Apart from generating speculating rumours about who will be chosen to follow him, Alexander McQueen’s tragic demise just a few weeks before his new collection was due, created a sad first in fashion history, a final posthumous catwalk show, or rather a brief presentation that was even more painful to go through since it ended up proving that the fashion industry truly lost a man with a unique talent.
Having explored the possibilities the future could hold for women’s wear and catwalk shows in his Spring/Summer 2010 collection, McQueen went backwards in time to the Dark Ages to explore a world of idealised Madonnas suspended between Heaven and Hell.
Following the Medieval tradition that wanted women to hide their hair, considered at the time as a dangerous symbol of feminine seductiveness, the models had their heads wrapped in golden bandages that imitated the "couvre-chef", the large square of linen cloth that in the Middle Ages was draped over the head and held in place by a strip of fabric or a circlet.
In some cases the bandages were enriched with a mohawk of golden feathers that turned the models into angelic punks.
The richness and beauty of the garments (their patterns were cut on the stand by McQueen himself) referenced haute couture rather than ready-to-wear and showed the designer definitely knew how to mix his knowledge of art, history and technical skills with his extraordinarily vivid imagination.
Embroideries, sequinned flowers and intricate embellishments enriched the designs, though some of the most beautiful details were provided by the works of art digitally printed on silk.
One garment displayed a mix of Hieronymus Bosch’s chaotic paintings that included overcrowded fantastic scenes and grotesque devils and demonic creatures part man, part fish/bird and details from "The Temptation of St Anthony" and "Hell" (from the "Garden of Earthly Delights" triptych).
The abundant fabrics, luxurious textiles, bright shades of colour and tapestry-like embroideries seemed to recreate the costumes seen in Flemish paintings: a red dress evoked in its folds the robe in Jan Van Eyck’s "Suckling Madonna Enthroned", but it was somehow possible to spot artistic references to Carpaccio’s gold and vivid reds, Domenico Ghirlandaio’s palette and embroideries and echoes of Danilo Donati’s art inspired costumes for Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales.
Everything was carefully studied though: the man-fish from Bosch’s St Anthony painting was printed on a dress with black and gold fish scale motifs around the sleeves; prints of angels decorated the wing-like folds and pleats that jutted out of a cropped jacket; digital images of wings were printed on the sleeves and on the back of an ethereal gown; tall angels with their hands raised were printed on a long evening dress and fierce rampant lions appeared on oversized kimono-like coats.
The angelic theme was referenced also in the crocodile skin boots decorated with metallic leaves and wings.
Some prints employed in this collection were definitely more upsetting than McQueen’s trademark skulls since they evoked a sense of impending doom.
Rather than being taken from annunciation scenes, the designer’s angels looked like the white marble figures usually seen weeping on tombstones and it was somehow even more painful thinking that these images of gothic glory were the ones he had in mind a few days before he died.
The final piece, a stiff gold feathery coat with a raised collar worn with a bursting tulle skirt underneath delicately embroidered with a golden thread, was a vision from Heaven.
Who knows what would have happened during this catwalk show had McQueen been alive: maybe angels would have come down to earth or maybe we would have assisted to a new flight of Icarus like in McQueen's Spring/Summer 1997 collection for Givenchy inspired by Greek mythology that opened with a white winged Marcus Schenkenberg.
Too late to guess now, but what’s sure is that this trip to the Dark Ages ended with a sparkle of golden light at the end of the tunnel. McQueen's narrative of damnation turned into poetical beauty and the alchemical designer with a wondrous fantasy, the inventor of monsters and chimeras, completed his metamorphosis into an angel who spawned through his imagination an army of strong and powerful women.
Clad in his designs, his Amazons will now go out into the night like Bruguel’s Dull Gret at the mouth of hell, ready to live, fight and die.