Lee Alexander McQueen's last collection was shown today in Paris. References to great works of art, imagery of wings and feathers, strikingly unusual prints, the color red: all of the late designer's signatures are here in this brief, 16-look show.
McQueen digitized and re-engineered images from the art canon and rendered them as textile prints. This dress incorporates scenes from the third panel of Hieronymous Bosch's masterpiece "The Garden of Earthly Delights." Up close, you can actually see the Prince of Hell eating the body of a condemned man. The Prince has the head of a bird, and the man's ass is hanging out of his beak. A stream of demons and bats and pestilence is spurting out of the man's asshole.
If you look carefully at the painting itself, it strikes me that McQueen's famous "Armadillo" shoes from his penultimate collection look very similar to the bulbous, green shoes on the Prince's feet. Is this where McQueen got his inspiration for those?
UPDATE: Commenter Sableized points out that in this close-up of the Bosch painting, you can make out that Moloch is in fact wearing wine jars on his feet, not shoes. They still look very much like McQueen's Armadillos.
The presentation was held at the headquarters of François Pinault, the owner of the brand's parent company, in place of a runway show. McQueen was famous for his designs, but also for his showmanship: he had models stomp through pools of water, a double-amputee walked for him on a pair of carved wooden prostheses, he based one of his show concepts on the film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, and once, he had two automotive robots circle Shalom Harlow, spraying her white dress with jets of paint.
The ecclesiastical theme continues with stained-glass jewelry.
I wasn't able to identify all of these works of art that served as McQueen's sources, but I believe most, if not all of it, is Northern European. This dress seems to incorporate images of St. George, patron saint of England, and St. Nicholas. At least, a friend I asked for help thinks so, and I agree: George is in his armor and carries his flag, and Nicholas is often depicted wearing a cardinal's hat. I also see a Christ child. The carving that runs along the edge of the fabric is probably by the Dutch carver Grinling Gibbons, who worked on St. Paul's Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace.
UPDAE: The Guardian attributes the painting to 15th Century French artist Jean Fouquet.
Pinault waited until seven days had passed after McQueen's death to announce, in a conference call with reporters, that the fashion house the designer founded, and which Pinault's company acquired in 2001, would continue its operations. "The Alexander McQueen trademark will live on," he said.
Rumors surfaced last week that Pinault was set to hire Gareth Pugh, a talented British designer who has some of McQueen's taste for theatrics, but who notably lacks his developed sense of color. (Pugh sticks to black and white.) Pugh denied he had been approached, but speculation about the label's future continues.
As hard as it is to imagine that any designer might be able to effectively recreate McQueen's aesthetic, it's even harder to believe that the house might be successful without a creative director. Maison Martin Margiela has floundered creatively since the departure of its founder; in fashion, a "creative team" doesn't cut it. Pinault must find a leader of McQueen's vision.
It's interesting that the clothes themselves, in silhouette, embellishment, and style, mainly reference the 18th Century. (Dodai immediately thought of this.) But the artworks featured are much earlier, and date from the 16th and 17th Centuries.
McQueen featured feathers and prints of feathers in many of his collections, perhaps most notably in spring/summer 2008. Here, feathers return, but as the wings of angels.
Some of the prints, like the one engineered for this dress and the previous look, are not finished works of art at all, but cartoons. If you can identify any of these works or artists in the comments, please do.
"People are focusing on the business," said McQueen president Jonathan Akeroyd at the presentation. Orders were strong for pre-fall, and there's no reason to believe fall will be any different. Sales of McQueen's clothes spiked following the designer's suicide by hanging, on February 11. Some estimates put the increase at 1400%.
Opera music played at the presentation.
If McQueen had a signature color, it was scarlet. He returned to it again and again, season after season. Look at Sasha Pivovarova.
It seems unequal to the loss, after a man's death, to ponder foremost his professional legacy and the future of his company. But while few of us knew McQueen as a person, many knew and loved his designs. And for creations like this — and the tremendous, sometimes frightening but always well-developed imagination they speak to — McQueen is, and will continue to be, missed.
Women's Wear Daily reports that this, the finale look, brought tears to the eyes of some members of the audience.
All images via Vogue UK