With a pattern of angel wings undulating over her shoulder blades, the model walked through the gilded salon in one of Alexander McQueen’s final creations before he chose to leave this world.
Sixteen of the late designer’s final creations were put on display in a gilded ballroom in the headquarters of Francois Pinault as a solemn and chilling soundtrack played in the background.
The private show took place to the classical music Mr. McQueen had been listening to as he cut and fitted the 2010 autumn collection. Models walked slowly and solemnly to the haunting operatic music.
Suzy Menkes, of the New York Times, called the show ‘a requiem for a great designer:
His vision of Gothic glory, with a world bathed in religious symbolism, was translated not just with immense subtlety and beauty but also with the urgent futurism that was the essence of his spirit.
Talking about how the collection was created Sarah Burton, McQueen’s right hand, said the designer had turned away from the world of the Internet, which he had so powerfully harnessed in his last show. She added:
He wanted to get back to the handcraft he loved, and the things that are being lost in the making of fashion. He was looking at the art of the Dark Ages, but finding light and beauty in it. He was coming in every day, draping and cutting pieces on the stand.”
Mr. McQueen created his last collection by folding and pleating material by hand on standing dress forms, often using a single bolt of fabric. The royal materials included silk duchesse, gold metal jacquards, brocades, fil coupe satin organzas and silk chiffons, matched with shoes of crocodile skin, the soles hand-carved in gilded wood.
The Dark Ages were reinterpreted in the form of cape-coats and short drop-waist pleated dresses, with tapestry bodices in rich regal fabrics like red, ivory and gold.
The collection included 16 outfits inspired by Byzantine art and Old Masters paintings. In the work of master carver Grinling Gibbons, McQueen found details which he translated into crocodile shoes with gilded wooden heels hand-carved into elaborate columns of twisted ivy festooned with acorns.
There were chill moments, such as when the Paris sunlight caught the sculpted heel of an ankle boot revealing the carving of a broken skull. The skull had come to be something of a McQueen trademark, but here it appeared crushed.
McQueen referred to the collection as “Angels and Demons” in tweets just weeks before his death. Inspired by Medieval art, the models had banded heads (sometimes with mohawk-like gold feathers) and severe nude faces reminiscent of Madonnas and Byzantine royals.
The designs were heavily religious, and featured ornate embroidery, deep red and gold hues and dramatic capes. Made of fabric that translated digital photographs of paintings of high-church angels and Bosch demons, the collection referenced history. The abstractions of Hieronymus Bosch paintings were not just printed on the sensuous and shapely outfits, where a taut bodice grew out of a multifolded hipline or emerged from soft fabrics flowing around it. Instead the images, with a focus in the British royal heritage of lions rampant or Grinling Gibbons’s wood carvings, were screened, manipulated and digitally woven.
The underlying religious theme echoed again and again in sumptuous, gold, ecclesiastical embroideries; in silk jacquard woven with patterns of angels and angels’ wings; in the hand-painted gold feathers visible under the draped skirt of a one-shouldered, short gown; and in the stained glass, church- window jewellery which filled the necklines of sharply cut peplum-jackets and dresses, and adorned the wrists.
The entire line was made up of divine, royal-looking dresses and coats in addition to one fierce, gold pantsuit.
Using the digital scanning and laser printing techniques, McQueen employed Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” on one top, Byzantine motifs on another, images of saints pulled from frescoes in a dress, and angels photographed from bas-reliefs in a gown.
Also northern European saints, including St. George and St. Nicholas, were incorporated into some of his gowns.
Sandals wreathed in gilded roses matched the salon’s ornate decoration, while the mirrors reflected the models’ golden feather Mohawks. The intense workmanship was of couture quality, which is the way Mr. McQueen had been moving his signature line.
In this 16-piece collection Alexander — Lee — McQueen showed his sensitivity to history, his powers of research, his imagination, his technical skills and his love of women, often misinterpreted or misunderstood, but here evident in every fold and feather.
The lighter, romantic side of the designer’s nature shone through, too, in a smoke-grey and silver silk jacquard “angel” gown with gold-feathered “wings” on the shoulder, a long, split skirt revealing a cloud of silk chiffon; and in a regal, full-sleeved gown in cream duchesse satin and silk chiffon, worked with gold thread. The model looked like a medieval queen.
The closing look was breathtaking and felt like a glimpse of heaven. As the final model appeared in the high-collared, long jacket handcrafted from gold feathers and worn over a white tulle skirt scattered with gold embroidery, an aide whispered: “There is no more.”
“Each piece is unique, as was he,” concluded the moving show notes.
In the words of Jess Cartner-Morley from the Guardian UK
‘All hail the last emperor. Long live McQueen!!!’
The presentations, which would have been made in McQueen’s favourite venue, the opulent La Conciergerie, had he lived, were instead staged in the Hôtel de Clermont-Tonnerre. This 18th-century hotel particulièr is the family headquarters of PPR SA, the luxury French conglomerate which, through its ownership of the Gucci Group, has a 51 per cent stake in the Alexander McQueen label.
Music ~ The sombre music, sung by the German coloratura soprano, Simone Kermes, included Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, intensifing the solemnity of the occasion.