Alexander McQueen, 1993

A Beginning…

NYT’s review of Alexander McQueen’s Spring/ Summer 1994 collection by Amy Spindler:

LONDON, Oct. 19— While watching the parade of blank minimalist dresses in London, it’s difficult not to fantasize that from behind the catwalk, a spiky-haired punk might emerge and paint graffiti across the wall of white slips.

Buyers say they have returned to London this season because of a combination of factors: the re-emergence of punk, the success in Paris of the ornate collections of the British designers Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano and the popularity of Edwardian and dandy looks. What they found during the three days that made up London fashion week, though, was mostly the same squeaky-clean clothes that have emerged elsewhere. If you had $:1 for every slip dress shown in London, you might actually be able to afford one.

The minimalism here could reflect an admiration for two of the biggest London-based success stories of the decade: Flyte Ostell and Ghost. Both lines have strong American support. Ghost, the line from Tanya Sarne, will have a runway show during the New York fashion week. Ellis Flyte and Richard Ostell had their first runway show in the venerable Liberty department store here Sunday night.

There is no doubt, seeing their floating visions of chiffon and lean silhouettes, that all minimalism is not created equal. Clothes were grouped by color: crisp white, cream, deep blue, black. There were loose, asymmetrical linen tunics with loose trousers; crinkled off-the-shoulder dresses, and loosely woven knit dresses over long soft sheaths. There was a billowing white sheer chiffon trench. The soundtrack began with the roll of waves on a beach, the sort of harmony, fashion-wise, these clothes represent.

But one Flyte Ostell in London is peace enough. The last show of the season gave editors the aggressive British attitude they had been expecting. A little of it, of course, goes a long way, and Alexander McQueen provided a lot: models extending lean middle fingers to the audience, punked hair and racoon eyes and some dresses washed or hand-printed with paint the color of dried blood. There were pants slung as low as they could go; dresses, sheer and still damp with paint, that looked like an artist’s idea of a wet T-shirt.

But the meanest thing about Mr. McQueen’s hard vision is the cuts of his Edwardian jackets, some made from corroded gilt, with the patterns of gilded string. The redingotes, in pin stripe or brocade with human hair sealed beneath, had peaked shoulders and were sculpted away from the body, with no buttons. There were also beautiful togas held up at the neck with string.

Mr. McQueen’s impressive background includes a Savile Row apprenticeship and stints with Anderson & Sheppard; Bermans & Nathan, a theatrical costumer; Koji Tatsuno, and Romeo Gigli. His was a hard show to take, but at least it offered one solution to the identity crisis of London fashion.

For Jean Muir, the solution is obvious. She has been defining the well-cut suit and jersey dress in London for years. There is no rebellion in her softly lit studio, where she shows. One’s coat is taken and romantic French songs are piped in. Her signature jacket, with a sort of empire waist made from an arch of stitching, has been copied by many but is done perfectly by its creator. Her softly flared dresses had glittering stones at the neckline and sleeves, or flowers embroidered at the hem. She shocked those used to her quiet palettes with chiffon skirts paired with brightly striped sweaters tied like sarongs across the chest.

There were others who offered life beyond minimalism. London has always had two schools: those who dress the Princess of Wales and those who dress modern-day Sid Viciouses and Nancy Spungens. Selina Blow and Bella Freud have found a comfortable place between the two extremes. Ms. Blow’s clothes are quintessential for what British designers like to call the dirty duchesses: Edwardian coats, impeccably made, in brocades and soft yellow pinstripes with red piping. There were also military-inspired vests, some long and some cropped. Ms. Blow paired her aristocratic tops with clubby trousers in black Ms. Freud’s sexy schoolgirl style was perfect for winsome waifs like Kate Moss and Lucie de la Falaise. These were clothes for the woman-child, in powdery pastels: gingham sweater sets with short white skirts, short tight sweater dresses, small-shouldered suits with asymmetrical hems and strappy sandles, empire-waist dresses with big velvet bows.

While Ms. Freud’s designs can border on kitsch, the Red or Dead collection embraces it wholeheartedly. Synchronized swimmers paddled about the runway, which extended over a swimming pool, while updated 1950’s calendar girls walked. There were “Charlie’s Angels”-inspired velvet suits and jumpsuits, presented to the theme music from the television show; rodeo jackets with miniskirts and sheer shirts; Esther Williamses in satiny bikinis and long beach robes and wearing plumes on their heads. There were photo prints of tulips and sunflowers on long shimmering dresses for a sardonic take on the too-sweet floral prints of last summer.

The freshest flowers of the season, though, were those that looked dead and pressed under glass at Abe Hamilton. Chiffon was printed with brown twig-and-dried-flower patterns. Some of the dresses in tea-stained chiffon had a pale blue slip peeping from beneath. Tiny dried flowers poked from a muslin empire-waist dress, and other thin sheaths in pale blue and yellow had hand-cut flowers sewn to them, as if peeping out from beneath a garden.

Helen Storey created a tribute to the grunge rocker Courtney Love: leather coated with silver foil for short-shorts, mini-kilts, vests and jean-cut trousers. Rubberized chiffon, feeling like surgical gloves, was cut into sheer black shirts. Silver tulle was hung with sequins and put over the clothes like a net.

The collection that felt most like the future of London fashion, however, was designed by a Hong Kong-born man living in Dublin — John Rocha. “What I’m trying to do,” Mr. Rocha said after the show, “is bring Celtic tradition into modern fashion.”

Rope twine crosses swung at the hips of many of his sexy Celtic models, and crosses were crocheted onto the backs of cropped cardigans. There were tulip prints a la Georgia O’Keeffe on white chiffon dresses; linen dresses with crosses beaded on them; a long sheath of crocheted hemp; a black cable knit dress with openwork between the cables, revealing silver bikini bottoms beneath. The models had windburned cheeks and wore loafers cut off like clogs. There was nothing minimalist here at all.

Long Live McQueen.

all photos by Christopher Moore


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