The other day, when I saw a PR from Alexander McQueen, he told me he had just returned from holiday to recuperate from what had been an intensely mammoth month for the brand. The A/W 15-6 show in Paris was quickly followed up by the spectacular opening of Savage Beauty at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the intensive media spotlight surrounding the homecoming of this exhibition. The exhibition may be done and dusted in terms of the media hubhub but the visitors are continuing to stream in, with sold out ticketing and even the accompanying book has been flying off the shelves. The iconography of Lee McQueen will have been swirling around in the minds of a wider audience, far and beyond the fashion crowd and one question that will invariably have popped up in their heads is this – what’s it like to wear a piece of Alexander McQueen clothing (I’m talking specifically about the clothes created during the Lee McQueen era of the brand). When accidentally eavesdropping on visitors at fashion exhibitions, you always hear murmurings of “Oh I’d love to wear that!” or “Who would wear that?”
We may have Lee McQueen’s collections ingrained in us through grainy catwalk footage, stills, editorial images and now behind glass vitrines and on exhibiting mannequins, but I thought it would be interesting to explore a different side to Savage Beauty – one that’s closer to the body – and to demystify the myth that there’s a certain intangibility to those clothes. Spurred on by American Express, a supporter of Savage Beauty, and their call to a few bloggers to create a post inspired by the exhibition, I thought I’d attempt to do what I like doing best and that’s to try the stuff on. Save for one not-so-exciting skirt and a jacket that I had sold, my bodily interaction with McQueen’s clothes has been minimal next to none. To use a no-pun-intended McQueen quote: “Fashion is a big bubble, and sometimes I feel like popping it.”
And with the help of Kerry Taylor Auctions, the experience of wearing McQueen is a bubble I gladly popped. Kerry Taylor has sold many Alexander McQueen pieces at auction ranging from commercial garments to museum-worthy collector’s pieces from notable collections collections and with a price range that can be anything from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands of pounds as noted in her book “Vintage Fashion & Couture: From Poiret to McQueen”. “When we get pieces from collections like Salem or Plato’s Atlantis – something that stops you in your tracks, the value rises greatly,” says Taylor.
Browsing through the rails of Kerry Taylor’s latest auction, you could say that even the not so special pieces are a cut above what you see in shops today. “I went to Brent Cross Shopping Centre the other day,” said Taylor. “There was not one thing I would want to buy. I come in here and everything here is special, rare or precious – or has an interesting sleeve, button, cut or a print. For £200 you don’t get very much for your money in a shop today, but here you could have a beaded 1920s dress. For me, it doesn’t compare. I sell haute couture by the masters. I’ll sell Yves Saint Laurent couture by him, Balenciaga by him, Madame Vionnet by her. You look inside these pieces and the workmanship is incredible.”
Similarly from his bijoux store in Marylebone and online, William Banks-Blaney of William Vintage, dubbed the “King of Vintage” also prescribes to this purist notion of selling pieces designed and created by the founding name that sits above the door of a maison. And whilst generally speaking, Style Ambassador to American Express Banks-Blaney sells haute couture vintage pieces that stop at 1975-8; for McQueen, he makes an exception. “After his death, we’ve see the real legacy he’s left and the role he has played in British and global fashion,” said Banks-Blaney. “His pieces are increasing in value and in desirability at the same rate as a fantastic pre-1957 Dior.”
One upside of ‘theorising’ McQueen as it were, is that a detailed knowledge of his individual collections are embedded into the collective memory of fashion-obsessives. For curators and experts like Taylor and Banks-Blaney, different moments define McQueen’s prowess. “He was groundbreaking,” said Taylor. “The bumster was a new fashion statement in a very long time. Rudi Gernrich went really naked. Skirts went up and down. Shoulders in and out. But that elongating of the torso by moving trouser the down and redefining the focus of body was new.” For Banks-Blaney, it was McQueen’s time at Givenchy that helped him become a more accomplished designer. “Before Givenchy, there was a touch of brutalism to everything – with harder fabrics and a harder look. After Givenchy, for his own house, it became a much broader offer. He understood finesse and more about elegance in construction and finish. He became more of a couturier.”
