What is the intent of fashion? is it to shock? to inform, or to entertain? Can there be anything more puerile than creating a fashion piece purely with the intent to shock the audience? Alexander McQueen created his fashion and his art on his terms. His intent was not to shock but rather to communicate his interpretation of the world as he saw it, and what an extraordinary world it was. If the shock value was there it was created by chance rather than intention. If any artist or designer creates their vision and expresses themselves accordingly not everyone will inevitably like it.
To try to please everyone only creates a bland design that says nothing to anyone. The more that an individual expresses themselves through their art with their version of the truth, even if it is shocking this can potentially be a revelation both for the artist and their audience as the designer shares their deepest fears and desires. These were emotions that Alexander McQueen was more than comfortable to express. His 2001 show ‘What a Merry Go Round’ presented the dark view of childhood and uncovered much of his deepest fears. He mixed animalistic images with religious iconography. Hair was fashioned into horns and mixed with leather and semi-nudity.
Alexander McQueen was the enfant terrible of fashion embracing such concepts as the ‘bumster jeans’ jeans which meant half of the model’s bottoms were hanging out on the catwalk. This was a phenomenon that has always occurred naturally on building sites! However, Alexander McQueen was clever enough to harness this idea and even create a trend. This led to thousands of teenagers wearing these odd trousers, and they became a familiar sight on most teenage boys and of course the desire to shock your parents as a teenager is a natural emotion.
More recently the kings of tongue in cheek, Viktor and Rolf created huge dresses of the kind that you would have normally found on the doll that covered your Granny’s loo roll in the 1970s, bearing such slogans as ‘I AM NOT SHY I JUST DON’T LIKE YOU’ and ‘NO PHOTOS PLEASE’ which had an impact of humour rather than shock value. Last year Alessandro Michele Gucci’s star creative director sent his models down the catwalk carrying their heads, albeit in replica form. This bizarre concept carried both shock value and humour of the horror film kind. Alexander McQueen also took on this horror film inspiration with his show ‘Bellmer La Poupee’ in which women were shown in restrictive constructions so they resembled puppets. In this sense was McQueen making a feminist statement? Is it possible that he was saying women should not allow themselves to be restricted in their ambitions and their lives? As always the intention of McQueen is ambivalent and rather the interpretation is left to the audience, and it is the audience’s own bias that creates the shock in the art rather than the artist creating it. This theme of women as objects or dolls continued in ‘Pantheon ad Lucem.’ The irony of this concept is if you are a model you can only be regarded objectively. There is no other way to view a model. After all what else are you in that respect but a vehicle on which the designer hangs their ideas? This is inevitable and unavoidable. In this sense, Alexander McQueen gently ridiculed the whole concept of a fashion show.
Does Fashion still have shock value? and is that shock desirable?
Yes. Art must always create excitement and ideas, and fashion design is not just about creating a comfortable space for the viewer, in many ways, the shock in fashion gives it impact, as a licence to free expression pushes boundaries and when boundaries are pushed progress is made in life expression, design and fashion.