by Rachel Willis
The life of iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen is the subject of director Ian Bonhôte’s documentary, McQueen. With writer and co-director Peter Ettedgui, Bonhôte creates a richly artistic dive into the controversial designer’s life and art.
Dividing his portrait into sections, Bonhôte uses home videos, archival footage, interviews with family and friends, and scenes from the catwalk to highlight McQueen’s unique—and oftentimes controversial—work.
As Bonhôte highlights with sensitivity and warmth throughout the film, fashion is an expression of McQueen’s experiences. It’s clear McQueen puts his feelings into his designs, and his collections become deeply personal. “I would go to the far reaches of my dark side and pull these horrors out of my soul and put them on the catwalk,” he says of his art.
The fondness with which people speak of McQueen in the documentary’s many interviews offers a picture of someone who made an impact beyond his creative output. His friends, many of whom were part of his design team, speak of the dedication and drive behind his designs. There is a love for McQueen that shines throughout the film.
However, the darkness in McQueen, at first kept to the catwalk, begins to come through in his personal life. As his success grows, the energy behind his work grows darker. Some of his long-time collaborators end their working relationship with him, something he takes personally. For McQueen, there was no such thing as a work-life balance.
It’s clear through the course of the film that the world of haute couture is a stressful one, and no one seemed to take on more than McQueen. In an interview, he mentions assembling 14 collections a year. It’s a staggering number given how much time, energy, and effort must go into each piece of clothing, not to mention the hair, makeup, and set design that made up McQueen’s unique and stunning exhibitions. What’s unclear is if McQueen’s inner turmoil drove him to work nonstop or if it was the work that fueled his inner chaos.
Bonhôte and Ettedgui produce a mesmerizing narrative. From McQueen’s early apprenticeships with tailors to his meteoric rise as one of the most sought-after designers, the filmmakers cultivate an interest in a subject that many may be unfamiliar with. They highlight the art in fashion design, utilizing footage from many of McQueen’s collections to show this artistry.
Coupling the fashion world and McQueen’s creativity with a captivating score, the documentary pulls the viewer in from the first moment and never lets go. It’s a fascinating, compassionate portrait of an imaginative genius.