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Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano



The rise and fall of two of the pre-eminent fashion designers of their era, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.

In February 2011, John Galliano, the lauded head of Christian Dior, imploded with a drunken, anti-Semitic public tirade. Exactly a year earlier, celebrated designer Alexander McQueen took his own life three weeks before his women’s wear show. Both were casualties of the war between art and commerce that has raged within fashion for the last two decades.

In the mid-1990s, Galliano and McQueen arrived on the fashion scene when the business was in an artistic and economic rut. They shook the establishment out of its bourgeois, minimalist stupor with daring, sexy designs and theatrical fashion shows.

They had similar backgrounds: sensitive, shy gay men raised in tough London neighborhoods, their love of fashion nurtured by their doting mothers. By 1997, each had landed a job as creative director for couture houses owned by French tycoon Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH.

Galliano’s and McQueen’s work not only influenced fashion; their distinct styles were reflected across the media landscape. With their help, luxury fashion evolved from a clutch of small, family-owned businesses into a $280 billion-a-year global corporate industry. Executives pushed the designers to meet increasingly rapid deadlines. For both Galliano and McQueen, the pace was unsustainable.

The same week that Galliano was fired, Forbes named Arnault the fourth richest man in the world. Two months later, in the wake of McQueen’s death, Kate Middleton wore a McQueen wedding gown, instantly making the house the world’s most famous fashion brand, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a wildly successful McQueen retrospective, cosponsored by the corporate owners of the McQueen brand. The corporations had won and the artists had lost.

In her groundbreaking work, Gods and Kings, acclaimed journalist Dana Thomas tells the true story of McQueen and Galliano. In so doing, she reveals the relentless world of couture—and the price it demanded of the very ones who saved it.

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Praise

“One of the most anticipated fashion reads of 2015 … explores the complicated minds of the two designers. From their brilliant early collections and career highs to McQueen’s tragic suicide and Galliano’s public meltdown, Thomas pays equal heed to the darkness and the light of both men in this gripping story of fashion Icaruses who flew too close to the sun.”—San Francisco Chronicle

 

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Excerpt

After McQueen’s graduation from Central Saint Martins, everyone around him urged him to stage a bona fide fashion show. It was time.

McQueen called the collection Nihilism because he said it was about anti-Romanticism. He turned the models into modern punks, bruised and smeared with dirt, their eyes made up to look drug-addict hollow, their hair savage Sid Vicious-like mohawks tinged with red.

A crowd of about three hundred filtered into the first-floor warehouse-like room as a sound track of house and riot grrrl music blared on the sound system.

When the show started, about half an hour late, the models exploded with a hard attitude and stormed past the crowd as the deejay played Nirvana, L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead,” and Cypress Hill’s “I Wanna Get High,” punctuated with silences. One girl pogo danced all the way down the runway. Another model, a student from Central Saint Martins also named Lee who had a boy/girl look, came out bare chested. Many of the models gave the crowd the finger as they walked by.

Like Galliano for his St. Martins degree show, McQueen played with the look of Les Merveilleuses, the late-eighteenth-century Frenchwomen who dressed in flowing, pale, sheer gowns. And like when Galliano reprised the look of muslin disease gowns for his Fallen Angels show, McQueen doused models with water to make the dresses cling to their skin. But where Galliano’s versions looked historic and costume-like and would have seemed strange on a woman in the street or at a party, McQueen’s take was defiantly modern and flagrantly sexual: sleek sleeveless ivory columns molded erotically on the breasts as if they were strapped in S&M harnesses; cling-wrap panties; trousers sliced down the back seam to reveal the buttocks; his signature bumster pants with waistlines cut so low the models had to shave their pubic hair backstage. One T-shirt, with his logo printed large across the breasts, had two smeared bloody handprints down the front, as if a violent murderer was leaving his mark on his latest victim.

If Galliano was a romantic, McQueen was a pornographer. The Larry Flynt of Fashion. He didn’t believe anything was off-limits. Nothing—nothing—was taboo. He accepted the brutality of human nature, thought it normal, didn’t try to suppress it. He didn’t want to put women on a pedestal like untouchable, unreachable goddesses. He wanted to empower them. He wanted to help them use the power of their sex to its fullest.

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