Influenced by Fashion: Inspired by the work of Lee Alexander McQueen


me and lee

"I don't think like the average person on the street. I think quite perversely sometimes." –Lee Alexander McQueen

"Bumsters" skirt by Alexander McQueen, Highland Rape collection, autumn/winter 1995-96

I love couture fashion. And I don't mean that in a "I-always-wear-amazing-clothes" kind of way. (I really, really don't.) But being in a creative career, I crave inspiration. I need input. Looking at other stationery designers and graphic designers is a must, and I pick up ideas there, but usually it mostly makes me feel unoriginal. So I like to seek out inspiration that needs a little translation to my application, like apparel design. Color combinations, textures, folds, patterns all relate to my work. So while my own uniform is rather simple, I still love love LOVE high fashion.

One of my favorite designers to go to for creative refreshment is Alexander McQueen. At first glance, his work can be startling. But I have his book Savage Beauty on my shelf and the more I look, the more I want to look, and eventually I start to see. Lee Alexander McQueen left an indelible mark on the world of art and fashion.

"Voss" ensemble by Alexander McQueen, spring/summer 2001

"Widow of Calludon" by Alexander McQueen, Highland Rape collection, autumn/winter 2006-7
Although exquisite, to the average observer, a lot of his designs are rather absurd. Exposed breasts, straight-jacket restrained arms, bird-skulls-as-shoulder-adornments. I see it. And imagining your average mall-shopper trying one on of Alexander McQueen's skirts in the dressing room, it is absurd. But fashion was his artistic medium where he put his exquisite tailoring skills to work while exploring and bringing to light his ideas related to gender, sexuality, nature and even history, and he expressed these themes in such a unusual and, well, savagely beautiful way. 

When I say that Alexander McQueen inspires me, I'm not saying that I want to come out with a tartan envelope liner to remember his Highland Rape collection (which is about Scotland, and not about women, by the way). I mean that seeing his work reminds me that I do my best work when I express something that matters to me. When I'm exploring an idea that is bigger than just using Pantone's Color of the Year and the latest pattern trend, because those aren't meaningful, and they're not personal.  

But if I express my experience of going to back to where my husband was born in Johannesburg, and I pick a color to match the red dirt of Africa and use letterpress printing to give it depth and texture and choose a tribal pattern for the liner, then there's a chance someone will connect with it. They may not even know why they like it, or maybe they think they just like the colors and patterns. But if I operate in this manner, my designs will have soul and come from a real place and I hope people will sense that.

"When we put the antlers on the model and then draped over it the lace embroidery that we had made, we had to poke them through a £2,000 piece of work. But then it worked because it looks like she's rammed the piece of lace with her antlers. There's always spontaneity."  –Lee Alexander McQueen
"Widows of Culloden" Alexander McQueen, Autumn/Winter 2006-7
Lee Alexander McQueen images and quotations are from the book Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with contributions by Susannah Frankel and Tim Blanks. Photography by Sølve Sundsbø.