McQueen M’Quakes – Mind, Mythos, Muse, Minis

(Special display at NGV, Melbourne, April 2023)

The blurb – “Alexander McQueen (1969–2010) is one of the most original fashion designers in recent history. Celebrated for his conceptual and technical virtuosity, McQueen’s critically acclaimed collections synthesised his proficiency in tailoring and dressmaking with visual references that spanned time, geography and media. Showcasing more than 120 garments and accessories, Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse offers insight into McQueen’s far-reaching sources of inspiration, his creative processes and capacity for storytelling...”

All true of course. And the NGV has put on a show for the ages; to see these works up-close is a great privilege. Some of the headdresses and floral crowns appeared to be supplied for hatless designs and were unsuccessful. This marvellous, very large exhibition demonstrates that McQueen was at his best with the more wearable costumes – divine leather and tartan jackets and skirts.  Oddly, the the finishing of some of the haute garments was rather poor  (See the back of his disappointing black and gold gown at far right.)

The final word on McQueen goes of course to those who attended his funeral. Sadly, but not inappropriately, given his sometime macabre choices, (“Banshee”, “The Highland Rape”, “Jack the Ripper”, “Widows of Culloden”), it was his best show.

Yes…all these plaudits were deserved by McQueen; but there was an earlier M Q, who had an immense influence in English fashion and without whom Alexander McQueen could never have been.  Dame Mary Quant (11 February 1930 – 13 April 2023) prefigured and outlived McQueen. She started the Chelsea Youthquake, popularised the miniskskirt and unstructured, easy-going separates.

As McQueen said, “my shows are about sex, drugs, and rock and roll…It’s for the excitement and the goose bumps…I want heart attacks, I want ambulances” and as Quant said,  “The designer who will choose a deliberate gimmick simply to get a splash in the Press is likely to have a short-term success.  But it can only be ‘a flash in the pan.”  It can’t last.  No dedicated designer will ever produce anything simply as a gimmick though it is quite possible that a genuine and sincere idea may be interpreted as gimmicky at first.


The Fashion Guru

[For further reading on McQueen, see, “Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin“, by Andrew Wilson, Simon & Schuster  and “Gods and Kings”, by Danas Tomsas, Penguin.

For further reading on Quant, see “Quant by Quant“, by Mary Quant, Cassell & Company Ltd and “There’s Something About Mary“, by Brigid Keenan, The Spectator 30 March 2019.

For more about fashion and swinging London, see “Vivienne Westwood“, by Ian Kelly, Picador and “From A to Biba; The Autobiography of Barbara Hulanicki“, by Barbara Hulanicki, V & A Publishing (one of an enchanting series of small fashion bios.]

138a King’s Road London SW3 UK. In November 1955, Mary Quant opened her first boutique, called Bazaar.


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