Well, One Thing Is Certain — This Is No Longer Lee's McQueen | Savoir Flair
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Well, One Thing Is Certain — This Is No Longer Lee's McQueen
by Grace Gordon 6-minute read March 3, 2024

McQueen is dead; long live McQueen.

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In 14 years of writing runway critiques — literally thousands of them at this point — I’ve never had this much trouble writing a review. In fact, I’ve spent so much time agonizing over this and discussing it with my Editor-in-Chief (and sister of my soul), Haleh Nia, that I decided to take you inside our mutual mental breakdown over Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2024 — with her permission, of course.

It started late last night or rather early this morning. I had just left the Gucci x Nomad party at Skooni in Dubai and logged onto Twitter on the Uber ride home. Immediately, I was greeted with palpable floods of rage from the High Fashion Twitter community. The McQueen show had just wrapped, and I could feel the distress of my peers as if they were arriving by psychic transmission. ‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘was it really that bad?’ I raced to Instagram, and there I saw it. Seán McGirr’s debut collection. Absolutely devoid of emotion. Zero new ideas. And scarcely a trace of McQueen to be found anywhere. 

You know those moments in movies where the protagonist realizes something earth-shattering, and everything around starts to move in slow motion? That’s what I felt at the moment I watched the show. All I could hear in my ears was the sound of rushing water. Everything slowed down. This is not only not what I was expecting, but it was insulting to the memory of the greatest designer the world has ever known. I immediately messaged Haleh to ask what her thoughts were because she had been at the show in person. “Zooming you,” she replied immediately, sending over a link. It was 2:03am. I logged on with her and our amazing Social Media Manager, Jana Shakhashir. They were back in the hotel decompressing after a long day. Immediately, our thoughts on the show started pouring out in a torrent.

Haleh was just as upset as I was, if not more so. For our 14-year relationship as colleagues and best friends, there is no one we’ve talked about or bonded over more than Lee McQueen. The truth is, the best people I know in this industry are all united under the same banner; we all arrived at this pure love of fashion because of him. He is the patriarch of our devotion. 

After his death, his right hand, Sarah Burton, carried his banner steadfastly. She was brilliant — if not always representing the dark, tortured, savage beauty of Lee’s work she created an approximation of it that still fed the soul. It was still McQueen, just softer around the edges, more romantic — still imbued with the depth of personal storytelling. Sarah’s story. Of course it would be different from the work of the house’s progenitor because Lee’s creativity came from a wellspring of real pain. Abuse, poverty, violence, rejection, struggle, addiction, crisis. He was able to take the darkest urges and humanity’s worst atrocities and turn them into works of art, into shields that protect. It was his raison d'être. “I want to empower women,” he was famously quoted as saying. “I want people to be afraid of the people I dress. I design clothes because I don’t want women to look all innocent and naive. I want women to look stronger. I don’t like women to be taken advantage of. I don’t like men whistling at women in the street. I think they deserve more respect. I like men to keep their distance from women. I like men to be stunned by an entrance. I’ve seen a woman get nearly beaten to death by her husband. I know what misogyny is. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.” 

I’m sure you can see why we are so defensive of him. There are multiple generations of fashion acolytes that are especially sensitive to his work and attuned to it. He speaks to the kids who got bullied because they looked different, to the kids who couldn’t afford to dress like their peers, to the kids who dreamed of running away from abusive households, to the kids who peered into shop windows dreaming of “some day.” He was the ultimate outsider. And then he got inside the machine of fashion and was its most chaotic disruptor. Our rebel hero. Our fallen leader.

I can’t imagine what McGirr was up against in coming into a house with this level of passionate devotion behind it. I can’t recall a time when expectations for a designer debut have been higher. It’s not that what he showed was bad or poorly crafted; it was simply redundant, particularly of designs we’ve seen from houses he’s worked at before, like J.W. Anderson

His reference to McQueen's Spring/Summer 1995 show, ‘The Birds,’ felt lazy and scarcely present in the actual clothes. ‘The Birds’ was a radical collection, shown in an underground rave warehouse accompanied by a score of what sounded like screaming partiers. Lee was so broke at the time that he patchworked many of the looks together with cheap plastic sheeting and tape. He draped women in tailcoats and then shocked everyone by pairing them with ultra-low-rise bumsters. Some looks occasionally morphed the models into birds — a commentary on becoming the very thing that you fear. He flattened tire tracks against looks as a nod to the idea of “fashion roadkill” — a phrase snarkily cited as a designer’s complete failure on the runway, a judgment he no doubt felt during his early days of establishing his brand. It was nuanced. It was interesting. It had a story.

While this was the archival reference that McGirr cited to anchor his Fall/Winter 2024 collection, it was fashion critic Sarah Mower who penned the upsetting revelation that the young Dublin-born designer hadn’t spent much, if any, time in the McQueen archives to prepare for the show. Not to sound like a total a**hole, but how is that even possible? As a fashion person, how is he not already steeped in the archives? We absorb them by osmosis just being in the industry. The history of McQueen is legend. I find it hard to believe he is not already tacitly familiar.

Haleh summarized it best when she told me, “Maybe we didn’t need to see Lee again or Sarah again; maybe it could have been an amalgamation of the two. He could have grasped onto the essence of Lee or Sarah. He did neither.”

We’re not saying any of this to be unnecessarily harsh or to alienate someone who holds great potential as a designer at the house. Rather, it’s impossible to disentangle our very, very personal feelings about McQueen from this disappointing debut. Here’s the thing: Haleh and I are both longtime, passionate advocates for allowing creatives in the industry time to find their footing, time to develop their ideas, and time to build their brand identity. We have spent much more than a decade watching the industry chew up and spit out brilliant minds, and it has always raised our hackles. Instead of publishing this in a punitive way, we are coming at it with a shred of optimism, a hope that he might see some of the critiques online and find a way to express the emotional side of the brand DNA that was sorely missing from his first collection. We want the best for everyone in this situation, especially when it comes to a house that is incredibly important to both of us. As the kids say, give him time to cook.

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I can’t IMAGINE what McGirr was up against in coming into a house with this level of PASSIONATE DEVOTION behind it. 

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