Review: McQueen

23 August 2018

Content warning: mentions of sexual assault, child abuse and mental illness.

“Fashion is a big bubble and sometimes I feel like popping it,” said Alexander McQueen, the English fashion designer who skyrocketed to international acclaim and controversy for his dark and macabre creations.

Directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui tell McQueen’s story chronologically, giving the documentary a claustrophobic feel as it goes on since most audience members will already know McQueen’s fate. It’s heart wrenching to watch McQueen in his early years, filled with laughter and surrounded by friends, succumb to the dark side of fame and become an angry and paranoid man.

The beginning of the documentary unfolds like a modern rags to riches story. We watch as a chubby English boy with no money works his way through apprenticeships and eventually becomes the creative designer for luxury brands Givenchy and Gucci. Through home videos and interviews with friends, family and lovers, we see that McQueen always had a strong support system and he is characterised as quick to laugh, generous and hard-working.

McQueen was fascinated by the dark side of beauty and the ways in which beauty and violence can intersect, evident from collections he did which were titled “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims” and “Highland Rape.”

While many critics found his work distasteful and misogynistic, his inspiration often stemmed from some of the traumas he himself shouldered, such as his childhood sexual abuse. Bonhôte and Ettedgui make it clear that McQueen wasn’t just trying to shock his audience, but wanted to engage them critically and show that strength can come from facing the things that once made you feel small.

Throughout the film, McQueen and his fans constantly reference how many of his designs actually didn’t cost very much to make. One of his models literally walks the runway taped up in plastic wrap. But although the material costs may have been low, McQueen was paying the price with his emotional health as the growing spotlight brought with it anxiety and depression.  

He turned to drugs as a panacea for his problems and got liposuction to address his insecurities, becoming both physically and emotionally unrecognizable to his friends. The nails in McQueen’s coffin were the death of one of his closest friends, to whom he owed much of his initial success, followed shortly by the death of his mother.

You don’t need to know a thing about fashion to comprehend McQueen’s level of genius and artistry. The film itself is beautiful, with dark CGI interludes and a classical music score that McQueen himself would certainly have loved. Just as McQueen wanted people to walk away from his shows feeling something, viewers will walk away from McQueen feeling both adoration and grief.


McQueen is in cinemas 6 September 2018.

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