Give me time and I’ll give you a revolution. — Alexander McQueen
McQueen is a complete, beautifully crafted documentary about British fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen, widely known for transforming his runway shows into emotionally-charged performance art exhibitions and creating innovations between fashion and technology — made even more extraordinary by the quality of the pieces coming down the catwalk. He asserted fashion not only as a legitimate artistic vehicle, but also as a medium for revealing the hidden, darker aspects of life. His suicide in 2010 at age forty left behind big questions about the personal life of this iconic genius.
McQueen is as well-crafted as one of Lee’s famous garments. Combining creative story-telling with a clear, well-paced narrative, directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui deliver a fitting tribute. The opening credits are the best I’ve ever seen in a documentary; they capture the phenomenal spirit of McQueen, and assert why such a young designer deserves a full-length film. Using Lee’s own tapes, interviews with those who knew him best. and clips from the shows, McQueen the man emerges. From his first apprenticeship at a local tailor to his graduation from Central Saint Martins, his mentors recall how respectful, hard-working and passionate he was, voraciously absorbing everything he could about tailoring and design, quietly working on his craft late into the night. He was so strapped for money that in his first runway shows, nothing could be reproduced because everything was literally made with found objects — a perfect dress being all duct tape and packing plastic.
While winning the Fashion Award (he would win 4 total), he had no money to eat, but his relentless passion propelled him onwards. At the time, he befriended Isabella Blow, a fashion stylist with a talent for spotting and nurturing raw talent, and formed a deep bond that would last until her death in 2007. She was the one who told him that Alexander McQueen was far better than Lee McQueen for the grand designer he was to become. At twenty-seven he was named the head designer at Givenchy, quickly asserting that things were going to be done differently, from eating with the staff to meeting the seamstresses who crafted each garment.
As he simultaneously put together his own label, things began to move at a breakneck pace, and his friends saw a different side of McQueen. His switch to Gucci only seemed to make things worse. McQueen delves into the last years of his life with even, conservative story-telling, showing how deep scars from childhood abuse, serious depression, paranoia, and severe loneliness began to creep in, overtaking his former joyful, playful personality. His shows became increasingly dark to a point of near madness, and the deaths of Isabella and his mother devastated him beyond repair. A close friend shares hauntingly that Lee always said he would leave his house one day in a body bag.
McQueen celebrates Lee’s absolute, singular genius, while honoring his memory through documenting exactly what happened in every chapter of his extraordinary life. Even someone with no interest in fashion would find McQueen riveting to watch. It’s not an easy film; the ending is already written. The deeper it goes, the easier it is to love McQueen, warts and all, knowing it’s impossible to save him.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs April 18 to April 29. Visit the official Tribeca Film Festival website for more info.