#6 Runway Presentation: Alexander McQueen A/W ’96 RTW “Dante”



The runway presentation, colloquially known as the fashion show, is an art form that is a decades-long work in progress. It is one thing to design an astonishing collection, but it is an entirely different challenge to present said designs in a compelling manner.  When the presentation and collection are equally as strong, it generates conversation and skyrockets the collection to commercial success and critical praise. This was very much the case for Alexander McQueen in the early-to-mid 1990’s as his innovative aesthetic and conceptual shows rocked the fashion world. McQueen’s collections were racy, edgy, and often scandalous, but remained credible due to his stunning design sense and wealth of intelligent references. Every collection had a clear theme based on a set of references, which showed through in the clothing but was further elaborated upon in the aesthetic of the presentation. While many designers relied on the clothes to speak for themselves on a stark white runway, McQueen executed a full immersive experience, utilizing sound, light, set design, and venue to tell a complete story.

To choose one of McQueen’s presentations above the rest would be nearly impossible, but a show that I feel exhibits his balance of shock value and beauty is his 1996 A/W collection “Dante”, inspired by fourteenth-century Florentine author and poet Dante Alighieri. Alighieri’s subject matter of life, death, heaven, hell, and purgatory with heavy Christian undertones. “Dante” was presented in the decrepit Christ Church of East London, to the soundtrack of ominous organs peppered with gunfire. A cruciform runway was lit by flickering candles, as luxurious Victorian-inspired corsets and skirts were styled with tough shirts printed with war scenes. Front row, a skeleton was seated next to prominent British fashion critic Suzy Menkes. Menswear and womenswear were treated with the same attention to detail, with menswear pieces being shown in an unusually romantic fashion and womenswear incorporating decidedly masculine elements. So many different textiles, silhouettes, and prints were utilized, yet somehow the show was cohesive and true to theme.

Such complexity of design left the audience feeling as though they had just witnessed something incredible and truly put McQueen in the favor of the general public. Alexander McQueen was not well-liked by all; his rebellious nature and heavy usage of shock factor concerned the reserved British fashion scene, but his clear attention to detail and loving reference to Victorian elements made it clear that McQueen was not only a clever showman, but an incredible craftsman, a reputation that has cemented him as one of the most brilliant fashion designers of the twentieth century.

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