Boundary-Pushing. Ultra-driven. Controversial Disruptor. Alexander McQueen!
The wunderkind London-born designer — whose untimely tragic death has left a gaping hole, beyond the fashion world’s exclusive borders — takes center stage for a limited time, featured in Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s world premiering documentary that deftly captures McQueen’s genius-lightening in a bottle!
While filmmaker Ettedgui fondly describes McQueen’s “mastery of tailoring” to have been “Mozart-like”, noting he was a “virtuoso”, filmmaker Bonhôte — a loyal, long-time Visionaire collector, proudly shares that his film’s titular subject, was utterly and singularly “uncompromising”; that McQueen was “first driven by ideas and creativity, above all.” Both clearly knowing, they held a very intense and precious story to graciously unpack.
A British couturier, born to working class parents — whose creations displayed unmatchable determination, wicked humor, and theatrical subversiveness — Alexander McQueen took his life, the night before his mother’s funeral. Through a series of moving interviews from McQueen’s close circle, archival footage, and a hauntingly gorgeous trope — a morphing skull that toasts to McQueen’s own iconography — Bonhote’s and Ettedgui’s respectfully probing documentary lays bare this designing l’enfant terrible, known for SO much — from performance-art-forward, jaw-dropping runway shows; to his loving/fraught relationship to his mentor/muse Isabella Blow; to his partnerships with Givenchy, Gucci; to his critics’ ire about female representation; to his fans’ support of the inverse; to a string of celebrity patrons, including Bjork, Rihanna, David Bowie, Penelope Cruz, Lady Gaga; to his unprecedented accolades as a young talent, winning British Designer of the Year, four times in under seven years.
Born Lee Alexander McQueen, the extraordinary artist began contributing to Visionaire in 1996, and some of the most iconic images from both McQueen and Visionaire’s canon, were produced in deep collaboration; from McQueen’s work with Nick Knight, including Laura de Palma, in his infamous Bellmer Dress…. to Devon Aoki with a CDG safety pin through her forehead… from styling Kate Moss with a dress he made on set for the cover shoot of our 27th Edition: Movement… to creating a plastic toy featuring a bow tie and “bumster” track suit pants… to even designing the clothes for the first ever contribution by Mert and Marcus, for an American publication… Visionaire’s relationship with Alexander McQueen was a long and fruitful one. Yet still, too brief!
To celebrate the consummate visionary Alexander McQueen — and toast the eponymous documentary he inspired — playing this week at the Tribeca Film Festival — Visionaire proudly shares some of its very own collaborations with the artist; along with some quick bits of our favorite McQueen shows and interviews. Many of these clips and so much more, you can catch in Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s superbly realized new film, MCQUEEN — due for release this summer!
By Lisa Collins
LISA COLLINS: You each have a background in fiction storytelling, how did it serve to your advantage (or not) with telling this non-fiction story?
IAN BONHOTE: We actually use the tools of fiction storytelling to create an emotional journey for our audience. Our ambition was always to make a cinematic documentary aimed for a full theatrical release.
PETER ETTEDGUI: We don’t get too hung up on the distinction. The materials are different, but the goal is exactly the same, to take audiences on an immersive, emotional journey that belongs on a cinema screen where McQueen belongs. We really didn’t want to make a TV style doc.
LC: What sort of extra storytelling pressures come into play in creating a complex profile of a contemporary artist (so present, yet) no longer living?
IB: I think the extra pressure comes as you suggested in the question from the fact that Lee Alexander McQueen is still so relevant today. We wanted to make an intimate portrait of a great artist told through his work, to celebrate the legacy he left behind.
PE: The tragic death of McQueen meant that we had to treat his life and legacy with great sensitivity. His loss — to his family, his friends and colleagues, and, indeed, to the wider world — has left such a void. We wanted to try to bring him back to life on the screen so that we could show how inspiring and extraordinary he was.
LC: Of his iconic collaborations (David Bowie, Kate Moss, Bjork, etc.), which was the most stunning, in your opinion? Can you describe the piece? The show?
IB: It is a hard one but I would say the Hologram of Kate Moss for the “Widows of Culloden” show. Lee had created a pyramid at the center of the catwalk, with the models walking around it. Kate Moss has had some bad publicity due to some alleged drug taking. So Lee wanted her to be centerpiece, but in a more groundbreaking way.
At the end of the show a 3D hologram of Kate Moss appeared as if it was floating mid-air. Due to the complex structure of the Pyramid, they could only allow half the audience in and for one of the first and only times, Lee had two sittings. One of our contributors said they saw the show 2x and both times cried.
PE For me, it’s Number 13 with Shalom Harlow in white tulle being spray-painted by robots. A unique moment inspired by Rebecca Horn’s installations. Like Ian’s pick, this is a moment of sheer joy and creative brilliance.
LC: Be it personal, artistic, or otherwise, the most striking quality that you observed in McQueen that separated him out from the rest of his design contemporaries?
IB: Uncompromising, he was first driven by ideas and creativity. He would never compromise his vision for commercial success! And in a way, he never had to, though it was always a fight.
PE: No matter what he did, no matter how way outside the norm, it was always rooted in his total mastery of tailoring. He was like Mozart in that he was a virtuoso who could use his medium to express any emotion or feeling.
LC: Do you feel that his working-class background played a significant role in his artistry/creations, and/or his ascent, and/or, perhaps, how his anxieties and ambitions played out in the ultra-rich fashion world?
IB & PE: For sure. He was a lot more genuine and authentic than many people you find in the fashion world. But success and the pressures of the industry took him further and further away from his roots and sense of grounded-ness. There’s something profoundly sad about watching how he changes from the chubby, ebullient maverick who took the fashion world by storm in his early-20s.
LC: With such a treasure trove of archival materials to work with, what were some of the most precious moments you weren’t able to include in the film, due to volume?
IB & PE: We found an amazing video from 1997, when Lee talked about his early years at the V&A. He is so funny and honest, and it shows how deeply Lee thought about what he did. He talks about some denim from his ‘It’s a Jungle Out There’ collection which is designed to look feral and urban, but actually has the most exquisite lining. And it also shows him at a happy time in his life, with Isabella Blow in the audience (arriving typically late) and his adored boyfriend Murray Arthur, whom we interview in the film.
It’s so nice to see him in the V&A, the museum from which he drew so much inspiration, and which staged ‘Savage Beauty’ after his death. Alas, the sound and picture quality was too poor for us to be able to use this unique record.
LC: How does debuting MCQUEEN at the Tribeca Film Festival, in New York City, with its rich fashion legacy, add to the excitement of having world premiere?
IB: We feel that Tribeca is perfect for the Film. The other fashion capitals do not hold such a prestigious film festival. Lee had regularly showed there in his early shows. He would have wanted to live in New York for a while. He had the intention to buy a place in New York; this adds an extra layer to the significance of showing the film at Tribeca.
PE: Yep, he loved New York; he staged his ‘Dante’ show in a disused synagogue in ’96. And of course the Met was the original home of ‘Savage Beauty’. We couldn’t be prouder to launch the film at Tribeca.