‘Birds in flight fascinate me... I’m inspired by a feather but also its colour, its graphics, its weightlessness and its engineering. It’s so elaborate. In fact I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women.’ Alexander McQueen
This headdress unites two of McQueen’s closest collaborators, Philip Treacy and Shaun Leane. The silver nest, which is filled with seven duck eggs cast from silver and inset with Swarovski gemstones, alludes to new life and was part of the first look of the collection. Its companion piece, shown toward the end of the collection, is the ‘Bird Skull’ headdress, which references death with its black feather plume and moulded eagle skull cast in silver and pavé set with smoky quartz Swarovski gemstones and black spinels from Swarovski gemstones. Together the headdresses symbolise the cycle of life.
The headdress was made in three stages. First, Leane crafted the nest from oxidized silver which he wove by hand. He then made the eggs by casting them in silver and insetting them with Swarovski gemstones. The main surface of the eggs is blue topaz, which has been densely inset. A peppering of smoky quartz gemstones creates a speckled effect reminiscent of duck eggs. Finally, the nest and eggs were passed to Philip Treacy who added a pair of mallard’s wings and brought the different elements together into a finished headdress. The composition is significant, for the nest appears tipped forward and suggests the possibility that the eggs might fall out. Thus the headdress forms one of McQueen’s many references to nature’s fragile beauty.
McQueen used bird feathers in many of his collections, including Highland Rape, (Autumn/Winter 1995), which, as with The Widows of Culloden, engaged with his Scottish heritage. In both collections, feathers referenced the Scottish game-keeping tradition. For Highland Rape McQueen used tail feathers from pheasant and grouse that were given to him by his friend and collaborator Simon Ungless, whose father was a game-keeper. For this headdress, Treacy selected the mallard both for the beauty of its eggs and for the rich blue that runs through its wings. The decision to include two complete wings suggests the potential for the model to take flight.
The Widows of Culloden was a much less aggressive rendering of Scotland’s past than Highland Rape, and demonstrates a remarkable level of refinement. The craftsmanship underlying every aspect of the making process of this headdress embodies McQueen’s vision for a collection in which he conceived of every piece as an heirloom.