Renegade British fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen was a rule breaking pop cultural phenomenon, whose untimely death back in 2010 sent shockwaves around the globe. Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s intimately soul-bearing documentary McQueen reveals the troubled man behind the façade, and the myriad of personal demons he faced.
McQueen’s skull motif is a recurring yet continually evolving gothic image (signalling the designer’s ever-augmenting style) which is used as an evocative gold- filigreed anchor within the film’s five-chapter structure. Each engrossing segment (chronologically named after pivotal runway shows) is spliced with frank and emotionally charged interviews which are counterpointed with perceptive home video tapes from McQueen’s extensive personal archive. Bonhôte and Ettedgui examine the rise and fall of modern Britain’s most renowned couturier with devoted precision, tentatively weaving together poignant narrative threads with a raw elegance which can similarly be found in any of McQueen’s collections.
A fashion industry rags-to-riches story, Alexander McQueen started out with few educational qualifications, frequently relying on dole money to obtain fabrics. Coupling sheer determination with a ferociously undeniable talent he swiftly rose to the top, garnering acclaim thanks to his outlandishly confrontational designs. Since the beginning the catwalk has doubled up as an earnest confessional for McQueen who laid bare his cynically turbulent emotions with mounting intensity after each passing season.
Darkness is the binding crux that swathes McQueen’s very artistry, his early show titles “Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims” and “Highland Rape” demonstrate this plainly, and yet behind the shock factor there is a publicly internal exploration of the horrors Lee experienced as a child (witnessing and experiencing physical abuse is alluded to in later testimony).
For all the international praise and media accolades, the East End working class boy never found true comfort within the gilded fashion elite. Candid interviews with McQueen’s friends, family and colleagues unveil the crippling vulnerability and unyielding pressure of expectations that gnawed away behind the flamboyant exterior persona. Yet framed between these anxieties is a man tenderly reminisced for his personable humanity and philanthropic generosity. At a run time just shy of two hours, Bonhôte and Ettedgui are forgiven for being at times slightly indulgent with their over-lingering lens; it’s a highly personalised homage they’ve put together, that is unwilling to be restrained.
Michael Nyman’s accompanying high impact score (McQueen frequently listened to Nyman’s orchestrations whilst working away in his atelier) is a swelling, moody and fittingly operatic tribute to the man who turned cult status fashion into universal art.
A staggeringly authentic portrait of a genius who pushed fashion’s creative boundaries and comfort zone to the very end, McQueen is an excellent documentary. Even non-fashionistas will be hard pressed not to find this an emotively absorbing watch.
McQueen is in selected UK cinemas now.