Romantic Gothic

The surface treatment in Romantic Gothic is primarily aged mirrors, a material that evoke the idea of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher; McQueen, often called himself the Edgar Allan Poe of fashion. One of the most prevalent and on-going themes in McQueen’s work was the Gothic, particuarly the darker side of the 19th century, Victorianism. Many of the pieces are inspired by the cult of death and any sorts of people with characters associated with the literary concept of the Gothic, like vampires, highwaymen, anti-heroes or byronic heroes.

We have a casket featuring McQueen’s posthumous collection, unofficially called Angels and Demons, and it shows McQueen’s engagement with art history as well as his love of Danish painters, that was his favorite moment in art history.

                                          - Andrew Bolton

“The inspiration behind the hair came from Victorian times when prostitutes would sell theirs for kits of hair locks, which were bought by people to give to their lovers. I used it as my signature label with locks of hair in Perspex. In the early collections, it was my own hair.”

Alexander McQueen for Time Out (London), September 24–October 1, 1997 extracted from ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ (the book).


Anna Sui. Such a fan!


Andrew Bolton: McQueen designed the 2005 collection It’s Only a Game around the idea of a chess match between America and Japan. Each ensemble corresponded to a particular chess piece.

The queen wears a short, thigh-high dress, which is wide at the hips, a silhouette based on the eighteenth century. A kimono collar, obi sash, and an undershirt beautifully embroidered to look like tattooing are all drawn from Japanese culture. Next to her, the king appears as an American football player, with shoulder pads and a helmet covered in Japanese tattooing.

From the Savage Beauty, Alexander McQueen show at the MET


This collection is called It’s Only a Game and was inspired by Peter Weir’s film Picnic at Hanging Rock. The collection itself was staged as a chess game, and the inspiration for the chess game came from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Girls walked onto the runway as particular pieces of the chess game. The lead characters of the chess games, in terms of the clothing, were very apparent. And one of the most distinctive pieces was the knight. She was wearing a leather cuirass with a skirt that was made out of horsehair. Her head was covered with a harness and a ponytail that looked like a horse’s tail. And the two queens were actually wearing garments that were inspired by the eighteenth-century panniers, with a wide-hipped silhouette. And the two kings were actually in American footballer outfits with wide shoulder pads and American football helmets.

McQueen was deeply inspired by film throughout his career—Hitchcock, most famously, in collections like Birds—but he was also inspired by films which seemed less artistically driven, like The Green Mile. The finale of the actual collection was a checkmate between the two rival teams, meant to represent Japan on one side and America on the other.

Andrew Bolton


Exclusive! John Galliano Previews the Met’s New Exhibition.

 “It makes you want to dress up, doesn’t it?” laughs John Galliano, as he wanders saucer-eyed through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Asian galleries, and the Anna Wintour Costume Center where the exhibition “China: Through the Looking Glass” will be unveiled at the glittering gala this coming Monday evening. The exhibition’s curator, Andrew Bolton, is leading the way, and the scene, it has to be said, is fairly chaotic. With less than a week to go, there is a lot of installation magic that still needs to happen, but giant movie screens are already flickering with evocative images and golden mannequins, some wrapped in protective Tyvek shrouds, are awaiting placement in the evocative sets. The exhibition’s artistic director, the brilliant filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, and its production designer Nathan Crowley, (who created the scenic magic for such movies as Interstellar and The Dark Knight), seem a little distracted. “We are looking for … lightbulbs,” Wong deadpans, and off they dash on their hunt.

In the conservation laboratory Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s elegant Deco qipaos are hanging up ready to be dressed, and John gasps as a child-sized yellow robe, painstakingly embroidered with the twelve auspicious symbols reserved for imperial use—it was made for Puyi, the last emperor immortalized by Bertolucci in his magisterial 1987 movie, clips of which are projected (along with other iconic China-themed films) on state-of-the-art screens throughout the exhibition. John leans in to study the embroidery. “To be that close,” he whispers, “it’s magic. The fil d’or is so beautiful.”

In a room off the conservation lab, the golden mannequins that are already dressed are lined up like the soldiers in Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army. Many of them are sporting the incredible headdresses that John’s long-term collaborator, the brilliant milliner Stephen Jones, is busy finessing on site; some of them were fabricated by the company that constructs Anish Kapoor’s impeccable high-finish sculptures. A 1920s picture gown by Jeanne Lanvin, with its full black taffeta skirts embroidered with jade colored roundels copied from Chinese bronze mirrors, jostles tunic coats by Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel imitating Coromandel screens. There is an early 1950s ensemble made by Balenciaga for Mrs. Firestone from a painted silk that resembles the de Gournay wallpaper we have just seen in one of the galleries upstairs. Pagoda-sleeved satin jackets from Tom Fords 2004 swan-song collection for Yves Saint Laurent stand shoulder to shoulder with pieces by Poiret, the dragon lady robe that Travis Banton designed for Anna May Wong in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues, and an original Mao suit. And Christian Dior’s collections manager Soizic Pfaff is earnestly dressing an eggplant-colored ensemble that John himself designed for the house’s spring 2003 couture. It is one of many Dior pieces in the show, and Soizic can’t be distracted. “This is strange,” says John, pensively admiring his dress. “It’s like seeing a child you haven’t seen for a long time.”

