Through songs, films, and books it sometimes feels like Alexander McQueen never left. In both life and death (February 11th marks the tenth anniversary of McQueen’s passing), Alexander McQueen holds a mythical status in the fashion world: Despite not being able to afford his tuition fashion illustrator and educator Bobby Hillson allowed McQueen entry into Central Saint Martins because she saw that he had obvious talent. He had patrons like Isabella Blow, who famously bought his entire Central Saint Martins graduation collection, and nurtured his talent as his muse and unofficial publicist. And, his designs took inspiration from personal interests in scuba diving, his Scottish heritage, and club culture during the 90s’.
These stories are repeatedly told, but in the countless retellings of McQueen’s life, the public rarely gets to fully understand the details that lured so many people to his talent. Organized by Alexander McQueen’s creative director, designer Sarah Burton Roses is a new exhibition at the Alexander McQueen store on Old Bond Street, that offers a retrospective look at McQueen’s long-standing employment of flowers in his work.
Before the exhibition opened Burton and members of the McQueen design team hosted a talk and walkthrough of the exhibit for university students in fashion studies. The exhibit and walkthrough were a refreshing take on the legacy and artistry of Alexander McQueen. There was no mythologizing McQueen as one of the all-time great designers, instead what is on display is how a whole team of embroiders, designers, and interns come together to maintain McQueen’s vision.
Burton and long-time collaborators talked about how shows and designs came together like group projects that were due the next day, and how McQueen would simply say, “try and see what happens” whenever they had doubts about if a design idea could be executed.
What is great about this exhibit is how we see Burton’s reading of the archive come alive through her designs. For the Spring/Summer 2013 collection, Burton incorporated McQueen’s use of corsets and used bees as a way to focus on the life that floats around the roses. For me, this was also reminiscent of the time McQueen used winged moths for his Spring/Summer 2001 finale.
Taking inspiration from the rose shaped dress that of Autumn/Winter 2006 and sleeves from Autumn/Winter 2008, Burton forged her own vision of McQueen’s rose. Whilst this motif has long been associated with the house’s namesake, Burton’s was largely inspired by the Rose Queen celebrations she saw during her childhood in the North of England and let that experience blossom in her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection.
Today, McQueen is a massive global fashion brand. You see this on your way up to the gallery: as you climb up a winding wooden staircase at the centre of the store, you witness the array of clothing, accessors, and shoes from recent collections on mannequins, hangers, rocks and carefully carved wooden display tables. And yet, through garments, mood boards, photographs and film, this exhibition reminds you that regardless of whose name is above the door, no great designer is bigger than the sum of their parts. Perhaps most importantly, a great designer is a hardworking co-worker and collaborator.