Following the death in May 2007 of Isabella Blow, McQueen joined forces with long-time collaborator Philip Treacy to deliver a collection in tribute to the stylist who had been instrumental in the early stages of both designers’ careers.
At the end of a reflective catwalk appeared a huge pair of flapping, outstretched wings, their shape traced by neon tubes of light. The invitation, an illustration by Richard Gray, showed a winged Blow ascending to heaven in a chariot, wearing a dusty pink, feathered trapezoidal gown and a Philip Treacy headdress comprising a halo of black spears.
According to the collection notes, Spring/Summer 2008 was inspired by ‘extreme glamour’. The collection was delicate in places, theatrical in others. Moreover, an engagement with nature and its transformative qualities was conveyed in designs that echoed Blow’s passion for reinventing herself through her wardrobe.
The show opened with tailored designs that invoked McQueen’s characteristic Savile Row sensibility. Strong hip and shoulder lines created structured silhouettes rendered in traditional menswear fabrics including plaid mohair and Prince of Wales check. McQueen distilled his inveterate fascination with Japan and the East; this time into silk designs with kimono sleeves and obi belts that reflected the Japanese-themed couture collection he designed for Givenchy (Autumn/Winter 1997), and shoes that drew inspiration from chopines and getas. Japanese symbolism also was evident in a striking Philip Treacy headdress comprising a flutter of red butterflies made from hand painted turkey feathers; the butterfly was revered in Japan as the personification of the soul.
As with many of McQueen’s collections, there was a strong avian presence. Whereas a padded leather jacket with wings formed from reworked trainer moulds referenced McQueen’s collaboration with Puma, feathers applied to gowns charted a shift towards opulence. Some models appeared as birdwoman hybrids with feathers applied to the face. While the final looks included vibrant printed chiffon gowns that summoned up the birds of paradise creations in Irere, a pair of unfurled wings were placed – inverted – over the bodice of a parachute dress made from soft blue silk, creating a statement unique to the show.
In this collection McQueen presented two alternative visions of femininity. Whereas ethereal chiffon gowns in soft colour palettes hinted at goddesses and conveyed the image of a fragile, delicate woman, black and neon designs incorporated fencing masks and shoulder pads, projecting fierceness and strength. The two aesthetics were tempered by creations that incorporated metallic paillettes in dusty tones and suggested soft armour, and in a geometric pink python-skin dress attached to a silver body grid by Shaun Leane – another close friend of Blow – which formed a protective cage around the face.