The SS10 campaign for Alexander McQueen Eyes is undoubtedly an eye-opener, not only because of the stunning campaign images themselves, but also because of some of the reactions to them.
The campaign is particularly beautiful because, as a good campaign should do, it acts as a kind of signature for the brand. The complex play of ideas and tension between ‘street’ irreverence and luxury high fashion that epitomised the McQueen style is totally present and distilled into two stark images.
The transparent skulls actually have little to do with the undead Gothic tendency that has bubbled away in the cauldron of hip popular and high culture for almost a decade now. Like Damien Hirst’s bling skulls or Warhol’s fabulous series, these skulls take note of the place of the skull in underground and popular culture, but bring it back to the painting tradition of the vanitas.
Furthermore, they go in many directions, the roses immediately evoking Mexican traditions of the Day of the Dead, the reptilian motif with the glassy, shiny surface of the skull offering us something that is a little reminiscent of the work of latter day Swiss surrealist H R Giger. Everything from a renewed Vesalius anatomical drawing to weird science and alien experimentation is bundled cleverly together behind the cool shades.
All of these complex plays, contracted into a precise pattern or form is exactly what McQueen has often been about, just that the recent collection pieces using snakeskin and prints inspired by reptilian patterns highlight.
One of the wonderful things about the McQueen approach has always been the way in which it managed to marry traditional handmade craft with the strange new dreams enabled by technology. In everything from the impossible shape of shoes to the layered repeating of patterns, computers and technology have played their role. For all of the writing about McQueen’s grand gestures reaffirming the impractical and erudite possibilities of couture and fashion for fashion sake, perhaps one of the most neglected discussions is just how open the brand has always been to the kinds of thinking that we find in science-fiction imagery. McQueen’s appropriation and reworking of such ideas made it unusual since the populism or geeky qualities of sci-fi culture rarely find their way into the refined world of high fashion except, perhaps, as an occasional seasonal whim. Together with Gaultier, Westwood or Mugler, McQueen has always been one of those houses that managed to combine the traditions and discipline of couture with unexpected visions drawn from popular culture.
So, it’s entirely wonderful and timely that this campaign reminds us of these special qualities.
Despite the social media chatter choosing to see the iconography as some dark prophetic prediction – I guess people need to find some way to understand tragedy- the two beautiful campaign images are entirely keeping with a unique vision that understands the importance of history and the promise of the future.