McQueen Reigns The Fashion Tech Revolution
The influence of Alexander McQueen on the integration of technology into the fashion world.
Alexander McQueen will be remembered for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s for his incomparable tailoring from his apprenticeship on Savile Row, striking collections, or fashion shows that spoke so deeply to attendees’ souls that they are regarded as so much more than a fashion show. But what allowed the designer to soar to such imaginative bounds artistically was McQueen’s use of groundbreaking and innovative technology in both his shows and clothing production processes. When it comes to integrating the timelessness of one craft with the futuristic ideals of another, McQueen was a pioneer who emphasised the beauty and capabilities of both crafts. The designer was at the helm of so many impactful moments within the fashion industry by inventing new ways to create and present a collection and subsequently paving the way for young designers to fearlessly experiment through uncharted territory.
On September 28th, 1998 Alexander McQueen debuted and gifted his audience with a transcendent and ethereal performance piece that incorporated a turntable floor, robotic arms from a car manufacturing plant, a model and some spray paint. Dancer and model, Shalom Harlow emerges from backstage in a daze, arms outstretched downwards parallel to her stark white, A-line dress secured by a thick brown belt at the halter. She trundles onto a turntable and stops. Standing with elongated arms and her head thrown back as if possessed, the turntable begins to turn and Harlow’s body flows to the music in a stunningly fluid and delicate manner. Suddenly, the two previously stationary robotic arms begin to move and sway in a perfectly choreographed dance of attack on the model as they gun her down in a violent ambush of yellow and black spray paint. It was a competition of woman vs the machine.
“Lee wrote precise instructions to the factory about how he wanted the machines to move, joint by joint, like spitting cobras,” said Sam Gainsbury, close friend and fashion show producer of McQueen’s shows, “and it worked, exactly.”
It was this show, technological advances, the turn of the century and Alexander McQueen that truly facilitated the change in trajectory of the fashion industry’s perception of collaborating with other innovative and exciting thinkers allowing high-tech to subconsciously enter fashion’s discourse. He risked the possibility of failure by exploring a medium of performance art that no one in fashion had previously attempted, if the robotic choreography didn’t go as planned or the turntable stayed stationary, the show could have backfired; but instead, he created an experimental way of storytelling that took fashion beyond the displays of clothing and into a fantastical, unforgettable and emotional experience.
It was, “The only [show] that actually made me cry,” McQueen said following his No. 13 show.
Skyrocketing from this show, McQueen continued to push the envelope of fashion. As a leader for the technological revolution in fashion, McQueen used technology consistently. From his Spring/Summer 2001 show, Voss, where he artistically used a mirrored cube and lighting to unveil a mental hospital which was inescapable for the possessed girls. To his Fall/Winter 2006 show incorporating technology, to create what appeared to be a hologram-like effect of Kate Moss in a glass pyramid, a surreal display and something never seen before in the fashion world, made possible by the two talented and inventive minds of videographer, Bailie Walsh and Alexander McQueen who art directed the piece.
In 2010, Lee Alexander McQueen produced his final performance, Plato’s Atlantis, a story of post-apocalyptic dream state where exceedingly well-dressed women returned to the ocean. The collection was a vibrant and reflective swirl of brown, yellow, green and blue kaleidoscopic patterns digitally printed on silk, satin and chiffon. Digitally printed textile with layered photographic images of various reptile skins swarmed the runway as the garments appeared to sliver with the rhythm of the models.
“Each dress was a work of computer-generated art cross bred with McQueen’s couture-based signature cut,” Vogue Runway’s, Sarah Mower, reminisced.
He was one of the first designers to use digital printing as part of their show and was the designer whose creativity inspired others to experiment and normalise the concept of digitally printed garments. This show, however, went above and beyond normalising digital printing and made an extraordinary change in fashion that has led the industry to never be the same again. For Plato’s Atlantis, Alexander McQueen collaborated with Nick Knight and his company SHOWstudio to live stream the show for the first time.
“I wanted to create a sense of inclusion for all those in the world who are interested in my work and the world of fashion,”
McQueen once said about his choice to live stream his show. Thanks to a tweet from Lady Gaga who was performing at the show, the SHOWstudio website was overwhelmed by visitors that the site crashed and people struggled to watch it. This was an early sign of just how much interest there was in fashion week events from fans all over the world and the demand to open the exclusive fashion world to a wider audience. It was the true beginning of a new technology era in Fashion that McQueen had been working towards for years. This event was so transformative that Suzy Menkes dubbed it as, “the most dramatic revolution in the 21st century.” It left such a huge ripple effect as designers began to realise the potential of technology and its vast global reach.
Unfortunately, as Alexander McQueen’s curtain closing show before his tragic death, it was the final stroke of genius we got to witness from the designer. Throughout his tenure, he had taken what people stereotyped fashion to be and experimented with a whole new platform within it where fashion innovators could thrive. He pushed the boundaries of what was possible by collaborating with other innovative and exciting thinkers, and his success was a testament of fashion’s eagerness not only to adapt itself to a changing world but to be at its forefront. For McQueen, being at the help proved his status as the world’s most visionary designer. He was a pioneer and explorer within fashion, for finding new ways of doing things and always will be. It is important now to look towards designers like McQueen, in a world of such uncertainty and struggle it is important to look to those who blended the fast-paced technological revolution with the tradition world of fashion. Covid 19 has changed our world forever and we are in the midst of immense uncertainty with an urgency for reinvention throughout all walks of life.
Consider Alexander McQueen’s strides and start looking for exciting new possibilities for fashion.