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A Fashion House Brings Out the Spray Paint Again

At Alexander McQueen’s spring 1999 women’s wear show, a pair of robots spray-painted a white muslin dress with a tulle underskirt — and the model wearing it — in black-and-yellow graffiti.Credit…Firstview/Launchmetrics Spotlight
A similar motif covers a double- breasted jacket and cigarette trousers from the brand’s fall 2022 men’s wear collection. Alexander McQueen jacket, $4,590, and pants, $1,840, alexandermcqueen.com.Credit…Still life by Chase Middleton. Set design by Leilin Lopez-Toledo

In September 1998, the British fashion designer Alexander McQueen presented his spring 1999 women’s wear collection, a rumination on the relationship between man and machine, in a former London bus depot. The Paralympic athlete and double amputee Aimee Mullins appeared in the show wearing a pair of intricately hand-carved ash legs designed by McQueen, who also paraded his signature bumsters and cutaway coats through the dimly lit warehouse. For the finale, the model Shalom Harlow walked out in a papery muslin dress with a billowing underskirt of white tulle and a belted chest harness — and then stood on a revolving wooden turntable, like a music box figurine, between two ominous-looking mechanical robots shipped in from an Italian car factory. They engaged with her in an eerie, menacing dance, and then began shooting paint at her, covering her dress with black-and-neon yellow graffiti. Harlow, who trained as a ballet dancer in her youth, flailed her arms as she spun around. “And when they were finished,” she later recalled, “they sort of receded and I walked, almost staggered, up to the audience and splayed myself in front of them with complete abandon and surrender.” The performance — like “High Moon” (1991), the Rebecca Horn installation that inspired it, of two rotating guns shooting red liquid at each other — was provocative and operatic, exactly the kind of spectacle that made McQueen’s shows so exhilarating to watch.

For the brand’s fall 2022 men’s wear collection, the creative director Sarah Burton nodded to this moment with an ivory double-breasted jacket with peak lapels and pleated cigarette trousers covered in a similar poppy yellow-and-black spray-painted motif. The print was created by photographing a person in motion, capturing a blurred outline that was then engineered to wrap around the body of the suit before being printed on viscose cady fabric. The finished design looks almost like the result of a bomb blast — a fitting revival of an explosive coup de théâtre.

Photo assistant: Nathaniel Jerome. Set assistant: Sam Salisbury

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