“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
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.