This biopic of late fashion designer Alexander McQueen is an engaging rags-to-riches story. Charting his rise in the early nineties - from working in Saville Row to being an assistant to Romeo Gigli to his first show - it was his friendship with former Vogue editor Isabella Blow, a kingmaker in fashion, that pushed him into the spotlight. Of course, McQueen had to come up with the goods and he wowed audiences with shows like Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims and Search For The Golden Fleece. However, behind the scenes the pressure was mounting and McQueen was dogged by drug addiction and depression which led to his suicide…
What strikes one about this documentary is how ordinary McQueen was in comparison to his fellow designers. Always dressed without flair, wearing clothes that would have him stopped at the door of a pub: trainers, baggy jeans, checked shirt. He cuts a down to earth figure, offering only a shy wave during standing ovations, and remarking at one point when he takes a scissors to a garment amidst shocked faces, “It’s only clothes.” But this ordinariness was in direct contrast to his out there designs. As McQueen’s star rises he grows braver, edgier, riskier. He becomes influenced literature. By his death his shows would be almost performance art first - moving installations featuring outlandish designs. The daring Voss show in particular hints that McQueen was a frustrated filmmaker. It’s these sections that make the documentary visually arresting.
But it’s when McQueen delves into the designer’s private life that the documentary really comes alive. Interviewing friends and partners, McQueen gets more intimate. His descent into drug addiction and depression, followed by his succumbing to HIV, is documented in detail. He was kind and friendly, yes, but also jealous, paranoid and prone to rages. And the physical change in him as the pressure mounted is startling.
Here’s the thing, though. I know next to nothing about fashion. High fashion especially. If this was a documentary on how wrong Alexander McQueen got it then it would mean to same to me – I can’t tell what’s good or bad. It’s as if a coin is flipped: this collection is genius, that collection is amateurish. There’s rarely a critical take on his designs and what makes him stand out over others. We’re told his clothes were revolutionary but there’s little context for a newbie to compare. Some of those interviewed here toss off random one-liners like “The nineties was all about beauty and violence!” Was it? Beauty and violence, you say. Another hyperbolic remark opined that one show was “Intense!” Was it? A fashion show?
Using snap-shot interviews – a talking head gets a few lines at most before another pops up – and Michael Nyman’s dramatic score, McQueen is an engrossing affair that zips along. A must for fashionistas.