Joan was the second of McQueen’s catwalk shows to be presented at the Gatliff Road warehouse. Guido Paulo styled the models’ hair for the first time, the white blonde hair and severe fringe of some echoing that of the school children in Wolf Rilla’s sci-fi horror film The Village of the Damned (1960). Mira Chai Hyde styled the male models’ hair and Val Garland was the make-up artist. The show was dedicated to McQueen’s friend and muse, Annabelle Neilson.
The stark, industrial feel of the venue provided a foil to catwalk sets that were growing in complexity and intensity. Whereas McQueen toyed with water in his previous show, this time he invoked fire. McQueen had been struck by a Richard Avedon photograph that appeared in an editorial in the The New Yorker in November 1995 called ‘In Memory of the Late Mr and Mrs Comfort’. It inspired his most dramatic finale to date, in which a satanic ring of flames encircled a lone masked model in a red ensemble, which echoed flayed flesh; bugle bead skirt suggestive of dripping blood.
Themes of martyrdom and persecution prevailed in a collection saturated with blood and violence. Glossy red snake skins and leathers hinted at bloodshed; tartans referenced the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots; haunting prints of the murdered Romanov children flickered over sequins on coats and dresses. Medieval references were present in chainmail garments and tailoring with features incorporated from ecclesiastical dresses and double-fronted clerical coats with trompe l’oeil effect capes. The martyrdom of Joan of Arc was manifested in an articulated armoured creation by Sarah Harmanee that suggested portraits of the French heroine in her battle dress; it also recalled a Thierry Mugler armoured suit from 1995 titled ‘Robot Couture’.
The collection was presented by models that appeared aggressive and untouchable in dark, powerful silhouettes. Red contact lenses lent an air of menace, as did the hooded tops, which bore a resemblance to bondage masks. The presence of such strong, fearless, sexualized women served as a counterpoint to the murder of innocents.