I've scoured the internet for weeks trying to find footage of Alexander McQueen's spectacular "Voss" fashion show from Spring 2001. Back in the age before bloggers, the only chance to see McQueen's breathtaking and controversial shows was either to have a golden ticket, or be glued to fashion television at the right time. There were no online archives of fashion shows like today, no YouTube, no Vimeo. I heard about this show and have imagined it in my mind over and over again. I've been able to find a few excerpts of the performance, and even those little snippets reveal more creativity and brilliance than any show I've seen since. Lee did more than fashion. His shows were equally as important as the clothes, and he often had very unsettling messages to share with the fashion world. Since I can't show you the entire show, please read the review provided in order to get the closest feel to what it was really like that September evening eleven years ago.
LONDON, September 26, 2000
The show began deliberately an hour late. The audience were seated around a mirrored box under harsh lighting. They could not see inside the box and were obliged to sit and watch their own reflections, and the people around them. After a while, this self-scrutiny produced an intense and paranoid self-consciousness. The scenario was cruel but meaningful; the audience were fashion professionals, or, as the journalist Sarah Mower described it, "A gathering of the prime arbiters of vanity". McQueen reduced the observers to objects, turning their own sharp scrutiny of the models back on themselves, highlighting how much the model, as well as the clothes, are objectified in the gaze of the critics and general public.
The show itself was nothing short of monumental. When the house lights finally went out, the mirrored cube was lit from inside, revealing itself to be a mental-hospital holding cell. The models inside the box could not see the audience, but only their own reflection. The audience was essentially watching the models watch themselves. For ten minutes, the models preened and posed, admiring their own reflections. This staged a solitary performance before the mirror, creating an intimacy that bordered on voyeurism. Demented girls, wearing hospital headbands and everything from extraordinary mussel-shell skirts to impossibly chic pearl-colored cocktail dresses, slithered and strutted while uselessly attempting to fly over the cuckoo's nest.
McQueen was at his very best: there were gothic, theatrical pieces, like a dress with a miniature castle and rat posing as a shoulder pad; a top made out of a jigsaw puzzle; and a huge feathered creation with stuffed eagles suspended over the model's head, poised to attack a la Hitchcock. But amidst all the insanity, there was a cornucopia of startlingly elegant - and wearable - pantsuits and flouncy party dresses. How to top off such a climactic presentation? After everyone thought it was all over, another cube within the psychiatric ward-cum-runway opened up to reveal a portly nude woman, her face covered by a mask, breathing through a tube, surrounded by fluttering moths. It was truly a shocking and enthralling tableau; Francis Bacon via Leigh Bowery and Lucien Freud. In a word, sublime.
Here are some iconic images from the show.