It was refreshing to fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen that art photographer Nick Waplington, with whom he collaborated on a photobook in 2008/2009, didn’t know who US Vogue editor Anna Wintour was.
“He liked the fact I wasn’t involved in fashion,” says Waplington. “He thought I could bring a new element to it.” Images that include a nervous McQueen with Wintour, who had dropped in to see his collection before his Paris show, and others of McQueen in a creative whirl cutting and folding clothes on models as he created garments, were taken for their book, Working Process. Waplington was given unprecedented access to reveal McQueen’s working practice as he prepared and presented his final autumn/winter collection, The Horn of Plenty, in 2009.
More than 130 of these photographs will go on show at London’s Tate Britain in March. Along with images of McQueen in his studio and models backstage are photos by Waplington of recycling plants and landfills, that play with the idea of “renewal and recession”, says Waplington, which were also “permeating McQueen’s final collection”.
“He knew my work and got to the point where he wanted to do this project with me,” says Waplington. “The idea was that the book would be my book and he would be the subject.” Waplington had been friends with McQueen since the mid-1990s, when they lived down the road from each other in the East End.
For this project he followed the production of McQueen’s collection for six months from drawing to catwalk and then spent another six months editing the pictures and taking photographs of landfills off the A12 and recycling plants in Nottinghamshire.
“I was working on a project in Israel at the time. I tried to put off this project but Lee was insistent I did it,” says Waplington. “I’d do four or five days’ batches with him at a time. It was very calm, ordered and structured, everyone knew their role and had worked with him for years. It was a happy collection and he was in a good mood. Everything was hunky dory. But I’d not spent much time with him outside of his work as I was living abroad.
“He was a complex character – he was the sweetest and gentlest person, but not always. He could switch and have these rages that would bring on creativity. But there was a fierce loyalty amongst his colleagues and friends – an acceptance it was just how it was.”
Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process, Tate Britain, London (www.tate.org.uk) 10 March to 17 May