Fashion lovers all over the world remember where they were when they learned that Alexander McQueen had passed away. McQueen, or “Lee,” as he known by his loved ones, wasn’t just a fashion designer — he was a force for creative exploration and passionate maximalism, the likes of which we may never see again. And today, over eight years later, McQueen is still very much missed — he was an irreplaceable, once-in-a-generation talent. A new documentary about his life, simply called McQueen, aims to showcase the rise of his genius, based in rebellion, his theatrics, and the intensity of his emotions.
In the trailer, McQueen is seen in his atelier, tearing fabric by hand. He is idolised for his fierce, unapologetic approach to tradition – or rather, the way in which he shattered convention, with creations like the iconic armadillo shoe. McQueen talks sadly about feeling like fashion’s gazelle. The gazelle, of course, runs and runs and runs, but always gets eaten. For a designer who preferred that his work speak for itself, I hope that McQueen shows us more about how he worked, and why he created the work that he did.
“I don’t want to do shows feeling like Sunday lunch,” he says in old footage in the trailer. “I want you to feel repulsed or exhilarated.” For McQueen, that repulsion manifested in creative endeavours that shocked the fashion world. At one show, model Shalom Harlow was doused with splatter paint by robotic arms that are used to decorate cars. At another, a collection inspired by medieval armour closed with a model surrounded by a ring of fire. McQueen disliked convention, and had an even greater distaste for fashion as an institution; he was called fashion’s l’enfant terrible, an ill-behaved child.
I remember sitting at my computer when I learned about his death on Twitter. Feeling that deep, guttural pang that comes with painful news, I reached for my silk McQueen scarf, which was black and printed with white skulls. It was a birthday gift from my parents; I treasured it, because I felt like McQueen was the only fashion designer who understood how pain and beauty can sometimes be the same thing. That the darker parts of life were just as invigorating as the brightness, and that romance is based in yearning as much as love. That spoke to me, and since his death, nothing else in fashion has ignited that passion the same way.
Since McQueen died in 2010, there’s been a few remembrance ventures, including the hugely popular Savage Beauty retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with a book that accompanied the show. This McQueen documentary, with its emphasis on his life and his thoughts, could provide much more context to his elaborate clothing. After all, McQueen didn’t just create clothing; he used fabric to explore darkness, to bring us all face-to-face with the things that terrify us the most. That darkness existed within him, too. You can view the trailer below.