Alexander McQueen spent five years as an apprentice on Savile Row, learning the art of tailoring. Firstly, at Anderson & Sheppard, where he learnt to cut jackets, then later at Gieves & Hawkes where he was trained in the cut of trousers. His knowledge of the cut and construction of traditional menswear, and his ability to subvert this became central to the McQueen silhouette and aesthetic.
As early as his 1996 collection The Hunger, McQueen’s runway shows featured menswear alongside his womenswear. However, it has until now been almost invisible; no examples were presented in the V&A’s Savage Beauty exhibition, which meant the connection between his menswear training in tailoring and its application and subversion into his cut and vision for womenswear remained unexplored.
TYRE PRINT TROUSERS
Before McQueen’s Spring Summer 1995 show The Birds, several models had car tyres rolled over them leaving an inky black print across their bodies. This print motif was reprised for the Spring Summer 1997 Bellmer La Poupée collection where several menswear garments were presented as if they had been run over.
Archive no. 2017.243
GLEN CHECK JACKET
McQueen’s reoccurring obsession with slashing and dissecting garments continued with his Golden Shower, or Untitled collection. It featured traditional tailoring that was dissected, spliced, and then stitched back together with contrasting panels of chalk stripe, plaid, or houndstooth cloth.
Archive no. 2017.016
ANTIQUE OVERLAYER VEST
The simplicity of this garment echoes ecclesiastical garments and religious iconography and is a sample piece from McQueen’s Autumn Winter 1998 collection Joan. Based on the life of Joan of Arc, who was put on trial for heresy in 1431 but eventually found guilty for dressing like a man, and subsequently burnt at the stake aged only 19.
Archive no. 2016.156
CABLE KNIT OVERCOAT
For his Autumn Winter 1999 collection The Overlook - based on Kubrick’s film The Shining - McQueen experimented with using cable knitting to construct outerwear rather than traditional knitwear. This tailored overcoat is made from a thick black wool knit in a cable design, constructed into McQueen's signature men's topcoat.
Wool, cotton, rayon
Archive no. 2016.294
SPRAY PAINTED FROCK COAT
McQueen’s signature interpretation of the frock coat was a reoccurring theme of his womenswear with its elongated cutaway silhouette that swings the skirt of the coat backwards. It is reinterpreted here as a man’s nylon coat from the Spring Summer 1997 Bellmer La Poupée collection. The spray-painted effect print on the outside bleeds through onto the inside.
Archive no. 2019.118
SLASH BACK COAT
A reoccurring theme of McQueen’s work was the body in trauma, represented by garments being slashed, defiled, or revealed. This traditional tailored long coat has, through the manipulation of fabric and complex pattern cutting, created an elegant slash revealing the body beneath.
Archive no. 2017.353.1
Taking inspiration from Joan of Arc and ideas of martyrdom, Joan was at the time McQueen’s most pared back and unadorned collection. The severity and minimal nature of this jacket, which is part of a three-piece suit is reminiscent of ecclesiastical garments and features an elongated waistcoat that creates a skirted effect.
Archive no. 2017.117.1
SPRAY PAINTED JACKET
The severity of the cut and line of this tailored jacket is subverted using a gradient print effect evocative of snow settling on a crumpled surface. It is from McQueen’s Autumn Winter 1999 collection The Overlook which was presented inside a giant glass cube with snow falling on the models.
Archive no. 2016.219