Alexander McQueen's collections veer between extremes of creative profligacy and gimlet-eyed focus. His menswear for spring 2006 was an instance of the latter. The show was called "Harlem," a name thatin McQueen's mind, at leastdoesn't only refer to the uptown NYC neighborhood. It's also an anagram of Mahler, whose music was used in Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice, the 1971 film adaptation of Thomas Mann's story of a turn-of-the-century composer obsessed with a beautiful young man. If that sounds like more backstory than one collection can handle, the designer somehow pulled it off, reconciling Visconti's fin-de-sièscle gorgeousness with the sartorial precision of Harlem's famously stylish dandies.
McQueen went to town on the tailoring. The lapel of a Prince of Wales jacket was duded up with checked trim; the dogtooth pattern of a pair of trousers was picked out on the lapel of the accompanying jacket. And the broderie anglaise that decorated another jacket trailed down the matching trouser leg. These details were impressive in their delicacy. In fact, delicacy was the leitmotif of the collection, in a cardigan embroidered with flowers, in a top that wrapped the body, in a print of interlocking moth wings, and particularly in the pale pink-and-blue color scheme.
The preciousness of the clothes suggested an old-school couturier devoted to making his clients feel cherished. It's not an especially male idea, which loaned a subtle audacity to the collection. But then we've come to expect nothing less from this designer. And in that light, mention must be made of the stunning Escher-like origami effect on a blouson and jacketMcQueen may be an arch-provocateur, but he's also a master technician.