Ahead of today’s Alexander McQueen menswear show, read a newly-unearthed 1996 interview with the designer about his first ever men’s collection
In London, 2015 is the year of Alexander McQueen. Savage Beauty at the V&A has seen record numbers flock to marvel at its wonders, while other exhibitions – like Nick Waplington’s Working Process at the Tate Britain and LCF’s Warpaint show – have also celebrated the late British fashion icon. There’s even a call to get him on our £20 note. As London Collections: Men takes over the city, what better time than to look back into the Dazed archives and uncover a gem – an interview from our 15th ever issue where McQueen, on the brink of commercial success and having just angered the world with his now-infamous Highland Rape show, is taking on menswear. Read it below.
AT HIS SATANIC MAJESTY’S REQUEST
For the first time, Alexander McQueen launches menswear alongside his SS womenswear collection. He talks exclusively to Dazed & Confused about baring his arse at his recent show and the negativity of the British press.
Last season Alexander McQueen sold his collection to one shop in London. This season he has had international orders worth £700,000. Last season McQueen was tiresomely labelled as the devil-child-anarchist who endorsed rape in his AW95 catwalk show and produced badly made clothes nobody wanted to wear. This season, when he showed a comprehensive, well-made collection he was slated for a nipple here and there, and for showing too much bare faced cheek (literally, his own. Both of them). It's not easy being a young fashion designer showing to fickle London. But perhaps, just maybe, the last laugh is on his censorious critics. Why would he pull an unsightly moonie as he walked off at the end of his catwalk show if not to prove a point? Alexander McQueen, with or without infamous buttocks, is now a saleable commodity. A few collections ago few would have thought it. Are McQueen and his counterparts now London's very own establishment? Can he produce wearable clothes and still be creative, aggressive and anti-establishmentarian?
The menswear collection consists of pretty straightforward clothes. There isn’t that antagonistic, in-yer-faceness that has previously been your leitmotif with womenswear.
Alexander McQueen: Well, when you've got a backer (in McQueen's case it's Italian manufacturers M.A. Commercial), you've got to calm things down. This collection was mainly about showing people that I could do wearable clothes and that I could sell. It doesn't mean that's going to be that way all the time. It can change, but for this one that's what was needed to be done so that's what we did.
So it was because of the backer that you decided to do menswear?
Alexander McQueen: Oh, no, no, not at all, it was partly my decision. There were clothes I wanted on the market. The menswear on the market at the moment, Helmut Lang and the like, it's all blank, blank clothing without much atmosphere about it. My menswear's got a lot of atmosphere; sculptured shapes, sharp, nipped waists and bumsters for men, which are a bit higher than the women's.
Where's the equality in that?
Alexander McQueen: Well they've got more to cover obviously. (laughs)
How much higher exactly?
Alexander McQueen: Ooh, about a centimetre. (laughs, a tad more ferociously)
Whose idea was menswear originally?
Alexander McQueen: Mine.
Alexander McQueen: Well it was never really discussed. It was just something that was natural. They sort of said, ‘Where’s the men’s collection?’, and I drew it up and sort of said, ‘There it is’.
“The menswear on the market at the moment is all blank, blank clothing without much atmosphere about it. My menswear's got a lot of atmosphere; sculptured shapes, sharp, nipped waists and bumsters for men” – Alexander McQueen
How has having a backer changed your work?
Alexander McQueeen: I’ve got a wage. Got money. (laughs) Well I did have until this morning when I looked up me overdraft. I’m one of those people who will never have any money, no matter how much I get.
Even when you’ve sold £700,000 worth of frocks and stuff?
Alexander McQueen: Well I don’t get THAT much. ‘Kin ‘ell, I wish I did!
So how much do you get?
Alexander McQueen: I get ten percent, plus royalties.
You’re not exactly poor then.
Alexander McQueen: I’m all right, sorted.
So it’s all money, money, money, now?
Alexander McQueen: At the end of the day you’ve got to give people what they want. I’m quite intelligent when it comes to designing the collection in terms of knowing how far I can go. But the next one’s going to be madder. I was really nervous about the first one. The next one I’m working on right now I am really excited about.
Was the backer apprehensive?
Alexander McQueen: You’ve got two versions right. You got the backer who thought it was too mad when it was being produced saying ‘This is a lovely, er, image but I hope it’s going to sell Alexander’. Then it sells and you have Kashiama saying “Ooh er, it’s very non-McQueen, it’s not very radical’ and then they see the show and they’re coming back going ‘AAHHH!’ (at this point Alexander does a very good impression of an excited Japanese person), and they buy another £100,000 worth.
So now you please everyone?
Alexander McQueen: Except myself.
Alexander McQueen: It wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be. I mean it wasn’t real McQueen where you see the show and it’s completely mad. But you got to do something at the end of the day to earn a living. But the next show can be better and madder, more tricksy with the cutting.
Do you feel you have had to make a major compromise?
Alexander McQueen: I’ve compromised but I haven’t sabotaged the artistic integrity. You just got to be a little bit careful, haven’t you.
You still managed to show your arse on the catwalk, though.
Alexander McQueen: You’re lucky I didn’t fart and blow everyone away.
Was it really necessary? Why such antics?
Alexander McQueen: Because of the British press. They knocked me so much in the last show just because they didn’t understand it. I knew it (Highland Rape) would be my last show on my own so it was a personal collection. It was about Scotland. It wasn’t romantic the way Westwood would do it, it was about the way it really is and they didn’t get it. It wasn’t about selling, it was a feeling. I should come out wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘Which way Paris?’.
…Paris? Could this be London’s next disaster looming?
Alexander McQueen: It would be easy to show in Paris. My backers want me to show in Paris but I don’t want to. I was born here. But the press would slam me for that as well saying that I was deserting my country. But why should I stay in a country where they don’t even fucking support you? You can’t win. It’s just a power thing for them. All that matter to them is what row they’re in.
Look back at last season’s show below: