Alexander McQueen Fabric, Part 1: Prints

May 11, 2015 § 5 Comments

Jack the Ripper McQueen sketch

Sketch by Alexander McQueen, Central Saint Martins MA graduate portfolio, Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims, Fall/Winter 1992. Pencil on distressed paper with fabric swatches. Image via Alexander McQueen.

As part of this blog’s celebration of Savage Beauty in London, I’ll be devoting two posts to Alexander McQueen fabrics. (See my earlier roundup post here.) First: a look at McQueen’s distinctive prints.

McQueen’s fellow Central Saint Martins student Simon Ungless, who went on to become director of the School of Fashion at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, designed the barbed hawthorn print in McQueen’s graduate collection, Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims (Fall 1992; interview here. Oberto Gili photographed Isabella Blow in the coat for British Vogue.) Ungless also designed the swallow print in The Birds (Spring 1995):

Coat in pink silk satin printed in thorn pattern, Alexander McQueen FW 1992

Coat, pink silk satin printed in thorn pattern by Simon Ungless, lined in white silk with encapsulated human hair, Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1992 (Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims). Photo: Sølve Sundsbø. Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mr Pearl and Plum Sykes in two swallow print looks, Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 1995 (The Birds)

Two swallow print looks, Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 1995 (The Birds) Models: Mr. Pearl and Plum Sykes.

Silk jacket with swallow print, Alexander McQueen SS 1995 (The Birds)

Silk jacket, Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 1995 (The Birds). Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Freelance print designer and Central Saint Martins Textiles tutor Fleet Bigwood designed fabrics for Alexander McQueen’s first three seasons. (See Fleet Bigwood: Breaking the Rules at Texprint, or the BBC’s Blast videos.) The top in this ensemble from Nihilism (Spring 1994, McQueen’s third collection) was printed using an iron filing paste that was rusted through exposure to air and salt water (see Louise Nutt on Pinterest; full collection at the Fashion Spot, or video here):

Fleet Bigwood rust-printed top, Alexander McQueen SS 1994

Ensemble featuring a Fleet Bigwood print for Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 1994 collection (Nihilism). Image via Pinterest.

In 2002, immediately after presenting his award-winning Central Saint Martins graduate collection, Jonathan Saunders was hired to design prints for Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2003 collection, Irere. Working with designer Christopher Pearson—a member of the Alexander McQueen design team from 2001 to 2006 and a founding member of the company’s fashion print department—Saunders produced Irere’s celebrated Bird-of-Paradise prints (see the V&A on Irere):

Jonathan Saunders bird-of-paradise feather print for Alexander McQueen, SS 2003

Feather print for Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2003 (Irere). Image via Christopher Pearson/Cargo.

Alexander McQueen Irere SS 2003 prints by Jonathan Saunders

Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2003 (Irere). Models: Frankie Rayder and Roos van Bosstraeten. Images via style.com.

The following year, Pearson co-designed the Alexander McQueen skull scarf with Jennefer Osterhoudt, who was head of accessories for McQueen at Givenchy and later at Alexander McQueen. The pattern is based on a skull scarf found in Camden Market:

Skull print by Christopher Pearson and Jennefer Osterhoudt for Alexander McQueen, 2002

Skull print by Christopher Pearson and Jennefer Osterhoudt for Alexander McQueen, 2002. Image via Christopher Pearson/Cargo.

For McQueen’s later collections, the prints were produced by a team of designers that included textile design interns who might be hired back after graduation. From 2006 to 2011, the company’s head print designer was Central Saint Martins graduate Holly Marler, who is now head of embroidery, fabric, and print design at Temperley London.

Lilly Heine, now head of print fabric development at Dries Van Noten, interned with Jonathan Saunders and later Alexander McQueen as a textiles student. (See her profiles in the Frankfurter Allgemeine [German only] and the Independent.) During her internship at Alexander McQueen, Heine designed some prints for La Dame Bleue (Spring 2008). The collection’s rainbow bird-of-paradise print appeared on several looks including the feather-collared Bird of Paradise dress—recently worn by FKA twigs to perform at the V&A’s Savage Beauty gala:

Alexander McQueen bird-of-paradise prints, SS 2008 Isabella Blow collection

Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2008 (La Dame Bleue). Models: Taryn Davidson and Viviane Orth. Images via style.com.

Torunn Myklebust, today a senior print designer at Givenchy, also did a textile design internship at Alexander McQueen. As an intern, Myklebust worked on prints for Natural Dis-Tinction Un-Natural Selection (Spring 2009), and she rejoined the company in late 2009. (Read an interview in Natt&Dag [Norwegian only]; see Myklebust’s tumblr.) The wood-grain digital print from the Spring 2009 collection was later used for the endpapers of Andrew Bolton’s Savage Beauty catalogue:

Wood-grain digital print, Alexander McQueen SS 2009

From a silk/synthetic ensemble by Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2009 (Natural Dis-Tinction Un-Natural Selection). Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In her review of the Spring 2009 collection, Sarah Mower identified engineered prints as a trend out of London: “bright, multicolored allover prints, engineered to fit around jackets, leggings, and cocoon dresses—new on the Paris runway, but also part of a general trend emanating from London’s young designers.” The Spring 2009 advertising campaign, shot by Craig McDean, features a jacket and leggings in one of the collection’s crystalline digital prints:

Heidi Mount in Craig McDean's Spring 2009 campaign for Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen Spring 2009 ad campaign. Photo: Craig McDean. Image via styleregistry.

