Alexander McQueen; The 10 Greatest Makeup Looks

alexander-mcqueen-time-walker-skull-portraitThese past few months have been a total Alexander McQueen-fest in London, what with the incredible “Savage Beauty” retrospective at the V&A museum, London College of Fashion’s Warpaint makeup exhibit and Val Garland and Terry Barber’s recent incredible evening “In Conversation” about their work on the designer’s most iconic shows.

Anything McQueen related is pure heaven to me. His creations and his shows cause a visceral emotional reaction in me like no other designer ever has and unlikely ever will again. Looking at the makeup doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of the genius of McQueen, nor even do the clothes. The theatrics of the show, the inspirations behind the designs, even the music all added to his unique vision that was known to move often jaded Fashion Week guests to tears on more than one occasion.

I wanted to include so many moments here that aren’t even makeup looks, as they’re simply so inspiring, but have reigned myself in (the nude woman reclining in gas mask covered in butterflies… the robotic arms spray painting Shalom Harlow’s dress… the Kate Moss hologram… I could go on!) I implore you to catch the show if you can before it ends on August 2nd (the V&A have announced 24 hour admissions for its final two weekends). And if you can’t make it allow yourself to pore over his past runway shows on YouTube or the numerous beautiful books on his work.

Lee McQueen worked alongside the best artists in the business to create looks that could be at once beautiful and frightening. The makeup was an integral part of his vision all along. As Garland noted, all direction came from him and him alone. “It had to be absolutely specific, he knew when it was just right, when it came as near as possible to his own vision of the look,” she said. “There was no right or wrong, just his vision.”

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-val-garland-aw98-fw98-joan-bald-red Autumn/Winter 1998 – “Joan”

Key Artist; Val Garland

The designer’s AW98 show was described as “a lesson in blasphemy”. As an atheist and an anti-royalist, McQueen was always one to push the boundaries. Entitled “Joan”, the show drew on key elements of the tale of Joan of Arc. It inspired his most dramatic finale to date, in which a satanic ring of flames encircled a lone masked model in a red ensemble, which echoed flayed flesh with a beaded skirt suggestive of dripping blood.

Val Garland and hairstylist Guido Palau took McQueen’s direction to present the girls as a cloned army of female warriors. In the perfect meeting of hair and makeup, models’ hairlines were erased with bald caps and replaced with tribal, aggressive blunt cuts and braids. Garland applied a heavy layer of foundation, blocked out the brows and applied red mascara to menacing eyes adorned with red custom contact lenses.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-val-garland-aw99-fw99-overlook Autumn Winter 1999 – “The Overlook”

Key Artist; Val Garland

McQueen seemed to have a penchant for off-key horror films, and his AW99 show was named after the cursed hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film of Stephen King’s The Shining. Models glided and fought through artificial snow storms in a frozen landscape built inside a London warehouse.

Garland’s makeup was a sliver-white mask, adorned with ice-like crystals and glitter, painted across the eyes and brows. Some have suggested this was in reference to the Native-American burial site underneath The Overlook hotel, others have said that this was McQueen’s symbolic representation of character Jack Torrance’s wife’s blindness to his descent in to murderous insanity.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-val-garland-aw01-fw-01-clown-merry-go-round Autumn Winter 2001 – “What A Merry Go Round”

Key Artist; Val Garland

Inspired somewhat by another favourite cult horror film Child’s Play, McQueen chose macabre clown make-up for the finale of his AW01 show What A Merry-Go-Round.

Starting with pale-faced models sporting carnal, oversized vamp lips, and finger-waved hair reminiscent of burlesque Cabaret era Berlin, girls walked the catwalk to a soundtrack of eerie Mary Poppins quotes and heavy metal before a cobweb strewn, dark carousel sprang to life for the final section.

Val Garland captured the theme of “the sinister side of childhood” on the models’ faces. “The stark, shadowy lighting made the hair and makeup seem so much more intense,” she said of the looks inspired by Harlequin and Pierrot which perfectly showcased “the darkness of McQueen.”

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-charlotte-tilbury-ss07-sarabande Spring Summer 2007 – “Sarabande”

Key Artist; Charlotte Tilbury

Not all of McQueen’s makeup looks have to be bold to be beautiful, many are soft and delicate as can be, and SS09’s really stands out amongst his more romantic beauty makeups. Sarabande, named after Handel’s majestic and elegant dance, was soundtracked by a live chamber orchestra and set in a deserted theatre, dominated by a single crystal chandelier. McQueen’s most unashamedly romantic show to date was accompanied by models wearing ethereal makeup, with a narrative embedded within the subtle textures and colours.

Tilbury mixed foundation with a white base, which was taken down the neck melting into visible brushstrokes on the collarbone, a painterly technique referencing the works of 18th century painter Goya, that was said to represent a sense of life draining away. Heavy application of powder and deathly shades of pastel added to the ghostly decaying look.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-charlotte-tilbury-aw07-fw07-cleopatra-elizabeth-how Autumn Winter 2007 – “In Memory Of Elizabeth How, Salem 1692″

Key Artist; Charlotte Tilbury

A 45 ft inverted black pyramid suspended over a blood-red pentagram, traced in black sand, set the stage for a collection that combined the religious persecution handed out by 17th century Puritans with ancient Egyptian paganism.

