Alexander McQueen, the bad boy of British fashion through the ‘90s until his death in 2010, gets the documentary treatment he deserves in “McQueen”: A bit shocking in parts, rather pompous in others, and thoroughly well-tailored.
Director Ian Bonhôte and co-director/writer Peter Ettedgui take a generally chronological approach to McQueen’s life, starting as an upstart from London’s East End who briefly apprenticed as a tailor and showed a skill for sewing a perfectly fitted suit in short order. He then jumped to fashion school at St. Martins College of Art and Design. His first student fashion show was inspired by Jack the Ripper, the first of many controversial subjects he tackled.
Bonhôte and Ettedgui structure the movie in chapters, each around a notable fashion show. McQueen excelled in turning his haute couture shows into events and installation artworks, not just showing a line of frocks but creating a story and, with his infamous “Highland Rape” show in 2004, a sensation.
In 1996, McQueen’s “enfant terrible” reputation was put to the test, when he was hired as chief designer of the Paris fashion house Givenchy. Melding his crazy esthetic to the elegance of a prime French label was difficult, but he found ways to inject his wildness, like when he put model Shalom Harlow on a turntable in a strapless white dress and had robotic arms with spray paint covering her in graffiti.
Much of “McQueen” is centered on his fractured personal relations. First, there’s the style icon Isabella Blow, who was McQueen’s mentor and early champion, until McQueen cast her aside when he felt she received too much credit for his success. The movie shows many of McQueen’s personal relationships follow similar trajectories, as the designer finds the pressures of fame and fortune to be devastating.
With archival footage and a wealth of interviews with McQueen’s friends, colleagues and contemporaries, “McQueen” paints a fairly standard rags-to-riches-to-unhappiness portrait. Where the movie is most engrossing is showing how McQueen’s demons and inspirations played out on the catwalk, as he turned the commercial exercise of a runway show into gale-force artistic expression.
Opened July 20 in select cities; opens Friday, August 17, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City). Rated R for language and nudity. Running time: 111 minutes.