Sarah-Elizabeth Elliott

20 year old first year, BA (Hons) Graphic Design student at Colchester School of Art. This blog documents reflection on practical and contextual work and general inspiration

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Module 1: Introduction to Graphic Design Processes
Module 2: 30 Years of Mac

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1. Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)

Dante, autumn/winter 1996–97
Lilac silk faille appliquéd with black silk lace and embroidered with jet beads
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

Andrew Bolton: In the Victorian era, each stage of mourning demanded a different color, one of which was lilac. This corset’s jet beading is also associated with mourning. Here, we see McQueen finding poetry and beauty in death.

The corset comes from his autumn/winter 1996–7 collection, called Dante. By this time, McQueen had gained an international reputation, but he was also still struggling to make a living. Louise Wilson, director of the MA program at Central Saint Martins, talks about those early years for McQueen—or Lee, as he is known to his friends:

Louise Wilson: There’s one thing you could say about Lee: he deserves every credit for what he did because it was incredibly hard when he left, and they had absolutely no money, and it was a very different time to now. And they lived in a squat. And although that all sounds very romantic, it was hell. And because of not having any money they took risks. And it sat outside of a fashion system.

Andrew Bolton: McQueen’s skill at making clothing helped him to succeed.

Louise Wilson: An architect doesn’t build the house for you; they employ the builders, whereas, Lee, in effect, built the house because he cut the patterns and he sewed the jackets. Basically, he didn’t need to depend on anybody. He didn’t have to employ a machinist. He didn’t have to employ a pattern-cutter at the very beginning. You know, if he had nothing he could still create.

In McQueen’s Words

“People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality.”

W, July 2002

2) Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)

The Horn of Plenty, autumn/winter 2009–10
Black duck feathers
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

Andrew Bolton: One of the most compelling items in this particular gallery is an ensemble that’s made out of duck feathers dyed black, which gives the impression of a raven. A raven was a Romantic symbol of death. It’s an item that’s very melancholic but also very romantic at the same time. It came from a collection called The Horn of Plenty. And The Horn of Plenty was a collection that was very much inspired by the 1950s haute couture. And you even see the silhouette here; you see the very nipped-in waist, the huge shoulders. McQueen loved a very hard shoulder and a very small waist. So even in this particular garment—even though it seems so extreme—he’s still referencing 1950s couture. He’s still playing with the proportions that he loved so much.

And feathers play such an important role in McQueen’s work. He loved birds. And feathers was a material that he would revisit again and again in his work.

In McQueen’s Words

“It is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholy but romantic at the same time. It is the end of a cycle—everything has to end. The cycle of life is positive because it gives room for new things.”

Drapers, February 20, 2010

3) Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)

Widows of Culloden, autumn/winter 2006–7
Dress of McQueen wool tartan; top of nude silk net appliquéd with black lace; underskirt of cream silk tulle
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

Read an article by Jonathan Faiers about McQueen and tartan.

Andrew Bolton: Sarah Jessica Parker wore a variation of a dress from McQueen’s Widows of Culloden collection to the opening of Anglomania, an exhibition celebrating British fashion here at the Met. McQueen was her date, and he wore a kilt of matching tartan.

Sarah Jessica Parker: I said, “I would be so honored to wear your family tartan and walk up the steps of the Met with you.” So that’s really where it began.

Andrew Bolton: What was it like being fitted by him?

Sarah Jessica Parker: Well, I always describe it as one of the really great, memorable experiences of a lifetime because I think by the time I met him in person, I had been exposed to a nice amount of fashion. So I had started, at that point, to understand what went into something being well made. And I couldn’t believe the diligence.

He had these gorgeous hands. And he just worked. And he was quiet and unthinkably shy, didn’t look in your eyes much, didn’t want to, wasn’t interested in engaging; it wasn’t important for me to be his friend. You know, he was very concerned about his work.

In McQueen’s Words

“Scotland for me is a harsh, cold and bitter place. It was even worse when my great, great grandfather used to live there… . The reason I’m patriotic about Scotland is because I think it’s been dealt a really hard hand. It’s marketed the world over as … haggis … bagpipes. But no one ever puts anything back into it.”

The Independent Fashion Magazine, Autumn/Winter 1999

4)Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)

Autumn/winter 2010–11
Dress and glove of printed silk satin; underskirt of duck feathers painted gold
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

Andrew Bolton: When Alexander McQueen died in February of 2010, he left this collection, called Angels and Demons, unfinished in his studio. Sarah Burton, McQueen’s chief designer for many years, helped to complete it.

Sarah Burton: It was very much inspired by handcraft and the idea that in a way in our culture there’s the loss of the artisan, the loss of people doing things with their hands and making beautiful artisanal clothing or carvings or paintings or sculpture.

And he looked at all the old masters and he looked at sort of medieval arts and religious iconography. It was almost looking at the Dark Ages and finding that there was a light in the Dark Ages.

There was still a modernity in the way that the fabrics were developed. So, for instance, there’s a dress with a Hieronymus Bosch jacquard on it, Heaven and Hell. And what we did is we scanned the painting and digitally wove the jacquard. So in a way you’ve still got this juxtaposition of the old and the new, which I think is always important in his work.

In McQueen’s Words

“I relate more to that cold, austere asceticism of the Flemish masters, and I also love the macabre thing you see in Tudor and Jacobean portraiture.”

Harper’s & Queen, April 2003

“For me, what I do is an artistic expression which is channeled through me. Fashion is just the medium.”

Muse, December 2008


Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)
“Bumster” Skirt
Highland Rape, autumn/winter 1995–96 (re-edition from original pattern)
Black silk taffeta
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

Andrew Bolton: One of his most iconic designs in this particular gallery is the “bumster.” And there’s a lot of mythology around the bumster—that he was inspired by the builder’s bum. In McQueen’s mind, it was an experiment in elongating the body. For McQueen, the most exciting part of anybody’s body, male or female, was the bottom of the spine. And the bumsters is really about showcasing that part of the body.

Mira Hyde: My name is Mira Hyde, and I was living in the East End in an area called Hoxton Square, and Lee had moved into my building. He found out that I was a male groomer—I did hair and makeup for men—and invited me to do his next show. And that was how I first met Lee.

I was given a lot of the bumsters because I was quite small and I could wear them. It made you feel taller, especially when you wore them with heels, because then all of a sudden, you just look incredibly long legged and very long torsoed.

The bumcrack … sometimes you could see a bit of it, and sometimes it was just above it, but normally you would see just a touch. It was like a bum cleavage, and depending where I went, I would expose it, or I would wear a long shirt, depending on where I was. But I always got commented on it, everywhere.

Andrew Bolton: The bumster trouser caused a sensation when it was launched in the early nineties. I think what’s interesting about McQueen is how he would harness the attitude in the street. He was very much about anarchy and about the anarchy of the British street, the anarchy of British music, and trying to, again, harness that into his clothes. And the bumster was one of the garments that, very early on, would make his reputation as this provocateur.

In McQueen’s Words

“[With ‘bumsters’] I wanted to elongate the body, not just show the bum. To me, that part of the body—not so much the buttocks, but the bottom of the spine—that’s the most erotic part of anyone’s body, man or woman.”

The Guardian Weekend, July 6, 1996


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