Lauren Laverne on Alexander McQueen
An insight into an iconic British designer
Alexander McQueen studied at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and cut his teeth, making suits at the centre of gentlemen's tailoring, Savile Row. Soon McQueen was designing his own collections and wowing everyone with his elaborate fashion shows. In one of the most memorable moments at McQueen's shows, robots spray painted a dress worn by the model Shalom Harlow. We've depicted this iconic moment in fashion history on tactile picture number seven, next to the picture of Kate Moss. Feel over the top left of the tactile picture. British supermodel Shalom Harlow is standing up and facing us. Her body's slightly turned to the left and she's holding her arms gracefully up and out to the sides. In his spring summer show of 1999, McQueen created a visual spectacle that was more like theatre - Shalom wearing a white cotton strapless dress and heels walked down the catwalk and stood on a circular platform. This platform then rotated whilst two robotic guns positioned on either side of Shalom gracefully sprayed her and her white dress in yellow and black paint. Let's explore this scene. From the top left of the picture, trace down to feel Shalom's head. Her black hair is in a loose bun at the nape of her neck, but you can feel her fringe and a longer length of hair hanging loose to the right of her face. Now trace down to feel her bare shoulders. She's wearing a strapless white cotton muslin dress. Well, it's more like a long full circle of material cinched above the bust with a brown leather belt. Feel the thin raised shape of the leather belt. Trace down over the smooth white cotton fabric of the dress, which has been splattered and is literally dripping with colour. The areas of yellow and black are indicated by the raised areas on the dress. This sprayed effect is graffiti in style and look, echoing McQueen's love of mixing punk and high art. Trace below the smooth hem of the dress to feel a textured area, showing layers of white synthetic tule. These layers of netting, give the dress volume. Shalom is wearing black and white slip on sandals with a high wooden heel. However, there's a twist, as the heel of the shoe is in the middle of the sole. After a few minutes, the mechanical guns stopped spraying and the platforms stopped rotating. In an interview about the experience Shalom said:
‘And when their guns were finished, this sort of receded. And I walked almost staggered up to the audience and sprayed myself in front of them with complete abandonment and surrender. The audience was left in shock and awe.’
Now that’s trailblazing fashion, with echoes of 1970s punk, maybe. You can watch this iconic moment in fashion history on YouTube search for Alexander McQueen spray gun dress.