The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

‘McQueen’ review: A heavy, thoughtful portrait of the marvelous designer

Written by: Jessica Pena, CC2K Staff Writer

“If you leave without emotion, then I’m not doing my job properly.”

Perhaps you’re familiar with the name Alexander McQueen. An exquisite story of rags to riches, McQueen had the eye for peculiar, unapologetic expression in the form of clothing, helping him ascend to become one of the most distinct designers of the fashion industry. If you were an outsider looking in, you’d flee at the sight of McQueen’s most appalling fashion exhibitions where his models  evoke a dark and artful reverie. With each show, McQueen outdoes himself. But if you look closely, there was no one quite like Lee Alexander McQueen. His suicide in 2010 brought many to tears, but the new documentary McQueen has more to dedicate to this great designer. Co-directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui bring us a compelling, thoughtful documentary which illustrates the high and lows of a genius who left a legacy behind.

From Lewisham, London to the house of Givenchy in Paris, Alexander McQueen always made an impression. His apprenticeship working in men’s clothing shops in London gave him an outlet to find his curious niche. Later on, he graduated from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design where he received his M.A. in fashion design. His 1992 graduate collection “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims” sparked enormous exposure, as it instilled pieces of Victorian history with the style of women’s ripped clothing, blood red linings, and locks of hair attached. For Lee, this was storytelling at its core, and he’d go on to tell these tales of corruption in history, human form, feminine resilience, social politics, and even manifestations of physical abuse that troubled his own life. Beauty was always sewn with horror; the two were in sync with McQueen’s unique brand of work. Even in the grotesque, Lee saw something that needed to come to light.

Divided into chapters of his life and work, the doc features archival footage of Lee’s early life, shown in interviews and behind the scenes footage that allows him to tell his own story. His personality springs though the screen, even when he’s just running in a field with his dogs or chatting about quirky things with close friends. McQueen is filled to the brim with footage of his most influential fashion shows, never straying away from the things that gave him pause and joy. His 1999 show “No.13” saw model Shalom Harlow standing on a slowly spinning platform as two robotic machines spray her fluffy white dress in streaks of yellow and black. McQueen cried at this show, seeing an art so alive the audience can latch onto it. The story of Alexander McQueen is not just a fashion film.; it’s a human story, accessible as any other narrative that begs to inspire. Bonhôte and Ettedgui refuse to boil it down to the bare minimum of storytelling. The people around McQueen’s life—colleagues, former assistants, ex-boyfriends, family members— offer their own funny, little stories and musings once shared with the fashion designer. He felt so much pain but also so much love for life. It paints McQueen on a canvas he truly deserved to be seen on, a big screen eager to celebrate him rather than dismiss his lush memory.

The immersive chapters of McQueen are set to the backdrop of three-time Golden Globe nominated composer, Michael Nymen. An autobiographically tailored orchestra, the original soundtrack follows each corner of Lee’s life and effectively invigorates the many emotions Lee’s designs embodied. Whether grand scale or patient, the music is nothing short of profound to the documentary feature. The creation process is delicate, like McQueen’s lace designs. Bringing the live appeal of the runway to the big screen is clearly effervescent to see. As a viewer, you feel just how autobiographical his fashion was.

Although the angelic designs covered his shows, it couldn’t quite silence the demons brewing. McQueen suffered abuse by the hand of his sister’s then-husband, slowly carving out a bad foundation for Lee to move on from. The death of his close friend and fashion stylist Isabella Blow took an additional toll on Lee. He released the collection “La Dame Bleue,” two years later, coloring the runway in feathery rainbows as a tribute to his late friend. That’s what makes the documentary a true portrait of Lee; the highlights of his life, his love for contemplative humanity in art, all with his loving personality peeking through. McQueen is an electrifying, intimate look inside the mind of Lee Alexander McQueen, an avante-garde genius who gave himself wholeheartedly to his passions.

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