Alexander McQueen comes home: the fashion brand’s best London shows

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 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

The late Lee Alexander McQueen was the very best of British fashion design.

A born and bred Londoner from Lewisham, he rose up through fashion’s ranks training at Savile Row’s Anderson & Sheppard and Gieves & Hawkes. It left him with the tailoring skill with which he earned fame, and remains a house signature 11 years after his death.

McQueen stormed onto the runway scene in 1992 with his Central Saint Martins graduate collection, the famously subversive Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims. After, he would go from strength to strength, winding up the press who branded him a taxi driver’s son done good, as he took pleasure luring them out to dark corners of his city.

Alexander McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker attend the Met Gala in 2006 wearing Alexander McQueen (Getty Images)
Alexander McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker attend the Met Gala in 2006 wearing Alexander McQueen (Getty Images)

But McQueen was on a one way trajectory to Paris. In 1996 came the controversial announcement he would be the next creative director of the couture house Givenchy, and in 2001 he moved his own label to show in the French capital.

The brand has predominantly stayed there since. After McQueen died in 2010, Sarah Burton, former intern and later Head of Womenswear at the house, took over and kept his name alive.

Kate Middleton wears a Sarah Burton Alexander McQueen dress for the Royal Wedding, 2011 (Getty Images)
Kate Middleton wears a Sarah Burton Alexander McQueen dress for the Royal Wedding, 2011 (Getty Images)

Royal history was made in 2011 when Burton designed Kate Middleton’s lace wedding dress, the same year the designer was named the British Fashion Council’s Designer of the Year. Her last collection in London came two weeks before she gave birth, for Autumn/Winter 2016. Five years on, amongst the turmoil’s of Covid-19 and Brexit, the brand returned, hosting a showing on thin air - on the tenth floor of Wapping’s Tobacco Dock. In the huge bubble set, models circled in neon pink tailoring and crystal embellished cropped blazers, before Naomi Campbell closed the show in a tulle skirt and tights decked with bling.

In celebration, these are the best London locations which have held host to McQueen shows in the past:

Autumn/Winter 94: Café de Paris, West End

Period tailoring took centre stage at ‘Banshee’, alongside the bumster which was McQueen’s new cut of trouser; they had waistbands low enough to reveal the point at which two cheeks met. It was held at Café De Paris, the West End night club that opened in 1924 and closed December 2020 due to pandemic. Famously, the designer sent a pregnant woman with shaved hair down the runway, his logo spray painted on her head.

Spring/Summer 95 - Bagley’s nightclub, Kings Cross

Named ‘The Birds’ after Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film, this show is remembered for swallow prints and models dressed as roadkill, in cling film gowns covered in tyre marks. It was held at the then seedy Bagley’s nightclub in Kings Cross, now unrecognisable as furniture designer Tom Dixon’s Coal Drops Yard flagship.

Autumn/Winter 95 - Natural History Museum, Kensington

Held outside the Natural History Museum, the famously contentious ‘Highland Rape’ show put McQueen’s name on everybody’s lips. Models looked dazed as they stumbled down the runway wearing menacing contact lenses, torn lace gowns and tartan jackets that just covered breasts; the designer’s controversial way of discussing England’s bloody Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century.

Autumn/Winter 96 - Christ Church, Spitalfields

Baroque English architect Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, built between 1714 and 1729, was the setting for ‘Dante’, a show that saw war photographs by Don McCullin printed onto tops, men dressed in vests dressed like American gangsters, and antler headpieces by Philip Treacy.

Autumn/Winter 97 - Borough Fruit Market, Southbank

It was to the dingy Borough Fruit Market for the fierce ‘It’s a Jungle Out There’ collection, in a scene lit red which was “part rave, part riot”. Models were striking with eyes painted like gazelles, while more antlers grew out of a jacket worn by Debra Shaw.

Spring/summer 99 - Gatliff Road Warehouse, Victoria

This collection, ‘No. 13’, made fashion history thanks to its spectacular finale; former dancer Shalom Harlow stood in the round and the audience watched aghast as the floor beneath her span and robotic arms spray painted the plain white dress black and yellow. It was held in an abandoned bus depot in Victoria, the site for a number of his shows before he migrated his genius across the channel.

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