Tag Archives: fashion designers

No Regrets

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 want women to be afraid of the women I dress.”   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.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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A review of Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy by Judith Watt.

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California Girls

The Swimsuit: A History of Twentieth-Century Fashion by Sarah Kennedy (Carlton Books; $34.95; 304 pages)

This is a serious survey of the evolution of the ladies’ swimsuit in the 20th century.   The text offers a chronology of the garments worn by bathers, accompanied by countless illustrations and photographs.   Don’t let the fancy layout and gorgeous swimsuit models in the modern era suits fool you.   There’s a strong correlation between the social and political achievements during the last century and the freedoms we now enjoy.  

Innovations in fabric production have allowed designers to create remarkably colorful and daring shapes that stand up to water and sunshine.   In the past, there were several concepts that seemed like good ideas but failed miserably when put to use.   The rubber suit was one of them.   It seems that it was only good for a couple of swims before it crumbled – not exactly a pretty picture!

Author Sarah Kennedy traces the various manufacturers and designers whose work stands out and has survived the whims of fashion.   She has brought together resources from England and the United States.   There is a comprehensive list of designers and manufacturers as well.   This book would make an excellent present for the swimsuit fashionista on your holiday gift list.

Reviewed by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

Take Away:  Women will enjoy reviewing this clever look at the female liberation movement, from an on-the-beach perspective.   But don’t be surprised if the males in the household (ages 15 to 80) are caught using it for scientific research purposes!

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