Both Kerry Taylor and Banks-Blaney sell to people who will physically wear the clothes and where McQueen is concerned, even in his commercial pieces there’s merit to be found. “There were some collections where you’d have just a few statement pieces – and you’d have lots of very good commercial and wearable separates,” said Taylor. In the current auction catalogue, there’s a dress from the ‘Deliverance’ collection that whilst made in multiples is still deemed a “lovely” dress by Taylor. “With McQueen, the construction quality of those pieces are very good,” said Banks-Blaney. “The commercial pieces that go into production are really important because they make financial sense and are the things that people wear. They’re pieces that are still under the designers’ realm.”
Inside Kerry Taylor’s auction house, I tried on an array of McQueen pieces that would fall under the “commercial” category as well as some bone fide runway looks from collections from the latter half of McQueen’s career. Save for the Phillip Treacy butterfly hat, it didn’t feel like these pieces were purely destined for mannequins of a museum or for editorials – they’re physical proof of McQueen’s ability to elevate the familiar to dizzying heights. With regards to the hat though, I’m not personally averse to having my head swarming in a cloud of hyper coloured butterflies. It’s quite possibly one of the most smile-inducing, delight-giving thing that I’ve had on my had ever.
Phillip Treacy hat from 2003 worn by Naomi Campbell on the cover of Tatler in 2004 and the basis of the red butterfly hat in Alexander McQueen’s S/S 08 “La Dame Bleu” collection worn with vintage Chinese jacket
McQueen’s S/S 01 Voss show is given its own section at the Savage Beauty show because of its incredible set-up and theatrics but the trickle down from that show is a deceptively simple grey dress with obi-inspired detailing at the neck – a tried-and-tested silhouette with enough of a hint of difference about it to make you take notice.
Dress from S/S 01 “Voss” collection worn with Vans x & Other Stories shoes
A scallop-edged leather jacket with slashes in the back from the A/W 06-7 Widows of Culloden collection felt especially like someone had worn it repeatedly, giving it a weathered quality that only makes it more appealing.
Leather jacket from A/W 06-7 “Widows of Culloden” collection worn with McQ t-shirt
McQueen’s finesse in tailoring is evidenced in a digitally printed dress from his S/S 09 collection (before digital print became overused and overexposed), where slightly raised padded shoulders give the simplest of shift dresses a rigour and a backbone.
Dress from S/S 09 “Natural Dis-Tinction Un-Natural Selection” collection worn with Chanel trousers and J.W. Anderson shoes
The satin gown that pooled at my feet from his last A/W 10-11 “Angels and Demons” collection was probably the most dramatic of the pieces I tried but is actually a more commercial version of its runway counterpart. Its intricate silver metalwork embroidery on the bodice might have fooled you though.
“Angel Drape” Dress from A/W 2010-11 “Angels and Demons” collection
Taylor will be selling pieces from Sarah Burton’s era of Alexander McQueen for the first time in a future auction and these beekeeper’s hat and bee-encrusted neck choker are evidence of the way Burton is carrying on the legacy of what Lee created for this house. Like the earlier McQueen pieces I tried on, they immediately changed my overall posture (and yes, I have a notoriously bad one…) and stance.
Beekeeper’s hat and tortoiseshell choker from S/S 13 Alexander McQueen collection by Sarah Burton
On a side note, I couldn’t help but also get a sneak preview of some of the choice pieces going into their sale on the 28th April. I won’t physically be there with my bidding paddle but I have left a few cheeky bids on choice pieces.
Rainbow lovin’ in a 1990 Thierry Mugler jacket
Yet another chinoiserie jacket?
Grappling with a 1971 Jean Varon geometric dress
The back of a most beautiful Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell ‘Lamborghini’ jacket from 1968
Rummaging around these rails and trying on these fantastic pieces only emphasises what Taylor said about the comparative mediocrity that comes out of today’s “sausage factory” as she calls it. To wear McQueen is to experience quality in cut and construction – even in his commercial offerings – as well as an eye for embellishment and of course the obvious narrative backdrop only serves to enhance the clothes.
Going back and revisiting these clothes got me thinking about people today who embody the spirit of Lee McQueen. Not necessarily a designer with the same aesthetic but someone who can leave a similarly emotive impression on the mind and body. I’m collecting suggestions of names on social media and on comments here. There may be no equals but is there someone working today that could leave that level of legacy? Tell me what you think.
SOURCE: Style Bubble – Read entire story here.