The tri­umph and tragedy of Alexan­der Mc­queen

Grazia (UK) - - 10 Hot_ Stories -

THERE Is a MO­MENT in the new doc­u­men­tary film about his life, when a piece of footage shows Lee Mc­queen ( bet­ter known by his pro­fes­sional name, Alexan­der Mc­queen), say­ing, ‘If you want to know me – look at my work.’

Cer­tainly, his work – cap­ti­vat­ing, shock­ing, ro­man­tic, and deeply per­sonal – has al­ways in­vited its au­di­ence to think about the man be­hind it. ‘He ex­pressed the in­ten­sity of his fears, pas­sions and joys on the cat­walk,’ says Claire Wil­cox, who cu­rated the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum’s Sav­age Beauty ex­hi­bi­tion. ‘He had ab­so­lutely no choice but to in­vest him­self to­tally into his fash­ion col­lec­tions from the per­spec­tive of be­ing a bril­liant tai­lor, de­signer, crafts­man, but also as some­body who truly be­lieved that fash­ion could 

ex­press deeper truths about be­ing hu­man.’

And now, over eight years af­ter Mc­queen’s death at 40, peo­ple are still want­ing to know more about the man be­hind the myth­i­cal de­signs. This week sees the re­lease of Mc­queen, a film di­rected by Ian Bon­hôte and Peter Et­tedgui (son of Joseph Et­tedgui, of Joseph fash­ion store fame – one of the first bou­tiques to buy the young Mc­queen’s de­signs).

Chart­ing his rise from self-de­clared ‘un­re­mark­able’ East End lad with raw, once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion ta­lent, via the sil­ver spoon en­vi­rons of Parisian haute cou­ture dur­ing his ten­ure as head de­signer of Givenchy, to su­per­star­dom and the tragic con­clu­sion, Mc­queen is com­prised of orig­i­nal footage gath­ered from over 200 sources, along­side per­sonal com­men­tary from col­leagues, friends and fam­ily, in­clud­ing his sis­ter Janet and nephew Gary.

You can see why a film­maker would be drawn to Mc­queen as a sub­ject (‘ That ten­sion be­tween his self and the world of fash­ion makes him a very compelling char­ac­ter for a fea­ture doc­u­men­tary,’ says Et­tedgui). Han­dled in­sen­si­tively, how­ever, the Mc­queen story can be the stuff of tabloid fod­der, a con­cern the di­rec­tors were aware of. ‘ We didn’t want to white­wash dif­fi­cult sub­jects, but what we didn’t want to do is sen­sa­tion­alise it,’ says Et­tedgui. ‘ We wanted to view every­thing through the prism of his work.’ In­deed, those the­atri­cal shows were another rea­son they were drawn to the story as a cin­e­matic nar­ra­tive. As Bon­hôte says, ‘ We felt it would be amaz­ing to see them on the big screen, and not just on Youtube.’

We’re in a golden era for wit­ness­ing fash­ion sto­ries on screen. This year al­ready, we’ve had Paul Thomas An­der­son’s Phantom Thread and The As­sas­si­na­tion Of Gianni Ver­sace, as well as doc­u­men­taries on Vivi­enne West­wood and An­to­nio Lopez. Com­ing soon is The Gospel Ac­cord­ing To An­dré, about An­dré Leon Tal­ley. With their sto­ries of artists fight­ing against the odds and coun­ter­ing the mun­dan­ity of the daily life with un­shack­led cre­ativ­ity, these are gal­vanis­ing tales for now. The fris­son of glam­our helps.

In the so­cial me­dia age, there’s no doubt bar­ri­ers are break­ing down. Where there was once mys­tique, there is now ac­cess-al­lar­eas. From mod­els get­ting their make-up done, to celebri­ties sneak­ing cig­a­rettes at the Met Gala, to de­sign­ers shar­ing post­work­out self­ies, we’re given ap­par­ently can­did in­sights. This flood of in­for­ma­tion, how­ever, short­ens our at­ten­tion spans: hit ‘Like’, move on. It takes some­thing cap­ti­vat­ing to hold our at­ten­tion for two hours and, in that sense, a doc­u­men­tary is an hon­our be­stowed only on the spe­cial few. It’s the ul­ti­mate sta­tus sym­bol.

Bon­hôte and Et­tedgui, how­ever, seem un­com­fort­able with the cat­e­goris­ing of Mc­queen as a ‘fash­ion film’. Rather, as Bon­hôte says, ‘ We made a film about an ex­tra­or­di­nary man work­ing in fash­ion, not a fash­ion film.’ For as long as there are good sto­ries to tell, there will al­ways be peo­ple want­ing to tell them. ‘ Mc­queen’ is at cin­e­mas from 8 June

Peter Et­tedgui, one of the film’s di­rec­tors

Lee Mc­queen with his fash­ion friends Is­abella Blow (above), Kate Moss (top) and Erin O’connor (right)

With Is­abella (far left) on the FROW, and a fit­ting with Naomi Camp­bell (left)

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