McQueen’s No13 show has long been hailed as the crux of the designer’s career on the catwalk.  Working with a theme for ahead of its time, the designer focused on the Arts and Crafts movement and new technology. 

Paired back designs-sculpted gowns and high neck dresses- accentuated the contours of the body and encouraged a  appreciation of the finely tailored garments as the models moved across the runway. With an explicit ode to craftsmanship Aimee Mullins opened the show wearing a pair of custom made Baroque-style wooden legs designer by McQueen and craftsman Bob Watts. The inclusion of Aimee-who had her legs amputated as a child-incited discussion around the subject of inclusivity in fashion and harked to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts: to craft products that were made by hand rather than machine those in which ‘the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together’. With an emphasis on connectivity between process and labourers the movement-represented through deftly constructed wooden accessories and corsetry- complimented the organic movements of the garments fusing the human and the organic. 

The show’s set consisted of a wood floor and circular turntables that rotated, one of which was positioned near two robots in a darkened space. Moving around the perimeter of the set the models set themselves closest to the audience, removed from the machinery that sat dormant at the centre of the set. This configuration in relation to Arts and Crafts could be interpreted as recalling the questioning of the place of the artist craftsman at the eve of the industrial revolution with machines progressively replacing men in factories. As the looks swept past the audience so to did a belief in craftsmanship, the importance of nature as inspiration and the value of simplicity and utility. 

Described as a ‘coup de théâtre’ the show’s reached a climax when Shalom Harlow stood on a wooden turntable, flailing her arms above her head as programmed machinery gunned her with black and neon yellow paint. Around and around, women against machine. The long, elegant succession of tailoring and contoured looks halted and a new passage in McQueen’s modern fairytale began as the machines moved joint by joint transforming the virginal white dress into a modern masterpiece. 

Nature versus the machine, fear and sensation drove McQueen to grapple with the dissolving of history in an age of machine driven discovery: a toil of violence and surrender. 

Using Format