Eight years on from the death of Alexander McQueen, Ian Bonhote’s and Peter Ettedgui’s documentary film McQueen revisits the raw and visceral energy of one of British fashions most-celebrated designers. It’s a story about vertigo inducing success, identity and the countless collections that gripped the fashion industry.
Lee is the unassuming boy from the East End who discovered himself and took a hammer to the mirror of fashion, leaving audiences reeling for more.
As one of the most provocative designers to emerge from the ‘90’s, Alexander ‘Lee’ McQueen stood independent amongst his contemporaries for his tailoring, silhouette and rich tapestry of eroticism, anxiety and menace. It’s the macabre skull motif that permeates the mind’s eye when we think of McQueen, rather than the bird which we later learn was Lee’s passion. The film uses the skull motif often with an array of hyperreal skull graphics themed around his collections. Using the narrative of his expansive volume of work to chart the designer’s life, the film concentrates on Lee’s personal story. Lee is an endlessly-fascinating subject, he is the unassuming boy from the East End who discovered himself and took a hammer to the mirror of fashion, leaving audiences reeling for more.
Instantly absorbing, McQueen opens on snowy VHS film of Lee at home with a cigarette and barking dogs, nonchalantly announcing that the recording will become known as the McQueen tapes. Taking direct inspiration from the opening scene, the filmmakers divide his story into tapes that become markers of the McQueen fashion reign.
Personality and humour resonate throughout the documentary, not only via archive home footage, but through the medium of emotionally charged interviews. Family, friends and creative conspirators all pay homage to an exceptional talent, an equally driven and sensitive creative who sought to make sense of himself and others through the reflection of his garments. We learn of Lee’s early years which were not always easy and the autobiographical nature of his designs from ‘Highland Rape’ to ‘Joan’.
Clothes become clues in this timely retrospective made by fashion outsiders.
Guided by footage and interviews alone, the viewer travels seamlessly through Lee’s world and is afforded a great sense of intimacy for it, taking in views from his time as Chief Designer at Givenchy where he insisted on the normality of eating his lunch in the canteen and meeting the atelier workforce. His relationships are examined in detail too, particularly his friendship with icon Isabella Blow who became a staunch supporter and great friend.
Music from composer Michael Nyman‘s back catalogue heightens the experience of McQueen, ‘Lee Scissorhands: Bird List’ with its frantic strings and booming ominous brass instruments perfectly captures the rush of a collection coming together and the finale of parading it on a catwalk. Lee’s collections are showcased and contextualised well here, with his most arresting shows such as ‘Voss’ and ‘The Horn of Plenty’ drawing parallels with his state of mind. We see Lee push himself ever harder to meet the demands of running a successful label, describing himself as the quick and elegant Gazelle that always gets eaten. Told Boogie Nights formulaic, the party stops when the room spins with the intensity of his creative output and his diminishing self-care.
McQueen is a moving and engaging look into the life of an artist, an intimate film leaving audiences extra sensitive to its moments of darkness and light. Clothes become clues in this timely retrospective made by fashion outsiders; ultimately it’s Lee that shines through, leaving us a shade paler for a world without him.