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 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:
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):
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):
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:
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:
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.comvogue.com; video at AlexanderMcQueen.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):
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.
As a memorial to the late designer, Scotweb owner Nick Fiddes designed a mourning version of the MacQueen clan tartan.
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):
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):
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):
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
The Fall 2010 menswear (An Bailitheoir Cnámh – the Bone Collector) and women’s Pre-Fall 2010 collection had the same catacombs print:
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: