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'Barbie girl' steps out in style

Melanie Rickey
Sunday 27 September 1998 23:02 BST

ALEXANDER McQUEEN knows a thing or two about gaining the attention of the world with a fashion show, and last night was no exception.

The 29-year-old designer, who recently collaborated with the style magazine Dazed and Confused on a shoot called "Accessible", featuring eight disabled models with clothes specially created for them by McQueen and others, was so impressed by their strength and dignity that he asked some to model in his catwalk show for London Fashion Week.

All day yesterday there was talk of the "sensational" publicity-stunt and sensational it was. McQueen has his own personal reasons for the stunt, and it is about more than gaining headlines. It is a statement about the way fashion and style is treated by glossy magazines.

He has complained in the past that "it [fashion] is about the beautiful people, all of the time". Perhaps this is a reaction to his position as couturier to wealthy women at the French fashion house Givenchy.

With last night's show, at a warehouse in Victoria, central London, he used his powerful position to address fashion politics as well as selling his clothes. His main muse was Aimee Mullins, a 22-year-old American who has two artificial "Barbie" legs from the knee down. The Barbie-style legs which are shaped to a permanent tip toe, are only one pair in her collection of prosthetics specially made to her exacting specifications.

Ms Mullins, who was born without fibulas, had the lower halves of her legs removed when she was a year old. This tall, blonde, beautiful model is certainly no victim - fashion or otherwise. Other disabled models used in the Dazed and Confused shoot were in the audience watching the show.

David Tooles, a dancer, said; "This is the first time I have seen anything like this. I'm as interested as anyone else. I don't think it's a cheap thrill. Showing disabled models has a valid reason."

Toole, who has no legs, doesn't even know the name of the condition that caused his disability. He says it's not important knowing what it is you have, it is knowing how to live with what you have.

Alison Capper, a thalidomide artist known for her self-portraits, said she was "really excited" to be at the show, adding: "This is my first fashion show. Fashion totally alienates me.

"It's infuriating trying to buy clothes. I buy a dress that costs pounds 50 and I have to spend about pounds 20 to get it altered. Tonight I'm wearing a little red number, but my favourite outfit is by Hussein Chalayan. It's a dress he made especially for me."

Aimee Mullins opened McQueen's show by stalking out in front of the assembled crowd with specially carved wooden legs, which looked like sexy high-heeled boots, made for her by McQueen. Nobody knew they were fake, which was the beauty of the whole thing.

So what of the clothes? McQueen is known most of all for his angular tailoring - and it was there in abundance. The bumsters were back, worn cropped with a cut away jacket. Wide legged trousers were sliced tight to the hip, or were bagged and tucked around the knee. Unusually for McQueen, this was softer and sexier than previous "in-your-face" efforts. Tiered flamenco dresses, soft grey chiffon tops, and white jersey dresses draped softly around the body but some paired with tightly sculptured jackets.

This was one of McQueen's most enjoyable and accomplished collections. It was not without its dramatic pieces. Models wearing wooden, fan- pleat sculptured skirts at one point spun like ballerinas in a musical box on rotating discs hidden in the cat walk.

By the time Ms Mullins, who is a para-olympic sprinting champion, made her second appearance on the cat walk, her secret was out. Wearing a body restricting medical corset and a flamenco skirt, she did look like any other model but was special because she has overcome her disability with pure style.

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