Saturday, June 6, 2015

Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano

In the early 1990s I was in my most magazine reading intensive period. This was before the internet when monthly titles actually brought news. Poorer than a church mouse I still forked out a whack of coin for my favourite, the US Harpers Bazaar. Under the editorship of the British Liz Tilberis it was  truly something special. It occupied a special space in my still largely un-lived and undefined life, one that did not yet include children or a husband. I was transfixed by its imaginative fashion spreads photographed by largely up and coming photographers like Mario Sorrenti and Craig Dean featuring super (and less well known models) Naomi Campbell, Helena Christiansen, Linda Evangalista, Karmen Kass, Nadia Auermann, Claudia Schiffer, Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow, Kate Moss and Stella Tennant. As a cultural moment I remember that five year period as being both highly romantic and grunge. The designers and fashion houses represented between its pages - editorial and advertising - were largely European: John Galliano for Givenchy and Dior, Alexander McQueen for Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. In addition to them Tom Ford at Gucci and Gianni Versace were pushing a sleazy disco glamour.

Coming of age during that period, it's been interesting reading Dana Thomas' Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, a book that documents the nineties and noughties in global fashion through the prism of two of its uber designers and their rise and subsequent fall (McQueen by suicide, Galliano through disgrace). Not familiar with Thomas' previous work I was persuaded by the fact that she'd written for the New Yorker, the benchmark for quality journalism these days (though truth be told it's closer to Who Weekly than that venerable magazine). Thomas details Galliano and McQueen's working class upbringings and then settles in for a detailed description of their careers, show by show. She contextualises their ascendancy alongside the growth of the luxury market. I'm guessing that was the subject of her previous book, Deluxe. I enjoyed the behind the scenes machinations of major fashion houses and developed a good appreciation of what made McQueen such as remarkable designer: precise tailoring, a sense of the macabre and an interest in working closely with collaborators – jewellers, milliners – on unique, strange accessories. Her heart belongs to him.

Of all weeks I was glad to have it beside me this week, one in which I spent three nights on a fold out armchair at the hospital beside my beautiful boy. When we were sad and overwhelmed by his diagnosis of chronic illness, or trying to stave off frightening thoughts of the future and what it would require of us – thoughts that would rouse us in the dead of night – we'd turn on the night lights and read together until the dread passed.

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