In her Savage Beauty interview with Tim Blanks, Sarah Burton discusses McQueen’s meticulous design process when working with patterned fabrics such as prints or jacquards. From Fall 2009 on, McQueen would drape the initial design using a rough version of the fabric, with the team producing miniature, 3-D paper dolls to show the pattern placement. When a working version of the fabric was ready, he would finalize the pattern placement on a mannequin, after which the print or jacquard would be re-adjusted to match at the seams. Only then would it be sent into production. (See Andrew Bolton, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, pp. 229-30.)

Frederic Alexander, who worked as an assistant to Holly Marler and now designs for his own label, Saint Etienne, worked on prints for Alexander McQueen’s Pre-Fall 2009 and Fall 2009 collections. The Escher-inspired magpie houndstooth print recalls Simon Ungless’ swallow print:

Floral and magpie houndstooth prints, Alexander McQueen Pre-Fall and FW 2009-10

Floral print design for Alexander McQueen Pre-Fall 2009; magpie houndstooth print design for Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2009-10 (The Horn of Plenty). Images via Saint Etienne/Cargo.

Alexander McQueen Pre-Fall and Fall 2009

Alexander McQueen Pre-Fall 2009 and Fall/Winter 2009-10 (The Horn of Plenty). Images via style.com.

Advances in inkjet technology enabled the thirty-six circle-engineered digital prints in Plato’s Atlantis (Spring 2010). (For further technical discussion of textiles in Plato’s Atlantis, see the Savage Beauty section of the Alexander McQueen website.) Freelance textile designer Chinsky Cheung interned at Alexander McQueen and returned to the company for several collections, including Plato’s Atlantis. In an article published in Hong Kong’s Milk magazine, she shows aspects of the design process including pattern placement:

Alexander McQueen SS 2010 look 3 print placement

Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2010 (Plato’s Atlantis). Model: Karmen Pedaru. Images: style.com and Chinsky Cheung/Milk magazine via Augustine Wong.

(For more scans see Augustine Wong’s post, The Queen of the Prints.)

Dress, digitally printed silk satin and silk chiffon, Alexander McQueen SS 2010

Dress, digitally printed silk satin and silk chiffon, by Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2010 (Plato’s Atlantis). Image via the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Fall 2010 menswear (An Bailitheoir Cnámh – the Bone Collector) and women’s Pre-Fall 2010 collection had the same catacombs print:

Catacomb print, Alexander McQueen Fall 2010 men's / women's Pre-Fall 2010-11

Two catacomb print looks, Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2010-11 menswear (An Bailitheoir Cnámh) and Pre-Fall 2010. Images via style.com and Alexander McQueen.

The textiles in McQueen’s posthumously presented Fall 2010 collection (known as Angels and Demons) were patterned with digitally manipulated images drawn from early religious painting and sculpture. (See Dazed Digital and the V&A on the collection.) Some of the patterns were not prints but jacquards, while the reworked Old Master prints looked back to pieces like the Fall 1997 Campin crucifixion-printed jacket:

Richard Fairhead's photo of Alexander McQueen Byzantine lion jacquard, Dazed magazine 2010

Alexander McQueen Byzantine lion jacquard, Dazed magazine, October 2010. Photo: Richard Fairhead. Image via Dazed Digital.

Alexander McQueen dress with print based on Stefan Lochner's 15th-century Altarpiece of the Patron Saints of Köln,

Dress, silk print based on Stefan Lochner’s Dombild Altarpiece with underskirt of gilded feathers, Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2010-11. Image via the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Alexander McQueen jacket with Robert Campin 15th c. crucifixion print, FW 1997-98

Jacket, Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1997-98 (It’s a Jungle Out There). Photo: Sølve Sundsbø. Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For more on digital prints, see the webpage for the Phoenix Art Museum’s 2013 exhibit, Digital Print Fashion (more in Corbin Chamberlin, “Phoenix Art Museum Embraces New Technology with ‘Digital Print Fashion’ Exhibit“). If you’re interested in designing your own digital prints, Kathryn Brenne recently wrote a primer for Vogue Patterns magazine’s February/March 2015 issue, and Melanie Bowles and Ceri Isaac have published a textbook on the subject, Digital Textile Design (Laurence King, 2nd ed. 2012).

With thanks to Kate Bethune.

Next: Alexander McQueen and tartan.

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