March 09, 2009 Paris
It was certainly meant as a last-stand fin de siècle blast against the predicament in which fashion, and possibly consumerism as a whole, finds itself. The set was a scrap heap of debris from the stages of McQueen's own past shows, surrounded by a shattered glass runway. The clothes were, for the most part, high-drama satires of twentieth-century landmark fashion: parodies of Christian Dior houndstooth New Look and Chanel tweed suits, moving through harsh orange and black harlequinade looks to revisited showstoppers from McQueen's own archive.
The romantic side of McQueen's character, which rises intermittently in deliriously beautiful shows like his recent tribute to the Victorian empire, was emphatically in abeyance. This is a designer who has drawn so much poetry out of the past, yet this time his backward look appeared to be in something like anger, defiance, or possibly gallows humor. Some of the pieces, like a couple of swag-sided coats, seemed to be made of trash bags, accessorized with aluminum cans wrapped in plastic as headgear.
Nevertheless, however frustrated McQueen may be by the state of commercial fashion, he was not really in absurdist rip-it-up mode. Whatever else is gnawing him, this is a man who will never compromise on construction and craftsmanship. This season, he'd noticeably forgone his typical carapace corsetry, making for slightly easier shapes, like boxy jackets, airy gazar dresses, and a fringed dogtooth sheath. For McQueen's faithful, there were also fiercely tailored coats, nipped in the waist and picking up on biker quilted leather and big-shouldered silhouettes. Evening-wise—sans the drag-queen makeup—there was a slim, black paillette homage-to-YSL wrapover dress with a red-lined hood that would stand up as elegant in any company.
Ultimately, for all the feathered and sculpted showpieces that must have taken hundreds of seamstress-hours to perfect, this was a McQueen collection that didn't push fashion anywhere new. Yet that seemed to be exactly one of the things he was pointing to: the state of a collapsed economy that doesn't know how to move forward.