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Alexander McQueen AW09, "The Horn of Plenty"
Alexander McQueen AW09, "The Horn of Plenty"

Looking back at Alexander McQueen’s otherworldly clowns of AW09

The year is 2009, and for his "The Horn of Plenty" collection Alexander McQueen has enlisted the help of Peter Philips and Guido Palau

The hair and make-up on the runway is often very experimental. Creative freedom combines with eclectic visions from designers to bring together the ultimate fantasy. Runway Retrospectives is a column that explores some of the most legendary catwalk beauty looks of all time.


Designer Alexander McQueen presented his fall 2009 show in Paris just over ten years ago. For the occasion, McQueen sent models down the runway wearing elegant skirt suits and dresses in shades of red, black and houndstooth that mirrored couture in craftsmanship and execution. As for the beauty look, make-up artist Peter Philips gave models bleached brows and now iconic extreme, oversized lips – exaggerated to the point of ridiculous and reminiscent of Leigh Bowery’s smeared lip. For the models who weren’t wearing Philip Treacy hats, hairstylist Guido Palau created sculptures on top of each model’s head with aluminium drink cans and plastic wrap. Echoing the beauty aesthetic, the collection was meant to poke fun at traditional French couture, with garments made out of trash bags and what looked like bubble wrap.

“This whole situation is such a cliché,” McQueen told the New York Times right before the show began. “The turnover of fashion is just so quick and so throwaway, and I think that is a big part of the problem. There is no longevity.”


Make-up artist Peter Philips, a fixture backstage at the likes of Dries Van Noten, Calvin Klein and currently creative and image director of Christian Dior make-up, had long collaborated with the designer when it came to his visual fantasies. “There were three themes that Lee shared with me,” Philips tells us. “Eliza Doolittle at the flower market before she transforms in My Fair Lady, Elizabeth I and clowns. He wanted initially an eye look inspired by these themes, but when I proposed this look, combined with Guido’s headpieces, he was sold.”

Philips continues, “Alabaster skin and no eyebrows for the Elizabeth I touch, and an exaggerated shiny lip to get a bit of clown in.” Guido Palau, editorial hair stylist who was also key to carrying out McQueen’s visions, pinned models’ hair back so that none of it was showing and covered their heads in different arrangements of aluminium spray painted cans wrapped in plastic. “Guido used trash to create the headpieces, which for me, got the dirty, early morning flower market element covered. The shapes of Guido’s head wraps also had a historical edge,” says Philips.


The show took place in Paris and was one of the late McQueen’s very last shows. “I think it’s dangerous to play it safe because you will just get lost in the midst of cashmere twin sets. People don’t want to see clothes. They want to see something that fuels the imagination,” he told critics. Like the beauty look, the set incorporated trash, and memorabilia from the designer’s past shows piled high in the centre of the runway with a glass shattered catwalk.


The look was legendary for its element of fantasy as well as the slightly controversial assumptions the world made about the entire show and, in particular, the make-up. Vogue’s Sarah Mower, for example, wrote of the show, “There were those who found his picture of women with sex-doll lips and sometimes painfully theatrical costumes ugly and misogynistic”

Along with that, Palau told Dazed that McQueen had a major influence on him, not just for this show, but within his entire career: “He showed me a different way of looking at beauty. He had a very specific idea of women, which was celebratory but in a way that was very powerful. The women were powerful. They were not misogynistic. They were so restrictive, in a way, but he was really celebrating women's power in a different way. He was very pro-women.”

How to Get the Look

For a permanent look, you could bleach your own brows using Jolen Creme Bleach (a very of-the-moment style considering models at Prada AW19 also had bleached brows). A great semi-permanent alternative is Kat Von D’s 24-Hour Super Brow Long-Wear Pomade in bleach, which gives even the darkest of brows a faux bleached effect. Take a lipstick, like Dior Rouge Dior lipstick, in a vibrant shade (lipstick shades of scarlet, maroon and red-orange were all seen in the show) and overline the lip. Try a lipliner in a matching shade to get a harder, more finessed edge. Or, for a more unconventional take, you can wear a jelly lip mask which really resembles the same look. The Japanese Pure Smile Choosy Lip Mask comes in tons of different colours and stays put.

As for the hair pieces, you can DIY it using your own cans and plastic. If it doesn’t look exactly the same, that’s fine; the magic of this look is the fantasy imbued in it.