THE MCQUEEN OF ENGLAND
Byline: Jessica Kerwin
NEW YORK — Only slightly fatigued by jet lag and a night of clubbing, Alexander McQueen takes time out at 44 to sip a cappuccino and chat about his rapid fashion ascent.
After a few seasons of staging the most hyped-up fashion events in London — his current collection of ripped lace dresses and military-inspired looks came down the runway in an 18th-century church — the 27-year-old British designer is in town to show his fall collection. And while the wildness of the London event left the church’s historic restoration committee a bit peeved, McQueen says we can expect to see even more antics at his presentation tonight at a synagogue downtown.
“The show will be much more in-your-face and much more aggressive than the one in London,” McQueen reports. “We already did all our selling in Milan and Paris, so this show is really more to promote the label and maybe scare a few people — though hopefully they won’t cancel their orders.
“New York has this very brash image,” McQueen says, “but then the clothing is so conservative. I think it’s good to bring a little excitement to New York fashion week, because it always has a lot of buzz around it because of the celebrities and everything, but it doesn’t really measure up in terms of the clothes. I want to bring a little more spectacle to New York, a little more oomph.”
In London, some thought there was too much oomph.
“I used the church because most of my relatives were baptized and buried there in the 1800s, but it was a nightmare. It started out as a 1,000-pound venue, but then they were coming up with things like, ‘Well, if you use that stairway that’s another 500 pounds,’ and ‘You’ve got too many candles; that’s going to be 10 pounds each for the candles.’ It was ridiculous. Then, after the show, they started faxing us, saying, ‘Your show was too perverse. We want some money for the perverseness. You showed too many bare breasts.’ But we didn’t show any. Well, maybe a couple through some sheer clothing, but there was nothing hanging out. That shouldn’t cause a stir, anyway; I mean, everyone’s seen them before.”
While McQueen may be experimenting with New York and is considering adding Paris for his men’s wear, he stresses that he has no plans to take his women’s collection out of London permanently, in the Westwood-Galliano tradition. At least not yet.
“That’s not my responsibility exactly, that’s more up to my backers,” McQueen says. His backers are incorporated under the name MA Commerciale.
“But with the women’s — not to be big-headed or anything — but at the moment I’m the biggest one in London, so why go to Paris and be at the bottom of the list? At least that’s what someone has told me, mind you.”
As for New York, it holds no particular fascination. “It’s just another London,” McQueen says. “I don’t know if I could live here either, because I like to come away from the hustle and the bustle, but it doesn’t seem like you can do that here, and it’s full of mad people. I’m sure there must be some quiet parts, but I haven’t seen them yet. They must be somewhere — please?”
For someone who claims to like his peace and quiet, McQueen has certainly been surrounded by a lot of noise lately. But as for being the next wild child of fashion, he’s not as eager as one might think to claim the title.
“Well, I don’t really play the game as much as some people do,” he says. “I know Gaultier quite well, and he’s quite good at it, and I know Galliano does it, but I’m more personal. I can do the parties and things like that, but it really depends on how you classify a wild child. What do you expect me to do — go and spit in Anna Wintour’s face?”
Perhaps McQueen’s wild reputation is due more to his extravagant, edgy and often tattered-and-torn designs — the 18th-century-style gold brocade admiral’s coat worn with a shredded lace dress, for instance. “The show itself is more subversive than the clothes,” McQueen says. “The message is about war and religion because I think religion has a lot to do with war in the world. It uses a lot of photographic images from the Vietnam and Somalian wars, which gives a hard edge to the cashmere. It’s my 30 minutes to do what I want.”
Using his runway to critique such matters of church and state goes hand in hand with what McQueen wants most — to build a viable business on clothes that women can wear.
“It’s intelligence, really,” he says. “I have to make a living from what I do, so there’s a part to the collection that’s more ready-to-wear with jackets and trousers, and alpaca coats. Then you have the more avant-garde part that’s more about innovation and design. But I never want to design things that no one can wear.”
Next stop: Tokyo, where he’ll show the fall collection. “Japan is my biggest market at the moment,” he says. “But we have this problem with places like Japan and the West Coast, where it’s humid, because of the fabrics I use. I design from a London point of view, so they invited me over to Tokyo to see the type of weather they have. I have to take into consideration the people who actually wear my clothes.”
Those clothes are pricy and can retail for up to $5,000, but McQueen maintains that fashion is about impulse — the purchase you can’t resist. “It’s like you walk into a shop, and you see the coat, and you think, ‘I want that coat,’ and you buy that coat full-stop,” he says. “There is also a section of more street, cheaper things like the denim group. That part is really London, like a denim all-in-one that has been corseted and boned inside — not at all like a pair of 501’s.”
But as for anti-fashion? “That’s not my kettle of fish,” McQueen says. “I got this great moirA suit at a flea market this morning for $20, but if you got the same from Dolce, it would cost something like $1,500, $2,000.
“I think if you design something, it should be new,” he continues. “It’s like, if you have a Rolls-Royce, what’s the point of sitting down and designing another Rolls-Royce? It’s already on the market. I’m like a totally new kettle of fish. The clothes should be exciting, not just another dress that you can buy anywhere. If something is going to cost you that much money, it should be something special that no one else is wearing.”
In the same vein, McQueen likes the idea of keeping his distribution limited. “New York is small, and if it were up to me, I’d have it in one shop downtown and one department store,” McQueen says. “If you’re spending two grand on a suit, you don’t want to go into every shop in the city and see your clothes hanging there. You’d say ‘Hey, this isn’t very special,’ and, ‘Oh look, there’s another Alexander McQueen over there.”‘
One-third of the collection — the most expensive third — is limited to a handful of key accounts around the world, including Neiman Marcus. The rest is currently sold in a total of 31 stores. In the U.S., Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Alan Bilzerian, Linda Dresner and Ultimo bought the fall collection.
So who is McQueen’s customer?
“The people who wear the clothes are real individuals who don’t want to follow the pack,” he says. “They want to be one step ahead, and they’re more mature than they are young, because the younger people definitely want to be told what to wear. The people who wear my clothes aren’t dictated to.
“The people I want to see in my clothes are in my clothes,” McQueen notes. “The celebrities who come to me are mostly pop stars. Madonna’s just bought a jacket, and she must really flatter herself because I made this jacket for a customer called Pearl, who has an 18-inch waist. But I don’t make things for people who really want to stand out in a crowd. My clothes are more about the details.
“And I’m not the type of person who needs to go out and poach a client,” McQueen continues, “but I wouldn’t mind dressing Diane Keaton. I’ve always fancied her, and Margot Hemingway and her little sister, Mariel. I just did some costumes for David Bowie’s tour, and he rang me up last week to do something else as well, but I can’t say what yet.”
Another issue McQueen is keeping quiet about is a possible consultancy at a design house here in New York, one of many that have been pitched.
“Sometimes it just goes beyond money, because if I didn’t think I’d add anything, I wouldn’t do it,” he says, adding that the consultancy would involve working on the house’s spring/summer collection. “It wouldn’t make much sense for me to go to someone like Comme, for instance, because she’s got so many ideas.”
With a shoe license in the works — though he hasn’t settled on a manufacturer yet — could a perfume be too far away? “Yeah,” McQueen says, “it’s called Eau de Scat. If I did a perfume, it wouldn’t be me doing it anyway, it would be my backers. I mean, what do they want, my body odor in a glass or something? I wouldn’t even wear my body odor if I had a choice.”