McQueen movie poster

Documentarians Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui strive mightily to dress an essentially tragic life in celebratory garments. They have some reason, starting with the astonishing professional rise of their subject: fashion designer Alexander McQueen, a “sweet boy from the East End” who breaks into the business in the most mundane way imaginable: his mum sees a report on the telly that Saville Row tailors are having trouble keeping apprentices, and sends her chubby son to have a go at it. McQueen proves a master craftsman, but he’s also got the charm and moxie required to get attention, attract supporters, and ultimately, land plum positions in such well-established houses as Givenchy. But of course, success is no stay against confusion and despair, so we wind up with a parade of intimates speaking very gently of McQueen’s self-loathing, drug abuse, personal betrayals, and failed relationships. The man himself says that if anyone wants to know him, they just have to look at the clothes he made — at one point, he speaks of a need to “pull these horrors out of my soul” and put them on a runway. The directors have the good sense to pay attention to this, organizing their story around key shows from the designer’s career (and introducing each chapter with a fascinating and inventive skull motif), but they would have done well to shear away the obscuring frills of polite encomiums and pay more attention to the structural details of both the man and what he made. 2018.

Matthew Lickona


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