Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Alexander McQueen: Unlocking Stories

To the new Alexander McQueen flagship store at 27 Old Bond Street to see the new atelier space on the top floor entitled Unlocking Stories. This space gives students and devotees of the brand access to the McQueen label's design processes, from initial sketches, sources and ideas for collections, to finished garments. It is an invaluable resource to both budding fashion and textile design students, and is an initiative similar in vein to the temporary exhibitions staged in 2017 by the Burberry label (here) and (here) all of which do so much to demystify the fashion design design process. I have followed the McQueen collections since seeing his amazing butterfly dress and have continued to follow the way the design team incorporates butterfly and dragonfly motifs into their collections ever since.

These assorted jewel-like embroidered and beaded bugs and butterflies suspended in the front window of the showroom as if caught in a giant butterfly net are dazzling. They featured on the dresses and boots of the womenswear AW18 collection.

This huge boulder also greets you as you enter the store and it reflects in part the ideas behind the McQueen campaigns for SS19 which take some of their inspiration from the English countyside such as chalk figures in the landscape, and megaliths such as the Avebury stones.

These beautiful textiles are used as curtains to protect the modesty of customers trying on clothes in the changing rooms. The fabrics are sumptuous velvet jacquards which were used as prints in the McQueen A/W18 collections (here). The above design is an exploded Goliath Beetle print, and those below are magnified butterfly wings.

These are images from the third floor space showing  all phases of the design and construction process from mood/ideas boards, fabric samples, paper models and patterns, and finished garments.

One element I've admired in recent McQueen womenswear collections has been the articulated leather corset tops and belts which look like pieces of armour. In this seasons collection they have been 'softened' by the addition of hand-painted florals. I particularly enjoyed seeing examples of this here. The antique embroidered florals (above) which were the inspiration for the painted leather are beautifully crafted, and the contemporary finished hand-painted examples on the leather corset top did the antique embroideries justice. It's such a great opportunity to see these levels of craftsmanship up close.

The finished black leather corset-top exudes an air of toughness which has been tempered with the feminine florals.

A hand-painted biker's helmet from the McQueen SS 2005 collection representing a cross between Samurai armour and American football kit culled from the company archive.

How wonderful to come across this original McQueen piece from the Voss SS01 collection taken out of the archives and exhibited here. It is a raffia coat consisting of embroidered roundels and Chrysanthemum flowers and is full of the colour, rhythm and drama the label has become synonymous with.

Gorgeously exquisite embroidery samples.

There are many layers of texture in this monochromatic piece - an ivory engineered floral cotton corset dress with caged sleeves and black lace embroidered and appliqu├ęd with jet from the SS19 collection.

It was thrilling to see yet more of these original McQueen garments designed by the man himself out of storage from the archives and on display here. This 'Mourning Purple' silk corset with its large upstanding collar is from his 1996 Dante collection - a cri de coeur against religious wars. It was this collection which cemented McQueen's reputation as a master cutter and for combining the spectacle of fashion as performance.

Much of the menswear collection for SS19 was inspired by the photographer John Deakin's 1950s graffiti photography. The menswear was just as immaculately concieved and constructed as the womenswear, and the surfaces were heavy with embroidered outline and beading patterns translated from Deakin's graffiti imagery for all the flamboyant peacocks and dandies fortunate enough to be able to afford to wear this collection of clothing.

Miniature working models of the suits and overcoats from the menswear collections.

The finished, highly covetable, ornately embroidered graffiti overcoat for the SS19 collection. It shimmers beautifully when the beading catches the light.

The beadwork and embroidery on other pieces was absolutely stunning and a tribute to the specialist craftspeople working away in their ateliers to create such dazzling adornment.

A jacket carrying on McQueen's legacy of sharp tailoring which has been deconstructed and reconstructed to create new silhouettes playing with the ideas of femininity and masculinity. There is also a nod to Victorian fashion here.

Rib-knit dresses with hook and eye fastenings (SS19)

These skeleton-like corsets were almost architectural in construction yet so ethereal.

An antique lace and embroidered christening robe above, inspired modern lace designs for the recent collections.

More miniature colour copied paper designs.

A silk taffeta corset dress with a full skirt with side pleating in pale Ophelia print overlaid with peonies and rambling roses, the antique wedding dress that it inspired it (below), and the story of its conception and construction.


"One of the beginnings of the Ophelia dress was sparked by a rare Victorian silk wedding dress passed down through a Devon family. This tender memento of a long-ago country wedding made an imaginary link with the West Country women of Thomas Hardy’s novels. Traces of its emotional resonance became embedded in the print, while its fragile silk structure was minutely studied.

Still-life photographs were digitally superimposed over a digital scan of the Victorian wedding dress. To understand the complexity of the proportion of the print, it was rendered at full-size. The result — the ghostly ‘angel’ of Ophelia. Waisted, corseted silhouettes are an Alexander McQueen signature. The development of this one took many steps, using original vintage cotton boned corsets to act as a basis. Experts in the atelier analysed the structures, and constructed several examples of boned toiles in white cotton."

Alexander McQueen
Unlocking Stories

27 Old Bond Street