Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Last Word: Alexander McQueen's Final Collection - Fall/Winter 2010-2011

Harper's Bazaar
Image courtesy of:

The show is in my imagination. I have a set image in my head of a woman... and I create a narrative around it.”

Fashion talent is rare; a talent as monumental and unique as that of the late Alexander McQueen, is rarer still. To say that it came as a shock when, on February 11, news flashed around the world of McQueen's completed suicide is an understatement: he'd hung himself and was found dead - along with a suicide note - at his Mayfair home that morning. Without question, McQueen was one of the most influential and talented designers of his generation. For his final show in March, which took place in a small, ornately decorated, mirrored room in Paris, only a handful of editors were privately invited to attend - to pay homage and to grieve for the passing of a talent so rare.

Born in March, 1969, he was the youngest of six children. After leaving school at the age of sixteen, he found  himself an apprenticing job with Anderson and Shephard (later, he also apprenticed at Gieves and Hawkes) on Savile Row, the centre of London's exclusive men's bespoke tailoring shops. It was during his years on Savile Row that McQueen acquired his knowledge and honed his skills in the steeped traditions of British tailoring methods. At 20, he worked for designer Koji Tatsuno; a year later, he went to Milan to work as design assistant for the Italian designer, Romeo Gigli. He enrolled at Central Saint Martins in 1990 where, two years later, in 1992, the woman who would come to have a special place in his life - and have the greatest impact on the launch and projectile of his career - the fashion editor, Isabella Blow, attended the year-end school fashion show. The meeting between them would consequently change both their lives. Instantly recognizing a great talent, Isabella bought the  collection in its entirety. She adamantly believed in his radical genius and was instrumental in pushing his name forward. (In the spring of 2007, Isabella  herself committed suicide by drinking weed killer. Her death, on May 7th, devastated McQueen who dedicated his next show, La Dame Bleue (for spring/summer, 2008), in honour of her memory and as a tribute to her sense of extreme glamour; he reportedly scented the air of the show's venue with Fracas, her favourite perfume.) (Source: Larocca, A.,, 2010;, 2010)

Isabella Blow ~ friend, mentor, muse & discoverer of Lee Alexander McQueen
(Photo by Miguel Reveriego ~ 2005)
Image courtesy of:


From staging landmark, thematic fashion shows - with models walking in everything from blizzards, to rain, fire, water and even a glassed-in asylum, complete with live, fluttering butterflies -  under his own name, McQueen, at only 27, was installed at the helm of Givenchy as designer-in-charge (ready-to-wear and couture) in October 1996. It was the post that John Galliano had previously held and only just vacated to become designer at Dior by owner of both Houses, Bernard Arnault. But his years at Givenchy were  unhappy ones, fraught with tension and marked by turbulence; in March 2001, McQueen left to concentrate solely on his own label. Aside from his showmanship and reputation for revolutionary shows that pushed the limits of conventional taste, there was no denying McQueen's poetic, romantic visions, his undisputed  mastery of dressmaking techniques, sharp tailoring, and seemingly inexhaustible talent. (Source:, 2010)

According to the designer's official website (Alexander McQueen), Alexander McQueen's last collection was "inspired by Byzantine art, the carvings of Grinling Gibbons, and Old Masters paintings and altar pieces including, in particular, works by Jean Fouquet, Sandro Botticelli, Stephan Lochner, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes, Jean Hey and Heironymous Bosch." (, 2010)


Fall/Winter - 2010
Image courtesy of: Alexander McQueen


At the time of his death, this collection - sixteen pieces in all - was eighty percent complete. McQueen had been studying medieval Madonnas and Byzantine empresses. His close assistant of many years, Sarah Burton, has said of him, "He was looking at the Dark Ages, but finding light and beauty in it. He was coming in everyday, draping and cutting pieces on the stand... He wanted to get back to the handcraft he loved, and the things that are being lost in the making of fashion." Innovatively, the fabrics he used for this collection were digitally translated photographs of paintings into hand-loomed jacquards. (Source: Mower, S.,, 2010)

On May 4th, 2011, the Costume Institute of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, will stage a retrospective exhibition, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in tribute to the brilliance of the British-born designer's work. Included in the exhibition will be ensembles from his late friend, mentor, and muse, Isabella Blow's personal collection as well as some of his design work from the archives of the House of Givenchy. In all, one hundred pieces will be presented, spanning the breadth of McQueen's 18-year long career from his postgraduate show at Central Saint Martins in 1992, till his final collection in 2010. (Sources:, 2010;, 2010)


The above sixteen images are all courtesy of:

Video is courtesy of: Miyataan -

Suggested readings:


Techno Fashion (2002), by Bradley Quinn: Berg Publishers

Fashion At The Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness (2007), by Caroline Evans: Yale University Press

Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation (2010), by Kristin Knox: A&C Black

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), by Andrew BoltonHarold Koda: Yale University Press

Alexander McQueen: Evolution (2012), by Katherine Gleason: Book Sales, Incorporated

Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy (2012), by Judith Watt: HarperCollins

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