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.