McQueen’s references to nature were a career constant and his botanical and zoological interests were wide ranging. Water, with its danger, force and abundant life, often served as a touchstone for McQueen.
Models in his La Poupée collection (Spring/Summer 1997) splashed through a watery catwalk. In his last fully realised collection, Plato’s Atlantis (Spring/Summer 2010), humans had adapted to survive in a futuristic underwater world by reverting to an amphibian state.
A scuba diver who installed tanks of exotic fish in his home and studio, McQueen was fascinated by the marine life teeming within the ocean’s depths. These preoccupations often translated into clothing made from unconventional materials. McQueen’s Voss collection of Spring/Summer 2001 featured garments crafted out of mussel, razor clam and oyster shells sourced from a beach in Norfolk and Billingsgate Fish Market. In McQueen’s hands these relics of the sea cocoon the body in shoal-like forms. Model Erin O’Connor recalled cutting herself while wearing the razor clam dress on the catwalk for Voss. At the same time, she also referenced the performative and transformative power of McQueen’s clothing. In an interview with fashion historian Caroline Evans, O’Connor said, ‘The unanimous explanation among all the models who worked with him was that he actually gave you freedom of expression’.