“The Egyptian influence plays up a very feminine sexual strength that was present in my inspiration for the collection,” said McQueen. After asking Tilbury to find inspiration in Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic role as Cleopatra, she created “strong yet hypnotic” cobalt blue eyes framed with heavy eyeliner, bringing a touch of Hollywood glamour to an otherwise dark collection.

The shimmers of light and milky quality to the skin also went on to inspire that years ‘MAC for McQueen’ collaboration with MAC cosmetics, a sell-out limited edition range designed to give the celestial, other-worldly quality typified by McQueen.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-peter-phillips-ss08-feathers-la-dame-bleue Spring Summer 2008 – “La Dame Bleue”

Key Artist; Peter Philips

La Dame Bleue was one of McQueen’s most personal and emotionally evocative shows, as he worked with fellow Isabella Blow discovery Philip Treacy to pay homage to their friend and advisor after her untimely death. Treacy created ornate headpieces comprised of swarms of butterflies.

A huge set of mechanical neon wings flashed red above the catwalk as we heard Pegasus snorting and taking off, and then the girls began to appear, at first bare-faced, with little more than a slick of lip gloss. Then they began to transform into bird-woman hybrids, with models wearing more and more feathers, perfectly, graphically and symmetrically applied to the face by Peter Philips and his team, references Blow’s favourite feather motifs.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-peter-phillips-aw09-fw09-horn-of-plenty Autumn Winter 2009 – “Horn Of Plenty”

Key Artist; Peter Phillips

“THAT was the kind of show that puts your faith back in fashion,” said Vogue fashion editor Miranda Almond after this production in 2009. A smouldering rubbish heap filled with TVs, tyres and old McQueen pieces sat in the centre of a circular stage, the setting for one of McQueen’s most provocative, tongue-in-cheek shows.

This is, hands down, my favourite McQueen makeup. So simple, so fitting, so unnerving and total genius by Peter Philips. Models were decorated with horrifying grimaces to elicit serious shock value. Makeup inspired by Terry Gilliam’s Brazil saw eyebrowless models sport pasty white faces with overdrawn sticky red and black lips, creating a cavernous orifice that is both sexual and threatening. Phillips also cited Joan Crawford and clown makeup as inspiration, while the look was also unmistakably reminiscent of performance artist, Leigh Bowery, a huge influence on McQueen.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-peter-phillips-ss10-alien-platos-atlantis-gaga Spring Summer 2010 – “Plato’s Atlantis”

Key Artist; Peter Phillips

This would sadly be McQueen’s final collection. No one could have predicted the tragedy of his death less than six months later, and Plato’s Atlantis really gave us a view into the sheer variety and scope of McQueen’s vision that the world would regrettably never get to see.

The collection, in a sci-fi tinged style not yet seen in his previous work, explored the idea of an underwater future and became instantly famous thanks to Lady Gaga, who wore clothes from it in her “Bad Romance” video. It was also his most commercially embraced, with its neoprene, graphic prints and structured peplum dresses copied by high street stores across the land.

Peter Philips again began with simple makeup, models rocked blanked out brows and an opalescent sheen on the skin provided by mac pigments. It evolved however over the last 15 models, gradually mutating them into “creatures” by means of prosthetics on cheek and brow bones, resulting in an angular configuration of the human face. The bizarrely glistening and icy-platinum faces and nude lips created the a stunning aquatic, alien look.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-pat-mcgrath-aw14-fw14-brows-lashes Autumn Winter 2014 – “Untitled”

Key Artist; Pat McGrath

Former assistant to the great man himself, Sarah Burton took the helm after Lee’s tragic death, and has managed to keep the McQueen DNA very much alive in her collections. Makeup had taken a more subtle back seat since “Plato’s Atlantis”, but was back in full force in the hands of Pat McGrath by AW14.

“Wild beauty” and “beauty and the beast” were listed as makeup inspirations for models inhabiting a sinister, enchanted and glamorous wilderness world, wandering amongst the  mossy moors that covered the show space.

McGrath took on the “Wild Beauty” brief, creating huge false eyelashes akin to whiskers, and feral eyes with exaggerated eyebrows of black feathers and copper-colored metallic shadows. Pat’s team painstakingly created the lashes, pre-cutting 130 feathers per girl, taking two hours per set, adding last-minute touches and enhancements right up until each girl stepped on to the runway.

alexander-mcqueen-show-makeup-pat-mcgrath-ss15-mask Spring Summer 2015 – “Untitled”

Key Artist; Pat McGrath

For SS15, Sarah Burton built upon her own personal and treasured collection of antique kimonos picked up during trips to Japan during her early days at McQueen, to create a Japanese-inspired collection, where Geisha girls met samurais and kimonos were teamed with harnesses in the perfect balance of hard meets soft.  Girls walked the minimalistic, Eastern influenced black catwalk under the shadow of gargantuan bronze orchid sculptures, with hair and makeup which served to enhance the Samurai warrior feel.

Burton had talked about wanting “something strong and lacquered on the face” said McGrath, who set about designing three differently shaped fetishised masks out of lightweight plastic, then lacquering them to give them a high-gloss sheen. “We wanted these exquisite faces to be coming through from behind the masks,” said McGrath, who blended a futuristic mix of shimmering powders on the lids against a face of flawless, velvet foundation. Finally, she and her team used double-stick tape and adhesive to attach the masks to the face for an effect that was utterly powerful and unmistakably modern McQueen.

Lee Alexander McQueen

March 17, 1969 – February, 11 2010

Lucy xx
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