March 17, 2010
It was an image worthy of William Burroughs: a double-amputee high-fashion model striding down the catwalk on handcarved wooden legs made of solid ash with integral boots [photo below]. In his obits, the British papers unfailingly noted that ALEXANDER McQUEEN (1969-2010) enjoyed shocking his audience. What’s unsaid, or misunderstood is that McQueen didn’t send Aimee Mullins out on the legs he designed for her simply to get a jolt of reaction, but as a sophisticated form of spectacle-as-critique. He did make beautiful clothes, but his greater gift was provocation, the questions he posed: not “Where should the hemlines fall this season?” but “What is human beauty?” or “Where is the line between what we wear and who we are?” His career was not an unchecked series of successes, but rather one of huge risks: triumphs and failures. His shows were legendary. Rebutting the hypocrisy of the tabloids he floated a startling hologram of Kate Moss over his collection weeks after she’d been excoriated for snorting coke on video. He bluntly mocked cookie-cutter fashion by rotating a model on a turntable while two Japanese assembly-line robots painted her dress. McQueen followed Vivienne Westwood’s method of coupling British tailoring with incitement, but while her approach was cerebral, his was darkly romantic, favoring skulls (his signature motif), antlers, and shipwrecks — he was the goth icon of high fashion. It’s curious that he hanged himself in a wardrobe because while he died in a closet, he never lived in one.
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