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Female Liberation through Alexander McQueen’s Work, Highland Rape and The Girl Who lived in a Tree

Alexander McQueen has grown to be one of the most popular designers this world has seen and his collections are still fascinating to the world today. His bizarre designs can easily intrigue or disgust any person but are the people who are seeing his work really understanding what his works mean? McQueen has not only told stories throughout collections, but has also shared his personal views, and talked about his ancestry. While what McQueen is trying to say may not be apparent at first glance of his designs he does indeed use fashion to communicate with those in love with his work. This idea can be seen in two collections (Highland Rape and The Girl Who Lived In A Tree) and a common theme throughout McQueen’s works (strengthening women). The way McQueen designs is so that clothes are more than just pretty garments to wear, but so he can speak his true beliefs in a way words could not describe.

Highland Rape is a collection in which McQueen not only shares the history of the Scottish people but as well is able to express his feelings towards the harsh subject through his clothes. When the collection was first preformed there were girls covered in blood, semi naked, and staggering. Their clothes were also torn apart and, for the most part, barely covered their bodies. At first people thought that this collection was about actual rape and deemed McQueen as a Homosexual trying to exploit women’s bodies. In response though McQueen would tell the true background to his collection by saying, “[This collection] was a shout against English designers … doing flamboyant Scottish clothes. My father’s family originates from the Isle of Skye, and I’d studied the history of the Scottish upheavals and the Clearances. People were so unintelligent they thought it was about women being raped – yet Highland Rape was about England’s rape of Scotland”. He then went on to describe how he finds Scotland to be a harsh, cold, and bitter place due to England’s involvement. What happened was that England was forcefully taking Scottish lands, and then driving the people out either by murdering them or price increase on their properties. The Scots who fought back would mostly die, leaving thousands of widowed women. McQueen expressed this as England’s rape of Scotland because England basically forced itself upon Scotland and by doing so made the Scottish people miserable for year to come. In figure one there is a green dress with a slash down the middle of the chest and spikes around the collar. The spikes represented being guarded, since the neck is a sensitive area of the body, and how Scotland had to keep their guards up at all times. As well it can be seen that the fabric is starting to deteriorate around the edges of the garment, this is McQueen trying to show how over time England eventually wore down or began to wear down Scotland. In Figure two McQueen is trying to show how stripped naked Scotland was mentally by England after these mini wars. In the same regards to figure one, figure three is very similar, where McQueen is trying to give a ripped and deteriorated look to his work. This was to also convey that Scotland was slowly breaking apart due to England trying to wear Scotland down. Lastly, in figure four, it can be seen that the chest of the outfit is ripped apart and barely held together and then in the next photo the chest is completely exposed as the shirt split. The splitting of the shirt was also done down the runway so the concept of Scotland barely holding it together could be seen more predominantly. These previously explained examples and concepts only help to support that McQueen was working to use fashion as a way to communicate with his fans. He felt like an injustice had been done to Scotland that he was trying to help by sharing its story in the best way he knew how, which was through fashion.

In addition to McQueen sharing his personal life through his designs he also shares his personal views and ideas towards certain subjects through them. An example of this is how McQueen sought to empower women through his clothing. “I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.” McQueen first accomplish this goal by his woman’s pant line, which elongated the woman’s legs in order to make women look taller and therefore more menacing. He didn’t like women to look soft and vulnerable, but always managed to keep their femininity throughout the designs. This concept can be captured in figure five in which a matador sort of apparel is shown. McQueen’s concept behind this design was to empower a woman by the pant leg and the concept of a female in a male’s role. The pants are high-waisted with a straight leg tight fit design that gives the illusion that the woman is taller than she actually is. Height plays a major part in McQueen’s designs in which he believes that height gives a person power by being able to tower over another. He also plays off the idea of a matador, which is known as a predominantly male occupation where men are celebrated for their bravery and manliness. By doing this McQueen is trying to show that women can be just as strong as men, but still keeps the female aspects of the design by revealing most of the chest. He is trying to express that while women are just as strong as men, he also understands that their anatomy is different, and while should be celebrated for their strengths should also be acknowledge for their differences. McQueen has also said, “I’m not big on women looking naive.”, which McQueen related through his designs by his strengthening of women which can also be seen in figure six. “I like the padded hips because they didn’t make the [piece] look historical, but … more sensual. Like the statue of Diana with breasts and big hips. Its more maternal, more womanly, but also keeps the strength of the woman”. In figure six the heavily padded hips can be seen and padded shoulders, which now only create an hourglass figure, one of the most ideal womanly figure, but as well makes the wearer of the dress more menacing looking. The woman is instantly more powerful because she looks bigger while still keeping this ideal womanly form, much like the other design shown in figure five. He keeps the woman still womanly while also elevating her to the strength that is associated with men. This only shows how he is able to communicate his ideas on what women should be like though his designs and how he hopes women will progress in a stronger way.

McQueen also was able to convey stories through his collections by using a series of designs to elaborate upon an idea. As seen in figures seven through eleven it is able to be seen the transformation of a set of designs from a chaotic piece all the way up to what seems to be a royal queen. In figures seven and eight the journey of the designs is shown by the progression from a completely chaotic creature to a more tamed one; but then figure nine depicts more chaos, as if the wearer of the clothes is bursting back out into their chaotic original nature. Suddenly the figure then reforms back towards their more tamed self as it can be seen in figures ten and eleven, where the designs start progressing towards a more royal look again. Throughout the whole collection, though the ideal of the character was always changing, the original material of the chaotic creature was never lost. This story told through McQueen’s designs could be interpreted, as although a person changes they never fully lose whom they originally were. McQueen commented on this collection that the idea was “She was a feral creature living in the tree. When she decided to descend to the earth, she was transformed into a princess.”. Although the assumption made before McQueen’s actual interpretation of his work is not 100% correct, its actually quite close, and only shows how fashion is even more of a language since one of the main premises of a language is that not everyone can understand it. McQueen’s story as well supports the assumption previously made about the collection, but just adds some background knowledge to it. Now it could be said that the story McQueen was trying to say that the story was of a feral woman who slowly goes down the tree, and then the figure nine depicts her slowly regressing back up the tree as if she was afraid of change. Finally she becomes a queen when she touches the ground, which is shown in figure eleven. The fact that McQueen was able to portray this story through his designs only supports the fact that fashion can be used as a means of communication.

Through theses three examples it could be said that Alexander McQueen, through his designs, was able to communicate ideas and beliefs much like how a language would. Therefore it could also be said that fashion is like it’s own language in the sense that it is able to convey ideas and stories much like written or spoken languages can. McQueen is able to convey not only his thoughts about women in multiple collections and how he wants to empower them through his clothing, but as well he is able to tell stories through his collections. In one collection he tells the story of his ancestors hardship while also speaking about his own personal feelings about this subject. As well he is able to tell a fictional story about the descending of a girl from a tree through only a little more than five different pieces. The ability to do this only shows that fashion, specifically when designed by McQueen, can be used as a medium for communication since it is able to express ideas and stories.

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