March 16, 2009

Alexander McQueen: The Art of Recycling and The Throw-Away Habits of The Fashion Industry [A Fall 2009 Paris collection]

Alexander McQueen Fall 2009

Alexander McQueen is THE  genius designer of the 21st Century. His commentaries are often mocking the very industry he works in all the while offering the most beautifully crafted works of art. This time he dug deep into the soul of the business of fashion.

Eric Wilson of the New York Times reports.

INEVITABLY, the talk of Paris fashion has been less about clothes than about money.

Retailers are worried about sales, and magazines are concerned with the loss of advertising. And most designers, listening to the bean counters, have played it so safe with their fall collections that they run the risk of choking. Fashion is in a fractured state.

Still, few designers are willing to admit that the expectations of fashion are changing, or to honestly question the future for luxury goods if the appetite — largely invented over the last decade with calculated marketing more than innovative design — no longer exists. Alexander McQueen’s exceptional collection shown here on Tuesday night, the most ambitious we have seen this season, was as much a slap in the face to his industry, then, as it was brave statement about the absurdity of the race to build empires in fashion.

With a runway of broken mirrors surrounding a garbage heap made of props from his own past collections, Mr. McQueen created a stage to symbolize the sudden crash of luxury exuberance. The clothes he sent out were a parody of couture designs of the last century, spoofing Dior’s New Look and Givenchy’s little black Audrey Hepburn dresses, as well as their reinventions by new designers at those companies in the last decade — himself included. It was a bit of a Marie Antoinette riot, poking fun at all the queens of French fashion.

“This whole situation is such a cliché,” Mr. McQueen said before his show. “The turnover of fashion is just so quick and so throwaway, and I think that is a big part of the problem. There is no longevity.”

Alexander McQueen Fall 2009 video

Mr. McQueen, in effect, was calling fashion’s bluff when he opened his collection with a suit in a 1940s silhouette, with a nipped waist and flared skirt in houndstooth wool, worn by a model who walked with her hands on her hips and posed with the exaggerated gestures of an Irving Penn photograph. That was followed by a houndstooth print on a mink coat in a Poiret shape and wool jackets that were defaced with embroidery that looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.

All the models wore hats by the milliner Philip Treacy that were made of trash-can liners and aluminum cans, or recycled household objects; the makeup, inspired by the mad look of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” gave the models the appearance of plastic faces that were all lips. The music, as well, was a mash-up of songs from his prior shows, with bits of “Vogue” and Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People.”

This was, Mr. McQueen said, an ironic exploration of a designer’s reinvention. The irony is that designers say that fashion is constantly being reinvented, yet they continue to show the same shapes and trends of decades past. (Ergo, this season the collections have been fixated on the 1980s.)

After the triumphs of his recent collections, this was a risky show, entirely uncommercial and intentionally provocative, and it generated extreme reactions. Dennis Freedman, the creative director of W, was visibly ecstatic watching the show; but another magazine editor, afterward, compared the trash-bin styling to “a collection inspired by Wall-E.” And some questioned whether Mr. McQueen, by including such obvious references to trash, was targeting John Galliano’s version of Dior, which, in January 2000, included a couture collection inspired by hobos and that led to protesters wearing plastic garbage bags outside the Dior ateliers on Avenue Montaigne.

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