Lee Alexander McQueen was, on face value, a fairly unprepossessing working class lad from London’s East End. He seemed like an unlikely candidate to become one of the most influential and controversial fashion designers of the late 20th and early 21st century. McQueen explores his journey from a teenage tailor’s apprentice on Saville Row to the heights of couture fashion and his suicide in 2010 at the age of 40. It is a real life gothic fairytale focusing on his unique viewpoint combining darkness and beauty, his desire to inspire and shock his audiences and how his personal passions and demons fueled his prolific and impressive body of work but ultimately led to his premature demise.
Filmmakers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui focus on McQueen as the artist and creative genius. They paint a complex picture of the man using an impressive range of archival footage and interviews. They show the obsessive and tireless worker with an enviable combination of technical ability, speed, creativity and imagination. It really feels like you get to experience the chaos and magic of his work process and his legendary groundbreaking runway shows. We do get a glimpse of the darker side of McQueen; key tragedies in his life, his personal insecurities and increasing self-medication that eventually gets the better of him. However this is definitely not a sensational ‘warts and all’ examination of their subject. The directors’ passion, love and respect for the designer and his work shines through.
It is an intimate but grand portrait with a deep understanding of the grandiose, beautiful but disturbing work McQueen created. It really feels like Bonhôte and Ettedgui burrow deep inside the artist’s brain and heart to put the essence of his work on the screen. The style of the documentary reflects this through various devices including the computer-animated version of McQueen’s iconic skull motif to the theatrical division of the story into chapters, centred around iconic fashion shows starting with his first collection “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”. The impact of his work is intensified by the dramatic symphonic music of the legendary Michael Nyman (The Piano, Gattaca) who was an ongoing collaborator and friend of Lee. Reflected in the style of the film is the high drama and artistry of Lee’s works and particularly his runway shows, which were amazing spectacular events that helped transform audiences and the fashion world’s expectations of what a couture show should be. This film will satisfy fashionistas and the style challenged alike.