12 Sep 2018

Movie review - Alexander McQueen

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 12 September 2018

The story of unlikely bad boy East End fashion designer Alexander McQueen - aptly titled McQueen - is, like so many documentaries about tortured artists, predictably tragic and sadly unenlightening.

Comparing the two documentaries out this week - both about supremely talented Englishmen from humble beginnings - was fascinating. 

McKellen dealt with one I knew well, while McQueen is about a man and a world I only vaguely knew of.

He started out in life as Lee McQueen, and looked and sounded as unlike a king of haute couture as it’s possible to be. 

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Photo: Supplied

He didn’t come from Milan or Paris, New York or Mayfair - he was a tubby blonde skinhead from Stratford, East London.

He had one thing he could do superlatively, however -  he was "always drawing clothes, in science, in biology".

McQueen left school early, and blagged his way into jobs in the rag trade, and everywhere he went he dazzled people with his extraordinary gifts. 

He found a way to make his presence felt, either on his own or through friends and supporters like the equally colourful Isabella Blow.

The world of fashion is bizarre and alien anyway – so much money, so many egos, so much random, dumb luck as something takes off, or doesn’t. 

Even in this world though, McQueen – now known as “Alexander” rather than the more proletarian “Lee” - was something new: sexy, romantic and often rather horrifying.

His collections were inspired by Jack the Ripper, or robots, or the Battle of Culloden – one was called “The Highland rape”.

He says he wants people to be either "repulsed or exhilarated". 

Fashion designer Alexander Mc Queen and top model Naomi Campbell pose for photographers at the Laureus Sports Awards preview.

Fashion designer Alexander Mc Queen and top model Naomi Campbell pose for photographers at the Laureus Sports Awards preview. Photo: AFP / JACQUES MUNCH

To my untutored eye, they had far more to do with the confronting side of art than with fashion and clothes.  Indeed, many of his models were half naked much of the time. 

McQueen put together an equally talented team – of designers, jewelers, models, stylists – in the way other artists would put together a band, a theatre troupe or a film crew. 

His astonishing – often alarming – fashion events were the talk of the town, and not just London Town.  In a bewilderingly short time, McQueen had caught the attention of Europe. 

He was offered – and accepted – the job of creative head of the French fashion house Givenchy, at the same time keeping up his own “McQueen” house in London. 

Fourteen collections a year, dozens of outfits per collection, and each one being judged by his own ridiculously high standards, so how did he do it?

Partly, he surrounded himself with talent, though everyone agreed his was always the final say. He also stayed very close to his family - particularly his mum, and his sister Janet. 

McQueen has the dramatic advantage in a biographical documentary of brevity. 

A story about a genius in a mad, drug-fuelled world of money and fashion was never going to end well. 

McQueen, which shares much of the DNA of Amy (about London singer Amy Winehouse), the direction of the story is as predictable as if it were on rails: rags, to riches, to self-destruction. 

January 18, 2010, British designer Alexander McQueen acknowledging the audience after his Fall-Winter 2010-2011 Menswear collection in Milan. British fashion designer Alexander McQueen has been found dead on February 11, 2010 in London.

 Alexander McQueen acknowledging the audience after his Fall-Winter Menswear collection in Milan, 18 January 2010. Photo: AFP PHOTO / Damien Meyer

At the end, there's dismay that the wonders the artist created – in this case, McQueen’s clothes and the way he presented them - were still not in the end enough to make him happy. 

My advice, when invited to discover the true story behind some of the world’s greatest art works – whether the artist is Beethoven, Van Gogh or Alexander McQueen – is “don’t go there”.

The story is very rarely a happy one - or even an enlightening one. 

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