Alexander McQueen’s, 2001 Spring/Summer collection, VOSS, offers a commentary on the relationship between the beautiful and the grotesque. McQueen states that his “collections have always been autobiographical…They were to do with [his] childhood, the way [he] think[s] about life and the way [he] was brought up to think.” With the perception that McQueen’s collections reveal truths about his own personal life, one can examine his collection to learn and define the designer.
Voss is a municipality of Norway, which is renowned for its host of species, particularly its bird-life. This closely links with the materials used in many of Alexander McQueen’s garments therefore suggesting reasoning behind the collection’s name.
“One of McQueen’s greatest legacies was how he would challenge your expectations of beauty” . Through this statement, one can make the presumption that, VOSS, was in fact, all about beauty. Alexander McQueen presented the catwalk as a theatrical piece, where elements were included to distract the viewer away from the attention of the model, but rather upon self-reflection. The first model on the catwalk was Kate Moss, who wore a beige dress, with cascading feathers starting from the shoulder and white fabric wrapped around her head, symbolising bandages.
Alexander McQueen described the dressings as a representation of surgery – surgery to change ones appearance. Due to the first garment presented as being a direct reference to beauty and appearance, McQueen is able to achieve a focal point for the collection. At the end of the show, McQueen’s desired message of acceptance was exposed through the dramatic revelation of Michelle Olley, whom lounged across a lace sofa, whilst surrounded by moths.
This was inspired by Witkin’s photograph, ‘Sanatorium’. From my perspective, moths represent vulnerability, as they are a creature of the night and therefore are highly influenced by the power of the moon. The moon is a symbol of femininity but also madness. This could refer back to the meaning of McQueen’s collection, suggesting that females can reach stages of mental illness in their search to perfection. This collection also prefigures his own battles with mental health, (mixed anxiety and depressive disorder), consequently leading to his suicide in 2010.
Alexander McQueen took inspiration from many mediums. The 1963, Alfred Hitchcock film, ‘The Birds’, influenced a garment where taxidermy eagles were plunging down onto a petrified female.
The eagles could have many symbolic meanings, which McQueen allowed the viewer to establish themselves. I took this garment to represent entrapment and the lack of control an individual holds over themselves. Eagles represent freedom and power. By giving the sight that the eagles are in control of a human, could signify the lack of freedom one feels, (linking in with the location of a psychiatric unit) consequently leading to a lack of control they have over themselves. By having such a strong symbolic garment, may possibly be an expression of McQueen’s own personal feelings of anxiety and depression, from which he feels lack of control in his own mind.
One of the most famous garments within the collection, is the scarlet feathered evening gown,) worn by Erin O’Connor. This garment consists of an ostrich feathered skirt, dyed red and black, with each feather individual sewn together by hand. The bodice is made from 2,000 microscope slides, signifying how one puts the models body under a microscope (close examination and scrutiny). They are painted red, representing blood. McQueen states that “there’s blood beneath every layer of skin” suggesting that humans have multiple layers, physically, but also emotionally.
In view of above, McQueen’s designs for this collection foreshadow his own battles with mental health, whilst simultaneously giving the critics an inquisitorial outlook of what they consider beautiful.
Hope you found this helpful.
Ella Elysia x