Thursday, 11 February 2010

McQueen is dead, long live McQueen

News travels faster than light today, and the emails and texts about Alexander McQueen's death have already traveled around the globe, swifter even than the winged creatures that flitted in and out of his collections. I didn't know him -- I was never one of those who could refer to him by his real name, Lee; but I knew the stories about him, and I was lucky enough to have seen some of his astonishing catwalk shows. They were sometimes terrifying, sometimes absurd; menacing, as well as beautiful; marvelously crafted, even when the models looked as if they had been unleashed from a gothic Bedlam. McQueen always made me think hard about what fashion might mean -- about its darkness and misogynies, as well as its flights of creativity and delight. His imagination was macabre as an Edgar Allen Poe tale; his shows punctuated by split-seconds straight out of a nightmare, stalked by figures whose faces had smeared red lips and hollowed black eyes, wearing clothes that could be cages, teetering on shoes that looked like instruments of torture or revenge.
And yet when I think of the occasions that I visited his studio in London, I remember a workroom filled with sunlight, where a wedding gown was being sewn for a laughing girl, and dresses were crafted out of feathers, light as angel wings. In those moments, he seemed to be possessed of an instinct for the truly light-hearted; a means to make good dreams come true.
Fashion is filled with tortured creatures -- designers and muses, models and customers -- yet every so often, it soars to new heights. Alexander McQueen was one of its great masters -- adept at its manipulation, dedicated to its artistry, leading it forward, yet also dragged down by it. In another age, his story would have found its place in the narratives of F.Scott Fitzgerald -- an artist who made his fortune in a roaring decade; a boy who danced all night amidst the ugly frenzy of parties where women fluttered like butterflies, and then fell lifeless to the ground, where other men were floored by greed or voracious ego, and too many people drank and took drugs until they were deadened to the pale sunlight of a rising dawn.
If McQueen was living in a place inhabited by ghosts and lost souls, some of them shrouded in veils of disappointment or ill-will, then perhaps choosing death seemed to be a kind of freedom; a journey away from the dark corners of dread, towards something unknowable, unimaginable, untainted and as yet untouched.
Who knows; not I... nor any of us; and out of this uncertainty, it is possible he has found (or fashioned) an escape, slipping away so that he can never fall from grace, eluding the grasp of the beautiful and the damned. That's how it might read in a story, anyway; although the truth -- the untold damage of a life undone -- will always be remade in its retelling.


enid said...

What a superb tribute and what mastery of words you have , Justine. I think that this blog needs a wide audience. I found your insight so exquisite - I will have to reread it.

Karen, Surrey said...

What a beautiful tribute - I hope that those who did know him more intimatly get sight of it.

You write so skillfully and passionately Justine. I envy your amazing talent - we are so lucky you find the time to keep this blog.

Justine Picardie said...

thank you!

linda said...

I read this yesterday and then read it again today. Thank you for your beautiful piece -- so moving, so thoughtful.

kairu said...

I heard of his death first thing in the morning yesterday, via Twitter - such is this modern age of media and communication.

A beautiful, moving elegy, Justine.

When I think of McQueen, I think of the macabre, wild, exaggerated creations down the catwalk, and of the late Isabella Blow who seemed to flit around like a strange, exotic bird, but I also think of his friendship with the writer Plum Sykes. He made her a dramatic lace dress as a consolation after her first engagement broke up, and then a beautiful, airy wedding gown that looked as soft as swansdown.

Paperback Reader said...

This is such a beautiful and tender elegy. Thank you for taking the time to write something so stunning out of something so beautiful. A huge loss to the fashion world and the world of art deserved an artistic tribute like this one.

Blue Floppy Hat said...

What breaks my heart is that people are actually willing to dismiss his passing because of
a) his profession
b) the fact that he chose to die

That second part came out wrong- if a person lives on through the work they do and the ways in which others remember them, he'll never truly be dead, but it makes it no less sad that his life is at an end. And the fact that some people equate a "worthwhile" life (whatever that means) with nothing other than children raised/measures towards world peace/ cures for cancer, sickens me. Not that these aren't good things to do, but the world would be such a drab, boring place without people like McQueen. Thank you so much for writing the most elegant, eloquent tribute I've seen anywhere online to him- it did me some good to read it, even after rambling in response.

jaywalker said...

Yes, lovely words, Justine. Obviously from the heart. I am almost speechless at the moment having just googled and read Isabella's story. The Bloomsburys seem pale by comparison. Hadn't known she was related to the Happy Valley crowd. What a strange, sad life. Surely it must be the basis for a film sometime.

Justine Picardie said...

She was an extraordinary character; as strange and rare a bird as the ones she wore on her head (as you'll see in the pictures of her hats).

kairu said...

I rarely thought of McQueen without thinking of Isabella Blow, who wore his most outrageous creations (with Philip Treacy's spectacular hats, although "hat" is too tame of a word to describe the fantastical sculptures that adorned her head - sometimes face, too) as if they were a uniform, like the Queen of England's pastel suits. On her they seemed effortless, more an expression of personality rather than costume. She wore his cloven-toed boots as though they were bedroom slippers, a exaggerated, corseted suit as if it was a nightgown. For her, fashion and style were one and the same.

It was heartbreaking to read about Isabella Blow after her death. That someone who seemed so confident could be so fragile and insecure was a tragedy.

The world of fashion seems to dim a little without them.