There is something to be said for a film that left me left me wanting to go home and make clothes. Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s documentary about fashion enfant terrible Lee (Alexander) McQueen is equal parts inspiring and devastating.
It seems Londoner Lee had a passion for fashion as an early age, spending his school days drawing dresses in his workbooks. Advice from his mum took him to a job as an apprentice for a Savile Row tailor and then he talked his way into job after job, eager to learn as much as he could. It was attending the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design though that was integral to his career trajectory.
What seemed to set McQueen apart was his almost instinctive skill, his desire to shock and his obsessive output. His graduate show was based on Jack the Ripper, his next on the rape of Scottish women during Highland wars and he initially gained as much publicity from the very vocal criticism by the media and establishment as he did from a response to his talent. The friends and colleagues who speak of him reflect on his bravado and charisma, his ability to get all those in his orbit to do anything for him. An egotist perhaps, but undeniably an artist who seem to have endless reservoirs of creative thought and energy.
It was not all happy though. Most profound is the arc of his friendship with fashion creative and eccentric Isabella Blow, champion of his career who was instrumental in his success. Her story is a sad one and seems to be the precursor to McQueen’s own downward spiral. Film footage and photographs show him deteriorating before our eyes as fame, expectation and excess overwhelmed him. It is genuinely heartbreaking and you are left wondering whether there was ever a point where he could have been saved.
The filmmakers do a good job of weaving footage, talking heads and McQueen’s art together to create a textured and layered story. I couldn’t help thinking of Heath Ledger and his similar battle with fame in I am Heath Ledger (2017). I suspect both men were caught up in the whirlwind of celebrity and Lee knew only one way to make it stop.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.