McQueen presents a disturbing, poetic image combining East and West, opera and punk

By Susannah Frankel
Monday 10 March 2003 01:00
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A kimono-clad snow queen battled her way through a blizzard high above Alexander McQueen's icy, rubble-strewn catwalk in Paris on Saturday.

It was a poetic image, as well as a deeply disturbing one, which is just what one might expect from this designer. At ground level, the ear-splitting soundtrack paved the way: from Sid Vicious's version of "My Way" to excerpts from Puccini's Madam Butterfly. This was a brilliant fusion of pop and punk, of images from the Far East, the extreme opulence and delicate workmanship of ancient regimes, and the hi-tech splendour of a contemporary urban age.

Out came the soft, hooded jackets in fine brocades worn with full, flower-like skirts that McQueen has made his own. They were the height of modern romance. Far harder was chequerboard tailoring and articulated leather which rock divas will be clamouring to wear. There were Rising Sun trouser suits in silver and scarlet and, with an equally sharp silhouette, a low-key interpretation in black, trimmed with houndstooth check. New from the designer was a curvy backless cocktail dress that hugged the hips and kicked prettily at the knee: these will probably be among the season's best-sellers – and more which were empire line – one knife-pleated in crimson, another scattered with silver sparkle in pale chiffon – which demonstrated an overtly feminine approach .

The complexity of the show pieces was juxtaposed with commercial concerns: the balance was just right. Ivory tulle snowballs covered one dress, an overskirt constructed from blades of olive green and gold Chinese silk was worn over another reminiscent of a geisha's fan. For more bourgeois taste, there was a belted buttersoft caramel leather coat and, of course, furs aplenty. Protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have run riot throughout the Paris collections – a particularly grim moment came at Jean-Paul Gaultier when security guards dragged them off stage in huge fur blankets – but it still seems incongruous at McQueen. It seems rather too easy a statement of status and wealth where, elsewhere, a more radical aesthetic is applied.

As far as radical aesthetics are concerned, Vivienne Westwood, who showed in low-key fashion yesterday, continues to inspire. Westwood is easier on the eye than it used to be, with less flesh on display and more quiet sophistication. Pyjama silk satin dresses in pale peach, lilac and cream were elegant as were skinny knits and more that were voluminously draped to subtlydeshabillé effect.

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