I think it surprises people that I’m genuinely interested in fashion, especially high-fashion, as I’m not particularly fashionable (as I write this, I’m wearing what I call ‘day pyjamas’, made up of clothing that’s all older than my son.) But I’m interested in the process and creativity of designers, especially Alexander McQueen, who I think was the designer who probably influenced my generation more than any other. When I found out that I worked with someone who had modelled for Galliano in the 80s, I grilled her for all the details. As the famous scene in Devil Wears Prada states- we’re all influenced by fashion, whether we acknowledge or reject it.
Anyway. I’m planning on going to the McQueen exhibition at the V&A in July and thought I’d read up on my subject beforehand (so be prepared for more books gracing the blog; I have a ton of reservations scheduled at the library.)
It’s a good book if you’re at all interested in the luxury fashion business or have just lusted after a Tom Ford lipstick; the two designers were working at the start of the present era of conglomerates owning luxury fashion houses and both worked as part of the machine- Galliano at Dior and McQueen at Givenchy and later with his own brand became part of the Gucci group. It’s fascinating to see how both of these men reacted to this- Galliano becoming ever more wild and McQueen becoming stifled. The power plays, bickering and competitiveness between the companies courting designers were just as highly charged as any rivalry between designers- although there’s little of that here, no Bette Davis/Joan Crawford-style ‘divine feud’ going on. In fact, despite the photo on the cover, the two men rarely meet in the book. I found it interesting to learn that the businesses don’t expect to sell much of the runway collection, instead focusing on ‘middle market’ items like bags (which used to sell at twelve times their cost price, but horrendously more now), glasses and makeup. So the perfume you wear funds the catwalk.
Personally, I was most interested in reading about their influences. Both were geniuses in their own style; Galliano’s feminine and somewhat ethereal and McQueen’s bolshy, challenging shapes and as someone with a self-confessed ‘butterfly brain’ but none of the talent to do anything with it, I found it satisfying to read, however briefly, about the process from idea to reality. As a result, I’m going to be looking for sourcebooks and photos of the clothes so I can look at them in detail (another reason I’m off to the V&A. Both designers loved the museum.)
It’s also a fascinating look at their personalities, temperaments and influences. Both McQueen and Galliano could be demanding, selfish and occasionally believe their own hype; neither was particularly pleasant when self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. I would say that I felt there was a definite McQueen bias; the author is a fashion journalist who worked with both designers over the years. Whereas Galliano comes across as diva-ish, demanding and selfish, McQueen is portrayed more as a man caught between his East End upbringing and the facetiousness of fashion, although not without his own moments of selfishness, especially when it came to Isabella Blow. Both careers ended abruptly- McQueen by suicide a few days after his mother’s death and Galliano by the now-infamous anti-Semitic comments made around Paris.
I found the book a really riveting read, although I would have liked more photos of some of the clothes- a late night google of the hat from The Girl Who Lived In A Tree show was a bit frustrating and I felt that, as the author went to such trouble describing it, it should have been included in the colour plates. But that’s a minor grumble. Although true fashionistas probably don’t approve of the book, for mere mortals, it’s a toe in the water of a fascinating story.