Beyond the Grave

April 27, 2024

When Lee Alexander McQueen died, the fashion world mourned the loss of his human life and his artistic works as well. That was until the void was filled.

“I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”

A firebender emerges before the crowd. Identity masked behind a daunting scarlet face covering, she commands flames to burst from the ground, engulfing the circumference around her. The angelic melodies floating in the air combined with the graceful flow of the beads attached to her dress do little to subdue the sinister nature of her calculated movements and hellish presence.

“Let me not forget the use of my own hands, that of a craftsman with eyes…that reflect the technology around me.”

A vision of cherubic beauty, a harmless damsel drowns underneath layers of tulle. Trapped in a seemingly endless revolution, she stands defenseless between two mechanical arms as they taunt her in anticipation of their murderous attack. Without warning, they launch forward, relentlessly polluting her dress with a chaotic array of black and yellow graffiti. No longer pure, she falters off into the stygian abyss.

“The world needs fantasy, not reality. We have enough reality today.”

Plagued by global warming, the Earth’s terrestrial realm now lies deep within the Atlantic Ocean. With metallic, sapphire-hued skin, geometric hairstyles, and sculpted facial features, humans evolve into anthropomorphic beings. Scales coated in coruscating paillettes replace skin, skeletal or claw-shaped platforms cover feet, and puffed peplums decorate these poised hybrids.

From the calamitous persecution of Joan of Arc and the Romanovs, Lee Alexander McQueen envisioned beauty. When the industry resisted, he sought ways to embrace the mechanization of fashion while preserving the natural. Intrigued by Darwinism, he conjured up an aquatic world where humans and nature lived harmoniously.

But despite imagining great beauties, his brain tormented him.

On February 11, 2010, Lee committed suicide. He died with a desire to extinguish the version of his brand that lacked his creative direction, but this wish followed him into the afterlife. Owned by the conglomerate Kering Group, House of McQueen still operates today.

Like other revolutionary artists, Lee’s influence extends through the brand's modern releases. In “The Ice Queen and Her Court,” the first collection after his passing, angels embodied life through heavenly feathers and white tulle roses. Their fallen counterparts, ravens, invited death as they sported distressed leathers and fishnets. It enticed wistful viewers to witness another collection from McQueen.

But it was a falsehood. It wasn’t Lee, just his name. It was really Sarah Burton, his successor and the house’s creative director. It was really Kering Group — for them, it was an opportunity to make money.

In a 2006 interview with Fashion Television, Lee said, “If I ever get that old and I’m still around and I leave my company, just burn the place down.”

“So you’d never let someone else carry on the McQueen tradition or the McQueen brand if you weren’t actively involved?” asked the interviewer.

“I don’t think so,” said Lee. “That person would have to come up with the concept for my show, and my shows are so personal. How can that be?”

Lee toiled all his life, striving to build his name and legacy. To the fashion guru who understands the intricacy of his catalog, his vision still holds value. In their pursuit of financial gain, Kering diluted the brand’s artistry to appeal to the mainstream. Introduced during the Spring/Summer 2015 men’s collection, the Oversized Sneaker reigned as the leading luxury tennis shoe. Scarlet soles guarded the feet of ninjas. Punk Harajuku bangs shielded their identity. Sliced by katanas, black double breasted blazers exposed their red flesh.

Though well-received, their thick laces lacked innovation compared to Lee’s reimagining of the human foot as hoof-like through his Armadillo Shoes. Their immense soles fail to surpass the craftsmanship of Lee’s heeled prosthetic leg, its dark elm wood carved with vines and flora. Valuing these creations, Lee refrained from selling his footwear. Kering, on the contrary, attached a hefty price tag of $500 to their shoe. Now, when the average individual hears the name McQueen, their thoughts go to tennis shoes.

But posthumous work doesn't always have to be exploitative. The ethical execution of work after an artist’s death comes when individuals value the original creative’s vision over their own egotistical aspirations.

The woman created by Gianni Versace commanded men. With the world serving as her runway, she covered just enough skin to be deemed socially acceptable. The femme fatale exposed her curves with figure-hugging fabrics, lured onlookers in bold colors and prints, and appalled conservatives with her risqué cut-outs. Draped in gold, she manifested the feminine form of Italian luxury.

When serial killer Andrew Cunanan assassinated the woman’s maker in 1997, her alluring presence persisted.

Strong familial relations upheld the House of Versace following its patriarch's death. Successive leadership mirrored Gianni’s own decisions. When he lived, his sister Donatella served as the brand’s vice president and creative consultant. As his muse, Donatella embodied the Versace woman and accumulated the knowledge required to successfully extend the lifetime of her brother’s creation. The woman still dons the enticing Medusa head logo while captivating audiences in her chic Baroque prints.

A stone wall sustained by kinship guarded the golden boy’s brand from public ownership. Donatella chipped 20% of the barrier in 2014, when she reluctantly traded stock with investment company Blackstone. Just four years later, she surrendered. Now a pile of rubble, the former fortification collapsed when the guiding spirit relinquished all shares of Versace to Capri Holdings in 2018.

“It’s counterproductive to pigeonhole myself into such a small arena, because it doesn’t make design move forward if it’s only to a select few.”

Diversifying the usual elitist audience, Lee Alexander McQueen welcomed the working class into a realm otherwise unbeknownst to them when he produced the world’s first live-streamed fashion show, “Plato’s Atlantis.” He revolutionized the industry for the sake of inclusion, yet the mainstream disregards his attentiveness to their erased presence in the fashion world. Weaponizing his feat of integration against him, the world uses his own creation to enjoy the very act he resented.

Kering Group continuously releases new McQueen collections to meet a demand. Followers of the brand break bread with their oppressor, and their redeemer is on the menu. The new House of McQueen devours its creator and licks the plate clean. The sacrificial lamb forfeit his felicity for that of the “commoners,” and this is how he has been repaid.

“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.”

Layout: Anh Tran

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