McQueen’s final runway presentation was widely acclaimed as his finest collection. Fittingly, he returned to what inspired him most: nature. McQueen merged Darwin’s nineteenth-century theories of evolution with twenty-first-century concerns over global warming. Plato’s Atlantis – a reference to the legendary island described by the Greek philosopher, which sank into the sea – prophesied a future world in which ice caps would melt, seas would rise, and humanity would need to evolve in order to survive. It was pure fantasy.
This time McQueen delivered his models as an androgynous army of other-worldly beings –human-animal-alien hybrids. Two cameras on giant robotic arms moved along the catwalk, scrutinizing these specimens and projecting their images onto a white-tiled backdrop that resembled a clinical laboratory. Model Raquel Zimmermann appeared on an LED screen, writhing in sand and covered by vibrantly coloured snakes.
As evolution advanced and each model charted the progression from life on land to life under the sea, their features changed. Hair was either plaited tight to the head in mounds or sculpted into fin-like peaks, while the contours of models’ faces were distorted with prosthetic enhancements, both features connoting biological adaptation. Colours and textures shifted with the transition from species to species. Camouflage prints of roses, and jacquards depicting moths in green and brown tones, referenced life above the sea; amphibious snake prints suggested a transition to water; and designs in blues and purples incorporated images of ocean creatures, such as stingrays and jellyfish. Here McQueen perfected the use of digital printing techniques with each design engineered specifically for individual garments.
McQueen developed a host of new shapes, tailored to mimic marine features: pronounced hips and shoulders gave way to amorphous forms; a fluted miniskirt resembled the folds of a jellyfish; puffed sleeves were folded and pleated to connote gills.
Cinematic references to sci-fi and fantasy films including Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) and John McTiernan’s Predator (1987) found expression not only in aspects such as the show invitation and colour palette but also shoe designs. The models stalked the catwalk in 25 cm heels, the 3D printed ‘Alien’ design inspired by the artwork of H.R. Giger (a member of the special effects team for Alien). The ‘Armadillo’ boot created a form entirely without apparent reference to the natural anatomy of the foot, the scaly surface of designs rendered in python skin invoking the armoured shell of the animal after which the shoe was named.
As the show came to a close Zimmermann re-appeared on screen, slowly disappearing beneath the waves, and the cameras now focused on the audience. McQueen broke new ground not only with his superlative collection but also through its multi-media presentation. In collaboration with photographer and web publisher Nick Knight, the show was the first to be streamed live over the Internet, enabling an interactive dialogue between fashion and technology.