McQueen (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): On his bold, striking artistry

Documentary film “McQueen” gives us some striking moments to remember as looking around the life and career of Alexander McQueen, who was one of the most renowned fashion designers during recent years. I must confess that I do not know much about haute couture industry except what I glimpsed from several films such as “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), but I observed what is shown during those striking moments with considerable curiosity and interest, and I came to admire a troubled but brilliant artistic spirit behind them.

Divided into five sections named after some of McQueen’s famous fashion shows, the movie chronologically presents his life and career step by step. Born as Lee Alexander McQueen, 1967, McQueen grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of London along his parents and five siblings, and he was quite interested in making clothes even during his early years. While he was not a very good student as he frankly admits, he was usually occupied with drawing clothes, and that interest of his was nurtured and supported by his dear mother, who later suggested to him that he should seek an apprenticeship at any tailor shop on the Savile Row.

As serving an apprenticeship at Anderson & Sheppard, McQueen eagerly absorbed many different things from work and training, and he soon came to consider taking the MA fashion course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Mainly thanks to his aunt’s financial support, he could study there for next 2 years, and he eventually graduated as presenting his first fashion show, which was titled “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”. As reflected by its very title, this fashion show of his was striking and disturbing to say the least, and his edgy and distinctive style was instantly noticed by many people including Isabella Blow, an influential fashion magazine editor who was one of McQueen’s early supporters.

In case of his next major fashion show in 1995, titled “The Highland Rape”, McQueen went further with his uncomfortable artistic vision, and he surely shocked and provoked his audiences again. For suggesting sexual violence inflicted on women, he had his female models wear deliberately torn or ragged attires, and he certainly received lots of criticism for the misogynous aspects of his fashion show, which he stubbornly denied in one archival interview clip shown in the documentary.

Anyway, McQueen successfully established himself as a new young talent to watch, and everyone in his field surely expected a lot from him as he got hired by Givenchy in 1997. Although his first year in Paris was not particularly rewarding, he soon went further with more impressive results, and he also came to start his own brand in London.

From a group of interviewees who knew and worked with McQueen, we hear about how much he was dedicated to his craft, and that aspect of his is clearly shown from a bunch of archival footage clips shown in the documentary. While he constantly drove further others as well as himself, McQueen was also a spirited man with natural charm and boundless creativity, and that was the main reason why many of his colleagues were willing to work with him even though they had to endure lots of pressure and fatigue along with him. Frequently working on tight budget, he often had to be very creative, and you may be impressed by how he created something interesting from rather cheap materials.

As he later moved from Givenchy to Gucci, McQueen continued to strike his audiences with his bold, provocative style. In case of “It’s a Jungle Out There”, it was so dark and moody that the audiences thought a fire accident which happened to occur in the middle of the show was a part of the event. In case of “VOSS”, this strange fashion show was presented inside an enormous glass box, and what was exhibited inside the box surely demonstrated his undeniable genius again.

Looking at McQueen’s fashion shows, we cannot help but wonder about the origin of his artistic inspiration, and the documentary later reveals to us that he was frequently abused by his brother-in-law during his early years. While usually looking jolly and cheerful, he came to struggle a lot with his personal demons especially as he felt burdened by increasing fame and success, and, not so surprisingly, he frequently abused cocaine and other drugs.

McQueen also became estranged from his close friends and colleagues, and the most painful example comes from Blow, who felt quite hurt as McQueen began to distance himself from her even though she was probably the most important figure in his life besides his mother. When she tragically died in 2007, McQueen was devastated, and then there came another personal blow to him as his mother passed away a few years later. He eventually committed suicide on February 2010, and that was the end of his short but remarkable career.

Although it has a few notable flaws including the rather blatant use of Michael Nyman’s music (he was McQueen’s favorite composer, by the way), “McQueen” is a fairly good documentary on the whole, and directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui did a competent job of presenting their subject with respect and admiration. I am still not so interested in fashion design, and the documentary was an engaging experience full of artistic moments, and I think that is more than enough for recommendation.

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