Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy by Judith Watt (Harper Design, $35.00, 288 pages)
“Alexander McQueen has been referred to as the fashion world’s darling, its rebel and pioneer. He was all of these things…” Daphne Guinness
“He likes to call his rivals ‘pretentious’… (his arrogance is) his own worst flaw, second only to his ignorance.” Daily Mail (London)
“Give me time and I’ll give you a revolution.” Alexander McQueen
The fashion designer Alexander McQueen was a number of figures in one. First, he was a fashion visionary – a man who saw the future of the industry and put his daring vision on stage years before the world was ready to see it. Second, he was an infant terrible, a terribly antagonistic figure who loved challenging authority and upsetting others for seemingly no reason. (In one instance, he began a fashion show exactly one hour late so that he could see the invited guests squirm.) Third, he was literally a mama’s boy. McQueen could so little handle the thought of living without his beloved mother that he committed suicide between the day of her death and her funeral service.
If it’s not already clear, McQueen was both a genius and a troubled figure. This in itself would present problems for any biographer or tribute writer. In Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy, Judith Watt does her best to present a calm portrait of a fashion designer most known for his “over the top runway shows,” and sometimes over the top personal life. If a reader was to simply read the words of this generally complimentary account (clearly intended to present a positive spin on McQueen), he or she might feel the pro-McQueen case was aptly presented. However, at least half of McQueen is filled with visual images of McQueen’s work and most of them are rather startling and uncompromising, if not unpleasant. Strike that, they’re mostly unpleasant.
“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules…” Alexander McQueen
I began reading this account in the corner with the group that thinks of the late designer as a boat-rocking genius. One might argue that he was a rock and roll designer, always seeking to rile up the establishment even when it was all for show (and for controversy resulting in P.R., resulting in becoming and being known for being controversial). But the great majority of the images displayed in this self-proclaimed “in-depth look at the most controversial designer of a generation” are so often off-putting that it’s clear why McQueen had to issue this semi-apology for his work: “I know I’m provocative. You don’t have to like it… you do have to acknowledge it.”
The release of this volume is unlikely to alienate existing fans of the late designer, but it is certainly not going to win him any converts. It’s probable that some will pick up this book and rapidly set it down. To give McQueen his due, he designed fashion that was – to use his own prophetic words, “ahead of its time.” And he remained true to his vision first through failure and then success.
McQueen’s wild, unbridled form of genius sometimes led him to seem like a visitor from another planet – still he was a man, an artist of passion. It will undoubtedly be many decades before his rightful place in fashion history will be determined. But Alexander McQueen was fully correct when he told the world: “If you don’t have passion for something, you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
A review copy was provided by the publisher.