Alexander McQueen: Fashion Visionary
By Judith Watt
Foreword by Daphne Guinness
Published by Goodman Books
(Available at Amazon and other good bookstores)
Hardback, printed dust jacket (not pictured), 192 colour pages, 28.6 x 23.4 x 3 cm (what I like to think of as a good exhibition catalogue size). The paper is nice and substantial, with the usual slight gloss, and images are sharply printed with good colour reproduction.
The book opens with a brief foreword by Daphne Guinness, firmly setting out McQueen's status as an artist, a label those having seen the Savage Beauty exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last year would no doubt find thoroughly fitting. The preface by Judith Watt goes on to place McQueen's influence alongside that of Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, a more ambitious claim, although one that already seems to have found a footing within the popular consciousness. After a rather endearing introduction, the book is split into six chronologically ordered sections spanning McQueen's career, from Savile Row to his final collection.
Departing from the slew of other publications on McQueen that seem to have popped up relatively recently, Watt focuses her attention on McQueen's work and his role as fashion designer, rather than seeking to sensationalise his personal life. The book covers each collection in order, interspersed with insightful accounts from those who worked closely with McQueen. Images are accompanied by informative and succinct captions, something I actually wish more fashion books would do. These captions also benefit from the fact that paragraphs do not tend to overrun the page, meaning you are not distracted mid-sentence - a small detail, but one that is remarkably helpful when reading.
What surprised me about this book was how incredibly well researched it was. This is not your standard coffee table book affair, heavy on the images and light on the text, which itself seems copied and pasted from an official biography. Watt actually manages to pack in a thoroughly comprehensive range of information into her overview of each collection, without it seeming like too much at once. She explores the major themes behind his work, as well as on occasion, perhaps more interestingly, the reasons for those themes. She includes interviews with those who worked with McQueen, those who knew McQueen, excerpts from newspaper and magazine articles, and of course quotes from the designer himself, either to the press or to friends. She manages to cover just about every angle, from personal life, to student life, to working life, without letting it overshadow the focus of the book, which is his work.
Personally I felt like some of the later collections covered could have benefitted from a slightly more detailed written analysis, such as the earlier collections enjoyed, however there is obviously only so much you can cover in a specific number of pages. I thought that the range of images chosen for the book were actually rather cleverly done, eschewing many of the more popular images one encounters elsewhere, and really focusing on the main themes and interesting design details of each individual collection. At a time where we are over-saturated with fashion imagery, pinned or posted without context or explanatory note, it is nice to have imagery tailored so well around the writing. The footnotes towards the end of the book are also well detailed, and provide a decent platform for further individual research.
This is most certainly not your typical coffee table fashion book and I like that. I think this book makes for a very easy to navigate and useful resource material, covering McQueen's collections in a detailed chronological order. The extent of the research that went into the book, including the various interviews, provides a wealth of information that is enjoyable to read. I think this book would make a very good starting place for anyone interested in McQueen's work, but also a nice addition to those already very much taken by the extent of his artistry. Would I, like Watt, place McQueen's life work alongside that of Chanel and Saint Laurent? I'm not so sure yet, but she certainly makes a convincing argument.
[Thank you to the lovely folk at Carlton Books for sending me a copy to review]