If there is one name in fashion that can at once summon both the glory of the avant garde and the cachet of commercial success, then it is Alexander McQueen. Known as a modern visionary, he is one of few current designers able to straddle the boundaries of high conceptualism and highly sought-after style.
McQueen's clothes (the less outré ones, that is) are designed to envelop womanly curves; to strengthen the silhouette with expertly cut tailoring; to soften it with elegant pintucking and drapery: to flatter, most importantly, in a way that is both beautiful and directional.
Nowhere is McQueen's astute handling of the creative and the commercial more evident than in his second line, McQ Alexander McQueen. Launched in November 2005, for spring/summer 2006 as a subsidiary denim collection, the range next year celebrates five years of strong sales and an even stronger identity. Since then it has moved away in part from jeans, although denim remains a strong element in the collection, and blossomed into a coherent range of trend-driven, but thoughtful, clothing for a younger market.
This is no mean feat; designers rack their brains over how to maintain a second line's integrity, without distancing it too much from the mainline but without it looking like a dilution of its creator's signature. It is a hard balance to strike. Possibly, McQueen's success comes from an ability to express a distilled essence of his playful personality within the smaller range. Where his catwalk shows owe much to couture and to showmanship, McQ is a celebration of a more casual and urban sportswear aesthetic, in keeping with McQueen's own status on the London scene.
The 1980s are clearly an inspiration for the autumn/winter 2009 collection, shown here, where Lycra is abundant in neon bright, patterned leggings and graphic dresses, and oversized safety pins are attached to and printed on jumpers and sweater dresses. Streetwise puffa jackets are cut sleek against the body to retain the femininity that the brand is known for and are quilted in a rope pattern, one of McQueen's trademark motifs.
It's an ironic subversion of the classic scarf print, so often associated with the bourgeoisie and, in using it to decorate skin-tight all-in-ones and to three-dimensionally adorn retro sweatshirts, McQueen is questioning received sartorial wisdom. It's a tactic mirrored in his autumn/winter mainline collection, where he warped and distorted traditionally affluent houndstooth check, synonymous with couture's golden age, on to trashy ballgowns. And it's astonishing to note how a print more associated with the likes of Hyacinth Bucket can suddenly be created anew for the sinuous shapes of the McQ line. In this incarnation, ropes are wriggly, sexy, and anything but middle class.
Also present and correct in the collection is McQueen's recognisable tailoring, in the form of sharp and boxy cotton blazers, denim shirt-dresses and voluminously cut jumpsuits. Hyper-feminine details, like exaggerated shoulders and hips, are elegant and glamorous, and are an everyday version of the chic creations from mainline McQueen that can be seen on many a red carpet over the award season.
The look combines the very best of McQueen's genius: well-cut, intelligently conceived pieces that are proof of his craftsmanship, combined with a creative verve and talent for statement-making, in up-to-the-minute colours and shapes. Half punk, half power dressing with a dash of neo Goth: McQ has something for everyone.
McQ Alexander McQueen is available from Selfridges, 0800 123 400, and Harvey Nichols, 020-7235 5000