To die for? McQueen strips style to the bone

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The Independent Online
The curtains swathing the rooms in the Parisian medical school were blood- red, but contrary to rumours, there were no human remains or dismembered body parts to be seen in Alexander McQueen's second and apparently triumphant haute couture collection for Givenchy.

This was the collection that McQueen failed to deliver last January. It was pure theatre, with costumes ranging from tartan bustle jackets to a good number of dead animals, including crocodiles and foxes.

Crows in 8ft cages were placed strategically around the catwalk. They had been brought from the countryside that morning. The cages were designed by McQueen's art director, Simon Costin, the conceptual artist and one- time jeweller who used among other things, human sperm and animal bones in his work. He is the man responsible for the water catwalk at McQueen's own collection in London that convinced Givenchy's owners just three seasons ago that McQueen was the man for the job.

Costin dismissed the stories of human remains being used in the show as "nonsense", but said the rumours must have come from someone inside the design studio. He and McQueen have worked together for the past two months on the typically macabre idea for the collection.

It is based around an Elizabethan professor of surgery who travelled the world picking up carpets and exotic trinkets. He later went mad and was accused of witchcraft.

McQueen's collection took the fictional story that the professor also collected some of the world's most beautiful women whom he stored in boxes. At his surgery, he set about dismembering the bodies and piecing them together to form his own creations. Any unwanted parts were fed to the crows, hence the bird cages. At yesterday's show, the ghosts of those women came back to haunt, wearing outfits made up of pieces from travels around the world: Burmese necklaces, Japanese kimonos, Russian peasant dresses, Spanish lace, and the odd Victorian gazelle horn, rudely emerging from the side of a handbag.

The collection was a departure from McQueen's last one for Givenchy. It was a return to his own singular vision of fashion, executed with the finesse and perfection of the haute couture atelier. Walter Van Beirendonck, the Belgian designer who is no stranger to theatrics in his own works, was invited by McQueen to see the show. "It's great work," he said. "Everything he didn't do in his previous collection he did here."

McQueen, 27, is no stranger to the shock factor. His previous collections under his own name have been held at Christ Church, Spitalfields, in east London, where Costin was responsible for the use of horns, hair, and bone for the jewellery. His early collections caused outcry over their similarity to car-crash victims and his clothes are often considered in dubious taste. When Givenchy hired him, publicity was guaranteed. He was the provocative East End bad boy with bad manners, bad language, and bad teeth, the bull in the china shop that is haute couture.

Controversy over skeletal remains continued after the Givenchy show last night. Plastercasts of hands decorated the halls of the medical school where McQueen showed his collection. But it was the skeleton of a human hand, used bizarrely as a headdress, that kept the story rolling. Was it a human hand? If so, whose hand was it?

The Givenchy team were at pains to stress later that the hand was not made of bone, but of plaster.