Black lace cut and appliquéd on white lace; the birth of this dress with its off-the-shoulder leg ’o’ mutton sleeves in the Spring/Summer 2019 show is genetically related to a series of spectacular Alexander McQueen forerunners.
The overarching collection narrative about women’s celebrations was focused on weddings, birth and the traditions surrounding the wearing of white dresses. At the centre of the research was the delicate construction of a beautiful Victorian lace christening gown, which was pinned up for months in the studio amongst the photographs and fabrics for people to enjoy as they worked in the studio.
The translucent leg ’o’ mutton sleeves in this dress — internally supported by a ‘crinoline’ cage — was devised by Lee Alexander McQueen for the Spring/Summer 2007 Sarabande collection. It was one of the exaggerated, romantic silhouettes partly inspired by the faded 18th-century grandeur of Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 movie Barry Lyndon, and partly conjured through Goya and Whistler portraits and the Marchesa Luisa Casati.
This fitted, tiered Edwardiana wedding dress, made in a Carrickmacross inspired lace caused gasps when it made its entrance at the Autumn/Winter 2006 show in Paris. It came with a towering veiled headpiece supported by a pair of antlers.
The archive contains multiple examples of experimentation, manipulating lace to make its decorativeness act in modern contexts. A sheer red lace dress was the denouement of the Joan of Arc Autumn/Winter 1998 collection, surrounded by flames. The fascination for drawing fresh meanings from historical material is integral to the Alexander McQueen creative culture.
After the shapes and atmosphere of the archival inspiration pieces were consulted, the dress took on a life of its own in the fittings. A new, more naked structure evolved: the proportions were cut low to reveal the shoulders, keeping the boned inner structure visible through the lace, continuing from the 3-D outlines of the adapted leg ’o’ mutton sleeves to the bodice.
Separate sleeve samples were made to explore and refine the boned structure. Original photographs of Victorian crinolines inspired the design.Taking the antique and archival examples as a springboard, the complex and highly detailed development of this dress took off in its own direction with the embroidery team in the atelier. The steps in the process exemplify one of the essential Alexander McQueen ways of working: a collaboration of hand-made processes and digital technology, as two separate designs of flower-patterned Lyon lace were layered one over the other, with a cut-out filigree of black roses embroidered over white.
White Lyon lace was used as the base layer, with a floral pattern developed in the atelier. Black Lyon lace was designed to be hand-cut to construct the 3-D rose over-layer, which was then embellished with touches of jet. In order to unite the two layers, the embroidery team then created a ‘colour up’ digital ‘lace map’. All of the different elements are coded into a digital file, which was then sent to a specialist embroidery house where the pieces were assembled by hand.
The Alexander McQueen practice of making miniature 3-D paper maquettes helps visualise and adjust the scale and placement of the lace for the final design. Small-scale dolls are accurately reduced on the computer to exactly 30 percent of the original scale of the dress.