gianni Campalato

The Kardashians in 9 matching outfits on Instagram
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The Kardashians in 9 matching outfits on Instagram

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Fashion Known in the 2010s for playing the role of Serena Van Der Woodsen in the TV teen-drama Gossip Girl, Blake Lively became one of the most recognisable faces of the small screen. When the show stopped filming, the actress moved on to cinema and worked with artists such as John Travolta, Woody Allen and Anna Kendrick. She became the face of the Italian fashion house Gucci in 2012, and L’Oréal’s in 2013. On the red carpet, the American actress – who is her own stylist – wears edgy garments made by the biggest names in the fashion industry. Focus on seven of her most memorable outfits. Known in the 2010s for playing the role of Serena Van Der Woodsen in the TV teen-drama Gossip Girl, Blake Lively became one of the most recognisable faces of the small screen. When the show stopped filming, the actress moved on to cinema and worked with artists such as John Travolta, Woody Allen and Anna Kendrick. She became the face of the Italian fashion house Gucci in 2012, and L’Oréal’s in 2013. On the red carpet, the American actress – who is her own stylist – wears edgy garments made by the biggest names in the fashion industry. Focus on seven of her most memorable outfits.

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Fashion Put in the spotlight thanks to Disney Channel’s TV show “Shake It Up”, Zendaya then gained prominence on the big and small screens with “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), “The Greatest Showman” (2018) and “Euphoria” (2019-). Praised across the Atlantic for her bubbly personality, the American actress, dancer, producer and model, shines both on screens and on red carpets. From her armour total look designed by Versace in 2018 for the Met Gala, to the Moschino’s butterfly dress and Marc Jacobs’ ostrich feathered dress, throwback to 12 of Zendaya’s most fanciful looks.   Put in the spotlight thanks to Disney Channel’s TV show “Shake It Up”, Zendaya then gained prominence on the big and small screens with “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), “The Greatest Showman” (2018) and “Euphoria” (2019-). Praised across the Atlantic for her bubbly personality, the American actress, dancer, producer and model, shines both on screens and on red carpets. From her armour total look designed by Versace in 2018 for the Met Gala, to the Moschino’s butterfly dress and Marc Jacobs’ ostrich feathered dress, throwback to 12 of Zendaya’s most fanciful looks.  

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Fashion Aged 32, Rihanna is one of the most influential celebrities of her generation. The Barbadian singer — discovered by Jay Z in 2003 — has already sold close to 200 million albums worldwide. In recent years, the artist diversified herself and created her own cosmetic brand, Fenty Beauty, in 2017 and her own clothing line, FENTY, in 2019. Her creativity, sharp vision and business savvy made her the first coloured woman to ever create a brand working with the LVMH group. Here’s a throwback on some of the most extravagant gowns worn by this fashion addict. Aged 32, Rihanna is one of the most influential celebrities of her generation. The Barbadian singer — discovered by Jay Z in 2003 — has already sold close to 200 million albums worldwide. In recent years, the artist diversified herself and created her own cosmetic brand, Fenty Beauty, in 2017 and her own clothing line, FENTY, in 2019. Her creativity, sharp vision and business savvy made her the first coloured woman to ever create a brand working with the LVMH group. Here’s a throwback on some of the most extravagant gowns worn by this fashion addict.

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Sarah Jessica Parker in 7 unforgettable outfits

Fashion Even though the TV series “Sex and the City” finished filming ten years ago, it seems that Sarah Jessica Parker still enjoys putting herself in the Manolo Blahniks of her alter-ego, Carrie Bradshaw. In true fashion addict manner, the American actress never ceased to amaze the crowd with her looks, shedding light on talented designers. Let’s look back at some of her most unforgettable outfits. Even though the TV series “Sex and the City” finished filming ten years ago, it seems that Sarah Jessica Parker still enjoys putting herself in the Manolo Blahniks of her alter-ego, Carrie Bradshaw. In true fashion addict manner, the American actress never ceased to amaze the crowd with her looks, shedding light on talented designers. Let’s look back at some of her most unforgettable outfits.