Deconsecrated churches always made memorable venues for Alexander McQueen shows, so the choice of Welsh Chapel to host the label's latest menswear offering already felt like a trip down memory lane, even before the clothes emerged with a tailored, kilted flair that had distinct echoes of Lee McQueen's own men's collections from ages past. Indeed, Sarah Burton was talking about "a nostalgic look back," not just at McQueen's history but also at the history of the chapel and the Soho neighborhood that surrounds it.
Welsh Chapel spent the eighties as the London outpost of New York's legendary, badly behaved Limelight nightclub. This afternoon, it had the spectral, hushed air of a place that has slipped back into shadow, almost forgotten, after absorbing more than a century of human energy, good and bad. Once the ominous throb of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" kicked in, it was clear that this particular reawakening would be about the darkness.
The monochrome starkness of the clothing was a deliberate effort by Burton to "cleanse the palette." She was inspired by the work of John Deakin, who photographed the Soho art scene in the fifties. Why? "Honesty, beauty, melancholy," she said. Deakin's image of a young Lucian Freud was printed on a trenchcoat. It was a simple, striking effect, in keeping with the spirit of a collection that had been shorn of embellishment, other than the dull gleam of gold lamé in the evening looks and the rivulets of zips that ran down coats and kilts. One coat also featured the embroidered scribble of a war poem by Oliver Bernard, another Deakin subject.
The models wore crow feathers in their hair, and with the kilts, the boots, and the military precision of the elongated double-breasted tailoring, it wasn't hard to see them as warriors of the urban wasteland. This is turf that McQueen has well and truly mined before, so perhaps it was the familiarity that made what was once fierce now feel almost like an exhibit in a mythical McQueen museum. Still, a punk three-piece (jacket, kilt, and pants) in pink tartan never loses its allure.