Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: McQueen

Directors: Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui


Highly Recommended 

This fascinating documentary follows the life of Alexander McQueen, leaving you giddy with the possibility of one individual's creativity and incredibly moved by the places he searched to manifest it. The beauty of the subject of this documentary is in how Lee Alexander McQueen gave himself to his work.  The honesty and the lack of conformity he innately possessed combined with his technical ability gave the world not only breathtaking and groundbreaking fashion, but an experience of what it is to be and feel human.
Co-directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, we are taken through the life of the designer in ‘tapes’ named after particular collections of his work. As we are introduced to an East End London boy, the son of a London taxi driver with a strong devotion to his mother, the documentary shows us you don’t need to be of a certain calibre to appreciate fashion. 

Much of the documentary is shown as footage of McQueen addressing the camera. He admits that he was not very good at school, drawing clothes in every lesson.  Encouraged by his mother to get an apprenticeship in Saville row, he was taught by a master trailer the fundamentals. There is a real blend of eccentricity and normal to the young man. Shabby in appearance, obsessed with Sinead O’Connor.  

We are taken on a journey with McQueen, a man who began by buying all his fabric with his dole money and eating baked beans at his parents' house to a multi-millionaire. We follow his spontaneous move to Italy with nothing in his pocket, surprising many by landing a job as assistant to Romeo Gigli, who immediately saw his potential. Throughout his time at Central Saint Martins University, there is an assuredness to him and a refreshing brash belief in his work. His individuality within the world of fashion is summed up as he states, ‘I didn’t care what people thought of me and I didn’t care what I thought of myself.‘ 

What is incredibly striking is how much his personal life aligned with his work. Isabella Blow, who took McQueen as her protege, becomes pivotal to his growth as a designer, as their relationship shifts his work reflects this. So many people were important to him, and he cared very deeply about them. 

Gladly, the documentary doesn’t glamorise a dark sided nature being vital for creative expression. Although it certainly does explore McQueen battling demons throughout his life, this is innately a story about a man whose outlet was his work. We witness a huge exposure in the public eye. He is the gazelle, watched and followed and hunted by press and public.

The documentary not only feels like a documentation of his work but a voyage through his emotional complexities. Seeing where his thrillingly controversial runway shows and captivating designs come from leaves you feeling raw. This is a tribute that celebrates a great British creator and leaves you wondering how incredibly rare and vital it is to have artists who express themselves without censorship or fear of external opinion. It allows us to explore the complexities of being alive through his eyes, and by that we can look at ourselves and feel connected to the core of emotion in humanity. SC