Darwin, Alexander McQueen was thinking as he set to work on his spring collection. He divided the show into two parts, pre- and post-machine worlds. The industrial revolution, he wrote in his program notes, was “when man became more powerful than nature, and the damage really started.” Rich material for so superb and emotional a showman. Yet here McQueen worked with unexpected restraint, relatively speaking, within a structure that proved a bit of a problem — the clothes were more beautiful in the beginning than in the end. He still pulled off a powerful show, certainly among the most intriguing in a lackluster season.

McQueen created a stunning set, a huge projection of the rotating sun morphing into the moon and back behind what looked like a taxidermist’s dream theme park, a congregation of animals: zebra, polar bear, elephant, deer, assorted wild cats, birds and countless more frozen in apparent harmony, although, in reality, some would have made fine dining for others.

Fashionwise, the shapes were variations on the designer’s classics, the conservationist point made primarily via genius prints. McQueen may have used this show to rage against machines, but these were engineered marvels that required a little technology to caress the girls’ bodies so ergonomically. They wore intricate wood grains, Victorian-inspired florals, blown-up diamonds, their facets ablaze with color. Then, along came the machine age, and things toughened up with coiled metal and Eiffel Tower prints. Either way, McQueen kept his tailoring on the staunch side and his dresses, mostly short and seriously sculpted or in billowing cocoons, like butterflies about to break free. The pre-industrial world also featured two beauties with flower blossoms trapped between layers of silk and tulle and breathtaking fringed flappers; the post-, hourglasses heavily encrusted with crystals. And, despite the sober theme, the mood skirted obvious anger — McQueen took his bow in a rabbit suit.

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