Alexander McQueen was only 40 years old when he died by suicide in February 2010. The tragically short life of a true creative genius is beautifully and honestly rendered in this documentary. It’s a stunningly gorgeous tribute to the man himself, and his incredible fashion designs, which needs to be seen because it’s not just about the fashion industry. It’s about a visionary plagued by toxicity, his rise and fall both caused by the savagely brilliant extent of his talent.
The film is structured like a true tragedy, with a five act structure. In this case each of the five acts is a ‘tape’, each subtitled with one of his most iconic collections from that period of his life. The documentary starts with a fresh out of school Lee looking for work, ending up in Savile Row through a combination of luck and chance. Such an approach to life continued, although it was meeting magazine Isabella Blow that truly changed his life in innumerable ways. Brought together by a love of fashion, this seemingly unlikely pairing developed a swift but profound bond. Initially Issie harassed Lee for the clothes he had displayed on his first ever catwalk show, desperate for the money he was only too happy to oblige. Describing what then followed as a friendship seems too much of an understatement. Their love and admiration for each other, and fashion, became intertwined.
And that’s what this documentary does fantastically well, it understands how the personal and the professional are inseparable yet explores them in a way that is absent of a want of scandal – unlike fellow new to DVD documentary Whitney. Both Huston and McQueen became dependant on vices, namely drugs, as a means of coping with the consequences of their success. McQueen, however, gets a much fairer treatment than Huston. That’s because his voice remains the prominent one, the main focus, clear and bold within the accounts from his nearest and dearest.
His flaws are laid bare, how he appeared to have two different personas and it could never be relied upon at which one would be arriving that day: some days he could be loving and charming, other days someone far crueller. But we also learn about his wicked sense of humour, his love of pranks and his irrefutable refusal to be intimated by anyone or anything. Courtesy of archive footage we see these traits in action. They are also unmistakeable in the accounts of those interviewed, the love and admiration displayed shines incandescently. Such intimacy is crucial when framing his work, as the parallels between his life on and off the runway can then be fully seen.
Fashion is often referred to as a form of expression, perhaps never as hauntingly as it was with Alexander McQueen. In, one of the many, interviews he gave about his work he said, ‘I would go to the far reaches of my dark side.’ It’s far from a throwaway comment. The documentary shows, with savage beauty, how true a sentiment this was; his garments were a means of simultaneous confession and transgression; each stitch an articulation of rage, fury and violence.
This was a man compelled to all manner of compulsion. This documentary understands that beautifully by being a lush and macabre tribute to a man who gave everything, including himself, to the creation of exquisite beauty.
Dir: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui
Scr: Peter Ettedgui
Featuring: Alexander McQueen, Isabella Blow, Jodie Kidd, Bernard Arnault, Joseph Bennett, Detmar Blow, Katy England
Prd: Ian Bonhôte, Andee Ryder, Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter
DOP: Will Pugh
Music: Michael Nyman
Run time: 111 minutes
On BLU-RAY, DVD and Collector’s Edition 22nd October. On digital download 15th October.