by ALEXANDER FURY
With creative director Sarah Burton still away on maternity leave after the birth of her third child, the Alexander McQueen label stepped back from the runway to present its latest menswear collection via a series of intimate appointments and a sequence of atmospheric images photographed by Julia Hetta. “You wouldn’t get them from a show,” said Harley Hughes, McQueen’s head of menswear design, of Hetta’s painterly images.
You also wouldn’t get that level of interaction, with the designers nor with the clothes themselves. It made a pertinent argument for alternatives to catwalk showcases—one that felt timely, given the current fusing of men’s and women’s runway presentations from many of the brand’s contemporaries (FYI—McQueen reps say the label will be back showing for Fall 2017). And McQueen’s menswear bears closer scrutiny, as inspection often surrenders hidden details that the runway can swamp. In this collection, those details included the intentional curling edge of the gold embroideries embellishing sweaters and jackets, inspired by the notion of archive clothes crumpled and distressed with age, a revival of old wardrobe favorites.
There was a sense of familiarity about this collection—for one thing, it continued in the same vein as McQueen’s Fall menswear offering, swinging from street to ceremony and offering sharp tailoring for day and plenty of exuberantly decorated eveningwear, teamed with white sneakers for a contemporary feel. Apparently, alongside the decorated pieces, McQueen’s kicks are the first thing to sell out when they hit stores. But it also referenced a rich seam of classic English tailoring, of braid-bedecked military suiting and frogged officer’s mess dress that is so important to the 21st-century survival of Savile Row, where a young Lee McQueen first learned his trade.
Hughes elaborated on a story line: “A ’60s guy, in London, going off traveling and immersing himself in imperial India,” he said. So the suits were sharply cut, in crunchy paisley brocade with a hint of Mr. Fish, the choice psychedelic ’60s suit-maker, alongside flamboyant embroidered frock coats, ruffled shifts, and dandyish silk roll-necks based on vintage Turnbull & Asser styles. Both they and Mr. Fish—for all his peculiarity—were British through and through, much like McQueen itself. Indeed, despite the roaming of influence, the results come right back to London. The Raj may have influenced a maharani’s ransom of paste jewels, for instance, but they wound up hung off variations on last season’s wince-worthy facial jewelry—clip-on, rather than actually piercing the cheeks of the models, but nevertheless distinctly punk in feel. Even when crushed velvets turned a rich turmeric, Hughes couldn’t help but remark they’d strayed into “Keith Richards territory.”
Hetta’s handsome lookbook images themselves, meanwhile, express the sweltering, sun-bleached feel of an air-con-free Mumbai 50-odd years ago, shimmering with a mirage-like haze. It was, ironically, shot around the corner from the McQueen HQ in a glass box in London’s Clerkenwell, taking advantage of the city’s unseasonably clement June weather to stand in for the subcontinent. You’d never get that in a runway show, indeed.