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Alexander McQueen, Joan d'Arc, 1998
Alexander McQueen, Joan d'Arc, 1998via

Alexander McQueen’s best catwalk beauty looks

To celebrate the coming opening of Warpaint: Alexander McQueen and Make-Up, we chart the designer’s darkest creations

“I work to my own laws and requirements, not anyone else’s,” Alexander McQueen told David Bowie back in November 1996, for their head to head in our 26th issue. The legendary designer didn’t just apply this attitude to his innovative designs, but also to the creation of the groundbreaking beauty looks that went along with them. Opening tomorrow April 30th and running until August 7th, the London College of Fashion will be hosting Warpaint: Alexander McQueen and Make-Up at their Fashion Space Gallery – a retrospective of the late designer’s experimentation with catwalk make-up that even allows visitors to virtually try the looks on themselves. To celebrate the exhibition opening, we revisit the designer’s most triumphant beauty moments – from facial feathers to high-cheekbone alien implants. 


A smouldering rubbish heap filled with TVs, tyres and old McQueen pieces sat in the centre of a circular stage. This would serve as the setting for Horn of Plenty – one of the designer’s most provocative, tongue-in-cheek shows. The fashion industry was stuck in a boring, commercial rut, so McQueen had his models decorated with horrifying grimaces to bring some much needed shock value. Make-up inspired by American director Terry Gilliam’s Brazil saw eyebrowless models sport pasty white faces with overdrawn sticky red lips.


Inspired by Don Mancini’s 1988 horror film Child’s Play (the one with the terrifying ginger doll), McQueen chose macabre clown make-up for his AW01 show What A Merry-Go-Round. Famed make-up artist Val Garland captured the theme of “the sinister side of childhood” on the models’ faces – creating an effect that was less runway, more run away. “The stark, shadowy lighting made the hair and makeup seem so much more intense and I think that’s captured on camera here – these images capture the darkness of McQueen,” said Garland in a recent Dazed feature, recalling the looks they created. 


McQueen seemed to have a penchant for off-key horror films from the 80s. His AW99 show The Overlook was named after the tainted hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, based on Stephen King’s novel. McQueen’s set was complete with artificial snow (Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance and his family are snowbound in the film) as a pair of red headed models held hands to represent the spectral, blood-drenched twins who taunt Torrance. Make-up wise, the models’ eyes were masked with lashings of silver paint. Some have suggested that this was McQueen’s symbolic representation of Torrance’s wife’s blindness to his descent in to murderous insanity – spooky. 


The designer’s AW98 show was a lesson in blasphemy. As “an atheist and an anti-royalist,” McQueen was one to push the boundaries, and what’s more controversial than giving your models demonic, blood red eyes? Entitled Joan, the show drew on key elements of the tale of Joan of Arc – a French peasant girl turned militant hero and Roman Catholic martyr after she was burned at the stake. Models’ faces were completely obscured by fabric, or left starkly pale. Some had their heads prosthetically covered to appear bald with false braids draped over the top, whilst others rocked Yolandi Visser-style blunt cut platinum blonde wigs.  


This would sadly be McQueen’s final collection, but the first fashion show ever to be streamed live. Entitled Plato’s Atlantis, the designer explored the idea of an underwater future – if global warming has its way and the polar icecaps continue to melt the human race will be destined for life to the world beneath the ocean. A pearlescent sheen was given to models’ faces, with subdermal implant-style padding around eyebrows and cheekbones for an aquatic, alien look. 


For the launch of the much anticipated Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A, FKA twigs performed in the Birds of Paradise dress from McQueen’s SS08 collection. La Dame Bleue was one of McQueen’s most personal and emotionally evocative shows, as he worked with fellow mentee Philip Treacy to pay homage to their friend and advisor, Isabella Blow. Treacy created ornate headpieces comprised of swarms of butterflies, whilst make-up artist Peter Phillips worked on adorning feathers to faces – referencing Blow’s favourite motifs.