Memento Mori

Memento mori are images and symbols which are intended to both memorialise the deceased and remind one of death. The V&A’s collections contain many examples, from reliquaries designed to hold a saint’s remains, to rings and other jewellery made from human hair.

McQueen said, ‘It is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholy but romantic at the same time. It is the end of a cycle – everything has to end. The cycle of life is positive because it gives room for new things.’ McQueen often contrasted fashion’s glamour with darkness and death. He employed the skull as a decorative device and used the varied detritus of animal parts (skeletons, horns and taxidermy) as embellishment. McQueen used scans of his own brain to illustrate invitations to the catwalk presentation for his Autumn/Winter 2003 collection, Scanners. He also used locks of human hair in the jacket linings of his 1992 MA graduate collection, Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims, in the labels of many of his early designs, and in the jewellery of his Spring/Summer 2007 collection, Sarabande.

Through such references, McQueen connected with the complex history of memento mori, which romanticised death and exalted the deceased while reminding the viewer of their own mortality.