Alexander McQueen Fabric, Part 2: Tartan

May 15, 2015 § 1 Comment

McQueen tartan dresses from Widows of Culloden (FW 2006)

Dresses in the McQueen tartan from Alexander McQueen’s Fall/Winter 2006-7 collection (Widows of Culloden). Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art (via Everything Just So).

If Alexander McQueen’s innovative prints reveal his interest in technology, the designer’s work with tartan shows his engagement with history. Continuing our celebration of Savage Beauty at the V&A, this post looks at McQueen’s use of tartan. (See Part 1: Prints, or my roundup post here.)

The MacQueen clan tartan appears extensively in the designer’s breakthrough collection, Highland Rape (Fall 1995). The collection—which used Lochcarron tartan and lace found in Brick Lane—was a highly personal response to the violence of the Highland Clearances and fashion’s appropriation of Scottish culture (watch Tim Blanks’ show video here):

McQueen wool tartan jacket and skirt from the collection of Isabella Blow - Alexander McQueen FW 1995

Jacket of McQueen wool tartan with green wool felt sleeves; skirt of McQueen wool tartan; both from the collection of Isabella Blow. Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1995-96 (Highland Rape). Photo: Sølve Sundsbø. Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Highland Rape runway photos - Alexander McQueen FW 1995

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1995-96 (Highland Rape). Images via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

McQueen also used his family tartan at the house of Givenchy. In his second couture collection, Eclect Dissect (Givenchy haute couture Fall 1997), which was built on the idea of a mad scientist, the McQueen tartan was cut on the bias for tailored pieces overlaid with black lace:

Two tartan looks from Eclect Dissect - Givenchy couture FW 1997

Alexander McQueen for Givenchy Fall/Winter 1997-98 haute couture (Eclect Dissect)

The McQueen tartan reappears the following year in Joan (Fall 1998). Named for Joan of Arc, with an opening soundtrack of burning wood and runway covered in cinders, the collection thematized martyrdom, with the McQueen tartan referencing the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (see Constance C.R. White, Review/Fashion, and Kate Bethune’s note; full collection at firstVIEW):

Joan - Alexander McQueen FW1998

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1998-99 (Joan)

Joan - Alexander McQueen FW 1998

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1998-99 (Joan)

McQueen also worked with other tartans. The check pattern might be manipulated to appear blurred or bleeding, or it could be overlaid or embellished as in Eclect Dissect. In The Overlook (Fall 1999)—named for the haunted, snowbound lodge built on a Native American burial ground in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)—a long, grey tailcoat was lined with tartan to match loose trousers, and an overlaid tartan jacket was paired with a balloon skirt in a large blanket check with tartan accents (full collection at firstVIEW):

Sunniva Stordahl and Hannelore Knuts in grey checks and tartan in Alexander McQueen FW 1999 (The Overlook)

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 1999-2000 (The Overlook). Models: Sunniva Stordahl and Hannelore Knuts.

McQueen’s 1960s-inspired collection, The Man Who Knew Too Much (Fall 2005), included bias-cut separates in a wool ombré check, together with a black, white, and pink check party dress covered in beaded fringe:

Raquel Zimmermann and Carmen Kass in tartan looks from The Man Who Knew Too Much - McQueen FW 2005

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2005-6 (The Man Who Knew Too Much). Models: Raquel Zimmermann and Carmen Kass. Images via style.com.

The Girl Who Lived in the Tree (Fall 2008), a fanciful narrative of the British Empire, had several bias-cut pieces in a black, white, and red tartan, and two coats in a grey mohair tartan for a bleeding effect:

Alexander McQueen FW 2008

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2008-9 (The Girl Who Lived in the Tree). Models: Sara Blomqvist and Alanna Zimmer. Images via style.com.

There were several pieces in the McQueen tartan in Alexander McQueen’s Fall 2006 menswear collection, which was inspired by vampire movies Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Interview With the Vampire (1994). Vogue editor Hamish Bowles wore the appliquéd kimono-and-pants ensemble to the Costume Institute gala in 2011 (see the collection and read Tim Blanks’ review on style.com; video at AlexanderMcQueen.com):

McQueen menswear FW2006 tartan

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2006-7 menswear. Images via style.com.

The same season, McQueen returned to Scottish history with Widows of Culloden (Fall 2006), a romantic collection commemorating the final battle of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The show invitation had the title in Gaelic: Bantraich de cuil lodair (see Kate Bethune on Widows of Culloden). As in the Givenchy couture, the McQueen tartan was cut on the bias, embroidered, and trimmed with lace and tulle (click to enlarge):

Widows of Culloden - Alexander McQueen runway lookbook FW 2006

Widows of Culloden - Alexander McQueen runway lookbook FW 2006

Widows of Culloden - Alexander McQueen runway lookbook FW 2006

Widows of Culloden - Alexander McQueen runway lookbook FW 2006

For more see Jonathan Faiers, McQueen and Tartan, and Ghislaine Wood’s essay, “Clan MacQueen,” in the V&A catalogue.

Like other traditional tartans, the McQueen tartan can be ordered from Scottish textile mills in different weights and fibre contents. (It’s often listed as ‘MacQueen.’) Alexander McQueen used tartan from Lochcarron, a mill established in the mid-nineteenth century in the Scottish highlands.

McQueen / MacQueen tartan swatch

MacQueen Modern tartan swatch from the Scottish Tartans Authority.

As a memorial to the late designer, Scotweb owner Nick Fiddes designed a mourning version of the MacQueen clan tartan.

What would you make in the McQueen tartan?

Sourcing Tartan Fabric

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§ One Response to Alexander McQueen Fabric, Part 2: Tartan

  • jillma says:

    I am a McKenzie by marriage…a Mahler..Maillard…Scotswoman on my Dad’s side..and a Alexander McQueeen fan from the heart..love these designs!

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