Anything but Boring
Updated: Oct 26
(THEDAVINCI-CHARLOTTESVILLE) - “I came to terms with not fitting in a long time ago. I never really fitted in. I don’t want to fit in. And now people are buying into that,” said famed fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Lee Alexander McQueen was a star of the fashion industry creating provocative, unique and relevant designs. He was Scottish but born in London on March 17, 1969. One of six in a working class family, he made his own early on by getting a job at a local suite tailoring shop. He was heavily bullied for his homosexuality in his young years, but he found himself at home with the needle and thread. He found exhilaration by experimenting with style and self expression. He pursued this passion with desperation.
Not long after getting out of design school, McQueen was named Chief Designer of Givenchy, a Louis Vuitton-owned couture house. He went on to become one of the world’s top designers, dressing royalty and influentials at the height of his career. As he said himself, McQueen did not “fit in” but his odd creative genius is exactly what had everyone hooked. Everything about McQueen’s designs were memorable. They were visually greedy. Whomever wore them radiated confidence and class. Often his shows had a deeper historical or social message as well. One startling show in particular both pissed off the public and started a new trend in the process.
In fall of 1995 the “Highland Rape” show created a wave of controversy and buzz. The designer took to his Scottish roots for this one. The title refers to the Highland Clearances, a period of time in the 18th and 19th centuries where British troops enforced the eviction of inhabitants of the Highlands and western islands of Scotland. The British needed more pastures, replacing the homes of Scots with sheep. Some historians have said that the Clearances were an early form of ethnic cleansing. Scottish women in particular were brutally mistreated during those years, but they also led some of the most prominent protests.
McQueen dressed his models in torn clothes, hanging off their bodies in a disturbing manner. They were battered and bruised, a walking testament to a deeply sad part of Scottish history. The models were adorned in mesh pieces that showed off the curves of their bodies; there were hints of the traditional scottish tartan plaid highlighting many of the designs. Some of their eyes were filled with startling colored contacts; turquoise, yellow, black- haunted with the demons of the past. He captured enchanting beauty and unnerving sensuality in the show as a whole.
McQueen was in no way endorsing rape. He had a message to tell. This is how my ancestors were treated and this should not be forgotten. The show was not supposed to romanticise the rape of women but rather bring awareness to England’s rape of Scotland. It wasn't an endorsement, it was revenge. The women strutted with so much strength and purpose. Despite all odds they were full of life and lavishness. However, the provocative and even triggering nature of the show led to people accusing McQueen of using the models as objects, to which McQueen replied, “[That] couldn't be further away from the truth.” In another interview he said, “I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”
The content of the designs themselves were detailed, a testament to his early years tailoring with precision and excellence. In the controversial show, McQueen introduced the world to the bumster pant - a lowrise pant that showcased the lower back of the body. It was an experiment to elongate the spine. It was very similar to swimsuits of the 60s that came low enough in the back that the woman's bum was exposed. The design's purpose was not to show off the bum but rather the lowest part of the spine. Mcqueen thought that this section of a person's body was the most erotic, on either a man or a woman. The fashion world seemed to agree and the trend took off.
McQueen wasn’t even really trying to sell the clothes in the show. There were no money bags in his eyes or hopes of capitalizing on the brutal mistreatment of the Scots. When bringing something so controversial to the fashion world, intention matters. For him, fashion was not all about the beauty, it was about the grotesque. It was about deeper meaning, self-expression and empowerment. McQueen shows were often an extravagantly memorable performance and still to this day, if one revisits the footage of the “Highland Rape”, one can still feel the force, the pain and the passion. The designer committed suicide in 2010. He left behind a successful clothing brand and an everburning burning mark on the fashion world. Alexander McQueen was anything but boring.
“Alexander McQueen.” Biography, www.biography.com/fashion-designer/alexander-mcqueen. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.
“Alexander McQueen Autumn Winter 1995-96 Highland Rape.” YouTube, uploaded by fashionvideos, 12 Feb. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6j6yxyWkFo&ab_channel=fashionvideos. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Highland Clearances". Encyclopedia Britannica, 31 Mar. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Highland-Clearances. Accessed 27 February 2021.
Reynolds, Benjamin. “Top 10 Alexander McQueen Quotes on Fashion and Style.” LDNFASHION, 12 Apr. 2015, ldnfashion.com/features/alexander-mcqueen-quotes-on-fashion-and-style. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.
Seth, Radhika. “11 Years On: Remembering Alexander McQueen’s Most Fantastical Catwalk Moments.” British Vogue, 11 Feb. 2021, www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/best-alexander-mcqueen-runway-shows. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.