You know you’re engrossed in a piece of cinema when almost two hours have gone by and you feel like you still want to learn more about the subject. That exact reaction is what the 2018 McQueen documentary seemed to instill upon its packed screening auditorium at the Picturehouse cinema at Piccadilly Circus. Insightful not just in relation to the designer’s illustrious career but also offering a glimpse into his mind, McQueen features interview outtakes with the people who were closest to him as well as snippets of pixelated video footage taken by the designer and his friends throughout their journey.
Personable and not at all bothered by what people thought of him, even during his university days, McQueen is captured telling the camera that his designs come from a dark place. It’s a theme that runs throughout the film, as the correlation between his success and the demise of his mental health are depicted as being closely linked. But with an insight into the pressures that he was under whilst overseeing the creative direction of both his namesake label and Givenchy, it all becomes (almost) understandable. At the peak of his career, McQueen was designing 14 collections a year and each was as theatrical as the next, governed by his desire for people to leave ‘feeling either repulsed or exhilarated’. The former was a more common response. Never created for commercial reasons, instead intended as a marketing ploy to entice people into the label, these shows were as much about the set design, art direction and drama as they were about the clothing.
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McQueen’s brutal honesty and lack of filter is refreshing and it seems especially genuine in the early footage. Backstage at some of his first runway shows, he’s interviewed with his back to the camera. Why? Because spending employment benefits on fabrics whilst going to your parent’s house for dinner each night doesn’t really count as mindful spending. It does, of course, make for a charming Cinderella story, especially when pieced next to a snippet about the difficulties that he faced coming out to his father and an interview outtake remembering him ‘continually listening to Sinead O’Connor on his walkman’ during work experience.
There’s also a lot about the fascinating relationship between McQueen and Isabella Blow, who has often been attributed to the success of McQueen and was supposedly the influence behind him changing his name from Lee to Alexander. His hair stylist and agent is recorded saying that Blow ‘wanted to make him posh’… Watch just 5 minutes of this piece and you’ll learn that that much was never going to happen. A seemingly strange friendship featuring a monumental argument that seemed (once again) to go hand-in-hand with McQueen’s peak fame, peak creativity and peak drug use, it’s not until the showcase of his tribute SS08 collection, accessorized with Philip Treacy hats, that as a viewer you acknowledge the genuine depth of their friendship.
Sad in a number of places, fascinatingly insightful in others, McQueen shouldn’t just be of interest to fashion lovers as it tells the story of this icon’s life through the eyes of the people who were closest to him.
McQueen is in cinemas 8th June 2018.