In the gallery next door he is looking at another ensemble from this same collection, a yellow silk gown breathtakingly embroidered in aubergine, that elides Chinese embroidery, color, and detailing with the elaborate silhouettes of the fashionable early-sixteenth-century women depicted in Lucas Cranach’s etchings and paintings. “We put them through their paces, didn’t we?” John laughs, scrutinizing the extraordinary work. “I remember Monsieur Lesage telling me that some of the stitches you are not allowed to do anymore,” he adds, “because they can turn you blind. Those tiny, tiny little knots!”

In the annex next door, John is transfixed by the clips of the Chinese silver screen movie goddess Ruan Lingyu in her 1934 vehicle The Goddess, in which she plays a prostitute dressed in a series of high-style qipaos. In one shot the director Wu Yonggang’s lens zooms in on the side split of her skirt hem, provocatively outlined in filmy lace. “Look at that dentelle!” he gasps. John peeps under a Tyvek shroud to admire a jacket that Coco Chanel made in about 1930 from an authentic dragon robe. An untouched original is displayed nearby.

“It’s magical,” he says. “To be in a room with all these things is … awesome.”

 - text Hamish Bowles  for VOGUE ,Apr 29,2015


Poiret Book from the Met The Metropolitan Museum of Art published a lavish picture book on Paul Poiret for an exhibition organized by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton. As you can see from the images, Poiret offered a a looser silhouette in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and even claimed to have been the first designer to do away with the corset. At the same time, he also had an interest in orientalist type designs that made his work more exotic than modern. Some have pointed to Coco Chanel as the real vanguard of the modern. But you can decide for yourself as the volume offers many photographs of his garments, including close ups of the lavish decoration, and Illustrations from the period. It is now being sold for the bargain price of $10.

“Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010) was one of the most influential, imaginative, and provocative designers of his generation. His clothing both challenged and expanded the conventional parameters of fashion to express ideas about culture, politics, and identity. Rare among designers, McQueen saw beyond clothing’s physical constraints to its ideological and conceptual possibilities, addressing questions related to race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, and the environment. Featuring the most iconic and radical designs of his prolific career, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty examines the designer’s evolution from the start of his fledgling label, to his years as creative director at Givenchy in Paris, and finally to the collections of his own world-renowned London house. It reveals how McQueen adapted and combined the fundamentals of Savile Row tailoring, the specialized techniques of haute couture—such as lacework, embroidery, and featherwork—and technological innovation to achieve his distinctive aesthetic. It also focuses on the highly sophisticated narrative structures found in McQueen’s collections and in his extravagant runway presentations, which suggested the most avant-garde installation and performance art. Published on the occasion of an exhibition organized by the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, this book includes a preface by curator Andrew Bolton; an introduction by Susannah Frankel; an interview with Sarah Burton, creative director of the house of Alexander McQueen, conducted by Tim Blanks; and illuminating commentary from the designer himself. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty celebrates the astounding creativity and originality of a designer who relentlessly questioned and confronted the requisites of fashion.”

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton Video: Andrew Bolton on Alexander McQueen  Book: Yale University Press

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)
VOSS, spring/summer 2001
Red and black ostrich feathers and glass medical slides painted red

Andrew Bolton: This particular dress came from a collection called VOSS, which was all about beauty. And I think one of McQueen’s greatest legacies was how he would challenge normative conventions of beauty and challenge your expectations of beauty—what we mean by beauty. This particular one is made out of ostrich feathers dyed red. And the glass slides are actually microscope slides that have been painted red to give the idea of blood underneath. And there’s a wonderful quote in association with this dress, where he talks about how there’s blood beneath every layer of skin. And it’s an incredible, again, very powerful, powerful piece.

In McQueen’s Words

“There’s blood beneath every layer of skin.”

The Observer Magazine, October 7, 2001


The Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit is now over. It truly was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I cried inside! (Because I want to get married in THIS DRESS) But also because Mr. McQueen was a brilliant artist, not just a fashion designer, but a true creator with a remarkable and unique vision of the world and society.

The clothes were beautifully crafted and the thought behind them was incredible; evoking great emotion. I also thought the way the pieces were placed, and the sounds and videos involved with the exhibit, were just perfect. In case you missed it, watch this video narrated by Andrew Bolton, Curator, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“McQueen, as well as being a fashion designer, art-directed many photoshoots, he art-directed many films, and this film formed the backdrop to the collection Irere that told the story of a shipwreck at sea and a subsequent landfall in the Amazon. And it was peopled with characters like pirates, conquistadors, and Amazonian Indians. The film itself was shot by John Maybury and depicts a moment when a woman falls overboard in a dress that’s referred to as the “shipwreck dress.” As she’s floating down in the ocean, the strands of chiffon get tangled around her legs and arms like seaweed.”

-Andrew Bolton