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McQueen The Long Lost Tapes premieres at London Fashion Week

By Jackie Mallon

Feb 22, 2021

One of the unexpected reveals of London Fashion Week was a short film of never-before-seen footage of of Alexander McQueen. Live-streaming one time only on the website of Fashionscout, the consultancy and platform for emerging talent, the premiere of the short film featuring Super 8 footage shot by Gary Wallis, took place at 4pm EST on Sunday. Wallis was the photographer backstage at all McQueen’s fashion shows between 1992-96, and his archive has been transferred into a book entitled McQueen Backstage; The Early Years.

The footage had been commissioned by McQueen who was planning an event in New York during which he wanted to project a film. The black and white shots reflect the designer’s desire to have something scratchy and rough. “Not slick,” says Wallis, who provides narration. The first scenes depict McQueen in a cozy grey sweater running about the grounds of Hilles House with his muse Isabella Blow who is dressed in McQueen’s precise tailoring. McQueen does cartwheels on a hilltop, lies on the grass with his bare feet in the air, before we see him inside the manor house measuring Blow’s husband Detmar for a bespoke suit and recording the detailed measurements in columns in a book.

Alexander McQueen’s London

In the next setting, McQueen brings Wallis around spots in London’s Soho that were important to the designer. He is captured in front of bohemian patisserie Maison Bertaux, and at his favorite fabric store, Greenscourt, whose owners were champions of his work. Throughout, McQueen who died eleven years ago, looks young and happy, with shaven head, eyes squinting against the sun. Wallis reveals that McQueen had an avid interest in photography, even that he would have liked to have been a war photographer. “He wanted to document conflict.”

The final location is backstage at the Café de Paris for McQueen’s February 1994 fashion show. Calling in favors, McQueen had assembled models who were a mixture of friends from college, work colleagues, and Blow’s friends from Vogue where she worked for a stint. We see him slicing into tulle skirts with his scissors right up until the girls are stepping in front of the cameras. Wallis describes the energy as “kinetic” and “frantic” like “the clothes were being made as they were going on the catwalk.”

After the show, the footage changed hands, reportedly lay in a London storage unit for years, was brought up in conversation and then forgotten about again as careers progressed and those involved traveled extensively. It was the release of McQueen the 2018 documentary that finally prompted the unearthing of the long lost tapes. They provide an intriguing glimpse into the creativity and personality of this much-missed designer whose influence permeates far beyond London Fashion Week and whose appeal only seems to increase with the passing of time.

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photo: Pierre Verdy / AFP