IN MEMORY OF ELIZABETH HOW, SALEM 1692
McQueen revisited dark drama in the presentation of his Autumn/Winter 2007 collection, the last show styled by Katy England. A 45 ft inverted black pyramid suspended over a blood red pentagram, traced in black sand, set the stage for a collection that combined the religious persecution meted out by seventeenth-century Puritans with ancient Egyptian paganism. A giant screen showing a film directed by McQueen of locusts, naked bodies suspended in limbo, an owl’s face, and skulls engulfed in flames provided a dramatic backdrop to a show that starkly contrasted with the softer, romantic qualities of his two preceding catwalk presentations.
Once again, McQueen drew on his family history. He had learned from his mother, an amateur genealogist, that a distant relative – Elizabeth How – had been hanged during the notorious Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, falsely accused of practising witchcraft. Warrior-like moulded bustiers in brown leather suggested a defiance against persecution, while an advancement of the moulded bodice – this time extending downwards over the hips into a flat skirt panel and upwards from the neck to conceal the mouth, nose and brow – hinted at the suppression of religious freedoms.
Symbols of pagan worship were referenced by headpieces in the form of a crescent moon and star, encrusted with Swarovski crystals. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film Cleopatra (1962), which starred Elizabeth Taylor as the ill- fated Egyptian queen, was another discernible influence. The film provided the inspiration for the make-up – dramatic cobalt blue eyes framed with heavy eyeliner – which brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to an otherwise dark collection.
The palette for a collection centred on the dark arts and folk culture of the puritanical New British World was understandably sombre. There was also a Gothic undertone, identifiable in a green and black taffeta evening gown with a cross of embroidered crystals on the bodice. Blacks, dark browns and maroons were, however, offset by origami-style cocktail dresses in iridescent blues and golds that recalled the precious lapis lazuli and gold of Egyptian sarcophagi. A bold contrast was provided by a bodysuit of gold paillettes, inset with a moulded golden bodice with drooping breasts. A further touch of glamour was injected by a black gown dripping with silver beading that recalled flowing hair, evoking Jean Cocteau’s linear designs for Elsa Schiaparelli.
McQueen also intrigued with cocoon-like designs that deviated from the Victorian silhouette to create new womanly shapes, this time suggesting the contours of the ovum. Praised for his characteristic juxtaposition of hard and soft in designs that connoted fertility and protection, the collection was criticized by some for its macabre theatrics.