Fashion made no sense to me until McQueen hit the scene around the turn of the century. I loved the audacity of a Stratford boy taking over Givenchy and then Gucci, and I loved his audacity too. Like his YBA contemporaries, Tracey Emin and Damian Hurst, he was a proud rabble rouser and intended to stir his audience up. When the robots sprayed a model with paint at the end of one of his iconic shows (‘No 13’ – the show that made him cry), the penny dropped for me: this wasn’t just a showcase for his brand, but the finale to a fantastic piece of performance art. And he was a genius artist.
The documentary McQueen is a carefully curated exploration of his 40 year-old-life, largely set to the gnawing tunes of Michael Nyman which Lee, or Alexander, used to listen to to help fuel his relentless output. Toward the end of his life, at the helm of Gucci, he was turning out 14 collections a year. The mind boggles. We witness his charisma and magnetism waning by over-work, drug use, and HIV diagnosis, grief of losing a best friend and mentor Isabella Blow, and a palpable sense of jadedness. But we also learn – not much – of his sexual abuse as a very young boy by his sister’s vile sounding husband. This is a most profound trauma, and we have no sense from the storytelling by friends in the film how much it was spoken about at the time, or whether he sought therapy at any stage. It’s easy to assume that his drive – and avoidance at truly being with himself – was an escape from such horror. And that ultimately, it contributed to his death.