Friday, January 16, 2015

And then there was McQueen...

Well, London Collections: Men has been over with for a few days and the one collection I did not post yet is the '15-'16 FW Alexander McQueen collection. I must admit that when I first saw the pieces, I was not moved. But like so many things in this life, the more one understands, the more one appreciates. I had to let this collection sift down and marinate a little bit for the full import of the inspiration to register: it is a subtle expression, but not oblique. It is there if you know what to look for.

Along with the usual exquisite McQueen/Sarah Burton tailoring and gorgeous sartorial flourishes, we see a collection very rooted in traditional menswear but also in the idea of the uniform. A sort of antiquated, stately military silhouette ran parallel with the suits. And this is because this collection referenced last year's 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the war that was supposed to be "the war to end all wars," the war that changed the course not only of history in terms of governments, countries, and politics but also of nearly every aspect of life as we know it. It spawned resistance art movements, and the sheer scope of loss and senselessness worked its way into the fabric of Western civilization (Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel MRS. DALLOWAY explored a character who suffered greatly from "shell shock," or what was later termed "combat stress reaction" which we now know to be a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome). So in 2014, the world looked back to honor and remember the staggering loss. Sarah Burton respectfully honored the soldiers and the war as well in a very solemn way. She created a body of work that addressed and celebrated the sacrifices of so many in Great Britain during that awful time. Employing a near-total somber, funereal color palette, suits were emblazoned with the words "HONOUR," "TRUTH," and "VALOUR."

Two flowers--the poppy and the English rose--featured in the collection as well. The red poppy is a symbol of remembrance, and I recall from when I was young, veterans selling small plastic poppies to be worn on lapels and coats. And we must draw our attention to the stunning art installation, "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" in the dry moat at the Tower of London from August to November of 2014 (just a few months ago) in which 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies representing the number of British and Colonial military fatalities in World War I were placed, growing from the ground. Sarah Burton used the poppy in a beautiful jacquard as a criss-cross bandolier-shaped embellishment that recalls military sashes which are part of the uniform of a decorated soldier. The thing that one cannot see from the photos is that the bandolier or sash continues around the back of the coat or jacket--for that, watch the video of the entire show below. Indeed, the entire collection comes alive when moving in a way I have never quite encountered before. And what is more emblematic of England than the classic rose? This flower also made its way into jacquards that were then made into entire suits of crimson, or on paramilitary silhouettes, and a quilted breastplate or tabard.

And finally, there was a beautiful detail at the end of the show: coats and jackets with diamante stars that resemble the kind of medals which are bestowed onto soldiers for acts of bravery and courage. With this visual gesture, Sarah Burton gives medals to all who served, and all who live in honor, valour, and truth.

From the house:
"It is sometimes forgotten that the uniform is a testament to equality. At work and at war, the dress uniform has long stood as a symbol that all men are equal in the face of duty — sharing equal honour, valour, and truth — and this season the house of McQueen uses that tradition to take apart the class separations associated with the British heritage silhouette.

The military jacket can become a frock coat, the donkey jacket a tailored luxury, the tabard part of a three piece-suit in floral jacquard, and garments can carry suggestions of flags and medals. City pinstripe is adorned with the word ‘Honour’, coats in workwear blue instantly appear as arguments for Regency elegance, a heavy army knit is emblazoned with that most English of blooms, the poppy.

The collection re-animates the relationship between gracious dressing and male virtue. And it understands how that virtue is at the same time universal and classless, classic and subversive. In a time when the idea of the uniform is sometimes questioned around the world, McQueen’s menswear collection makes an argument for its revival as a vehicle of both unity and individuality."

Like I said, it took a bit of time for the collection to sink in and work on me. Seems so many worthy works of art are like that: One must invest to get something out of it. Watch the show in the following video, and notice that the soundtrack is relevant as well: "Dancing Ghosts" by Chris and Cosey.

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