McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2009 collection was presented on a catwalk filled with antique taxidermy – including an elephant, giraffe, tiger, zebra and polar bear – in an art space that was formerly a Paris morgue. It was a fitting venue for a collection that was to interrogate the impact of humanity on the environment. Mounted on a plinth at the back of the sloping concrete catwalk stood a metal globe onto which images of a glowing sun, silver moon and the earth rotating on its axis were projected. The show invitation featured a lenticular by Gary James McQueen, the designer’s nephew, in which the image of McQueen’s face morphed into a human skull, hinting at the vulnerability of life.
The primary inspirations behind the collection coalesced around Charles Darwin, the Industrial Revolution and, in particular, the impact of the destructive nature of man. McQueen divided the collection into two sequences to convey his message. The first featured organic shapes, soft colours and natural fibres digitally printed with images of the earth’s natural materials – wood grains and meadow flowers – that were engineered for each garment. These designs placed the natural and the technological in provocative juxtaposition. While dresses cut from a single piece of fabric connoted historical simplicity, silk flowers trapped in tulle referenced Victorian specimen jars. Although decorative touches were predominantly soft – whitework embroidery and beetle-wing sequins – metallic buttercups on mini dresses dripped with acid-yellow enamels and provided a point of contrast.
The second sequence continued to draw inspiration from natural forms – flowers, crystals and minerals – but here they were engineered with a hard edge and enhanced to convey the synthetic qualities associated with modernity and the human touch. Prints were angular and invoked crushed crystal, metallic structures such as the Eiffel Tower and a granite mountain that was borrowed from a Dan Holdsworth triptych. In one design a diamond print morphed into a human skeleton. Dresses shaped like bell-jars and bodysuits encrusted with jet, gold and silver Swarovski crystals conveyed harsh lines in material form. Sharper silhouettes were complemented by a colour palette that incorporated
black and white as well as vivid pinks and sapphires, and synthetic materials that included Lycra and bonded leather.
Whilst McQueen stated in the collection notes that he was ‘not aiming to preach’, his belief that ‘we’re in danger of killing the planet through greed’ was fundamental.