At London Fashion Week in February 1998, McQueen’s was the last catwalk presentation on the schedule. Titled ‘Joan’ after the fifteenth-century French martyr Joan of Arc (1412-31) who was burned at the stake, the collection drew on themes of martyrdom and persecution.
This sequinned cotton top was one of 91 looks and bears reference to the persecution of the Russian imperial dynasty. The clear sequins are overlaid with a haunting black and white photographic print of three of the Russian Imperial Romanov children who were murdered with their parents Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
McQueen’s former assistant designer Sebastian Pons recalls, ‘The top was created from the pattern of a long dress. Lee was a master of slashing things in fittings and making variations out of the same pattern’. The photograph and a technical design drawing were sent to the Italian manufacturer Gibo and then reworked by McQueen on a model in the London studio. The focal point of the print is on one of the children’s faces, possibly the oldest sister Olga, which is placed on the décolletage. The central rectangular piece has been repositioned to distort the two other sister’s faces, possibly Tatiana and Maria, mimicking the style of the Russian avant-garde and making their portrait look almost three-dimensional. The portrait is also printed on the lower back of the top but cut so that Olga’s face is missing or appears to have disappeared behind the zip and sequins. The contrast between the sister’s pale skin and their dresses gives the print a starkness. The use of shimmering sequins offers a contrast between innocent childhood, privilege and their fatal destiny.
McQueen used photographic prints to provoke or make political statements. He first experimented with photographic print techniques on the catwalk in Dante (Autumn/Winter 1996). Tops and dresses featured black and white photographs of a nineteenth-century colony for the blind and photographer Don McCullin’s striking images of the Vietnam War.