10 iconic looks by Alexander McQueen

07 September 2016

mcqueen voss
Alexander McQueen, VOSS, Spring/Summer 2001

Having referred to himself as a “a romantic schizophrenic”, it goes without saying that a curation of 10 looks, or ‘illusions’ as he calls it, by the late Lee Alexander McQueen comes nowhere close to doing justice. Perhaps only in the form of travelling exhibitions (an encore of ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ at the V&A Museum?) and years’ worth of fashion editorial spreads and shows would come anywhere close to paying homage to the highlights of McQueen’s work.

As The Legacy of Alexander McQueen airs on Life Inspired this September, we revisit some of the most iconic looks by the most talented English designer of his time.

Bumster trousers

Highland Rape, Autumn/Winter 1995


Butt cracks in tow, this was when the industry started looking at McQueen as a ‘bad boy’ during his younger days. With Highland Rape having initially receive scathing backlash from journalists who called the designer a misogynist, McQueen vehemently denied the accusations. He explained that the collection was a symbol of the Battle of Culloden, where the army of Highlanders were defeated and slaughtered by the English. McQueen was referring to a rape of culture, not women, in the collection.

The low cut trousers became his signature look and many have since referred to the A/W 95 show as the turning point and breakthrough for McQueen in the media.

Full black duck feathered dress

The Horn of Plenty, Autumn/Winter 2009-10

horn of plenty

Overdrawn grotesque red lips, the red beak of a black swan at McQueen’s ‘The Horn of Plenty’, one of the final shows by McQueen before his death. Commentary of the show and hidden clues are elaborated in The Legacy of Alexander McQueen.

Sarah Jessica Parker’s tartan dress

Met Gala, 2006



A ballerina tulle and McQueen’s family tartan drape worn by Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2006 Met Gala, and what better way to make an entrance than on the arms of Lee McQueen.

It was also McQueen’s first time at the event. When asked to recall the evening in 2006, Parker said, “He wasn’t a terrifically chatty person. He’s not comfortable in environments like these. But I find that charming. And we got through the evening.”

Horned jacket ensemble

It’s a Jungle Out There, Autumn/Winter 1997 


A brown pony skin jacket with impala horn coming out of the shoulders over bleached denim trousers. The show is inspired by the Thomson’s gazelle, which McQueen quips is an animal that is dead as soon as it born. The gazelle has to strive to survive as it’s born into the food chain, a condition McQueen likens to the human life that can be discarded as easily.

Rainbow chiffon dress

Spring/Summer 2008

mcqueen rainbow dress

Often inspired by the idea of flight, McQueen incorporated taxidermy birds and feathers in his collections. In a collaboration with Irish milliner Philip Treacy, McQueen dedicated the S/S 2008 show to Isabella Blow, his mentor and muse, who committed suicide in 2007.

The show, inspired by glamour, presented two versions of femininity — a glass goddess, fragile and delicate, and an illusion of a fierce, strong woman. The multi-coloured printed chiffon dress in particular was a nod to McQueen’s birds of paradise in the Irere collection. Both Treacy and McQueen were discovered by Blow.

Dress, Widows of Culloden

Autumn/Winter 2006-7 

Widows of Culloden aw06-7

The look is a cream silk tulle and lace with resin antlers draped with antique lace. Revisiting the theme of the Battle of Culloden, the collection was a tribute to the widows of the men who lost their lives in the battle. However, this time, in contrast to Highland Rape, the collection presented a melancholic sense of beauty and patriotism with his signature family tartan included in the collection as a drape dress over tulle, a very slight variation to the look worn by Sarah Jessica Parker to the Met Gala.

Daphne Guinness’ vintage kimono

The White Fairy Tale Love Ball


A McQueen vintage for Givenchy couture worn by Daphne Guinness to the The White Fairy Tale Love Ball. As her name suggests, the Oscar-nominated producer and musician is an heir to the beer brewery. The New York Times adds that Guinness is a “de factor ambassador” of the legacies of her friends, Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow. Guinness has since established the Isabella Blow Foundation and contributed her personal pieces to the ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty‘ exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum (2011)  and London’s V&A Museum (2015).

No. 13 dress

Spring/Summer 1999


Not only presenting art, the visionary designer created art on the runway in his Spring/Summer 1999 show. Model Shalom Harlow, dressed in a strapless white cotton dress, a blank canvas, stood on a rotating platform as she was ’attacked’ by two giant robotic arms loaded with yellow and black paint, typically used to spray paint cars, in a beautifully choreographed dance between man and robot.

Razor clam shell dress

VOSS, Spring/Summer 2001


An entire dress made from razor clam shells stripped and varnished. Worn by model Erin O’Conner in McQueen’s VOSS show. O’Conner was asked to destroy the dress in one of McQueen’s most theatrical shows that presented a premise of a psychiatric ward, models trapped in a one-way mirrored cube.

Hint: Understand the statement behind the destruction of the dress in The Legacy of Alexander McQueen.

The Armadillo Boot

Plato’s Atlantis, Spring 2010


A podiatrist’s worst nightmare. The Armadillo Boot was notably worn by Lady Gaga in her Bad Romance video. She wore two dresses from the Plato’s Atlantis collection. However, the most memorable ensemble was the full sequinned look paired with McQueen’s Armadillo shoes. McQueen’s comments on the inception of the lobster claw-like Armadillo Boots? ”The world needs fantasy, not reality. We have enough reality today.”

McQueen had only produced 21 pairs specially for his show. However, in 2015, three pairs were authentically reproduced for a charity auction in support of the UNICEF Nepal earthquake relief effort.

Look out for some of these iconic looks in The Legacy of Alexander McQueen, as the show dissects Alexander’s final three shows before his death.

Written by Dee May
Curated by Julia Leong
Images: Alexander McQueen

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