What is VOSS?
To be quite honest, I am still waiting for a response from the associates over at Alexander McQueen for the meaning or definition behind VOSS- the name that the late Lee Alexander McQueen named his Spring/Summer 2001 Collection.
I wanted to dedicate my personal blog to Alexander McQueen because he will always be my most beloved designer and the greatest inspiration to me. I often refer to McQueen as “The Mozart of Fashion”… The man was a pure genius. It’s astonishing to me how every single piece he ever created could evoke so much emotion and so much controversy. Many people who knew Alexander McQueen would describe him as a timid, reserved individual. But there’s no doubt that the man had a lot to say. The things he wanted to say, he said through his clothing. Each one of this shows had a story to tell. I don’t think anything he ever did was a coincidence. Every single garment he created was so well thought out, down to the last detail, you knew that it couldn’t have been by accident. I remember an excerpt that I heard from a recording from the Savage Beauty Exhibit at New York City’s MET Musesum. Sarah Burton, who has since become chief designer at Alexander McQueen after his passing, described working with “Lee”: She said that Alexander McQueen could take a piece of fabric, and without measuring or tracing, he would cut the fabric in to panels and when he pinned them on the mannequin, they would fit together perfectly. That’s how familiar he was with his art. McQueen was an amazing designer, and his years of training on Saville Row and at Givenchy helped to fine-tune his outstanding tailoring skills. It’s clear that Alexander McQueen was absolutely obsessed with his work, I think he was deeply political and no doubt a visionary. He would start out with an idea, but in his mind, that idea would translate in to a story, and the plot of his story were his clothes. He knew right from the beginning exactly how each piece should look, in what order they’d appear in the show… it was all strategically planned out. I don’t think anybody will ever be able to replace Alexander McQueen. He may not be here anymore, but the legacy that he has left behind will continue to inspire individuals like myself to express the things we are passionate about not with words, but through the work that we do.
Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2001 collection, VOSS, was just one example of the powerful messages McQueen was able to communicate through his clothing. The show was situated in a dimly lit room with a gigantic mirrored cube sitting in front of the audience. The show deliberately started late, forcing the audience to stare at themselves for almost 2 hours. Interviews from guests who attended the show described the awkwardness and self-consciousness of having to stare at themselves while waiting for the show to begin.
Finally, the room went dark and the box lit up, exposing a room that was designed to resemble an Asylum with white padded walls and more mirrors on the inside. The first model to appear in the box was Kate Moss, wearing a beige dress with cascading feathers starting from the shoulder. White fabric wrapped around her head like bandages. In an interview with Alexander McQueen, he described the bandages as representative of surgery- surgery to change the way you are. An interesting thing about this set was that the mirrors were double-sided .The models inside the box could not see the audience, and essentially, the audience was watching the models looking at themselves. The show carried on with dresses made of ostrich feathers, shells, and a shoulder-piece of a little castle with a mouse living inside it. The entire show was very theatrical, like I mentioned above, not a single detail was missed. Models stayed perfectly in character, some danced freely inside the box to resemble a delusional, perhaps dissociated person at an asylum, some of them stuck their faces right up against the wall, one laughing hysterically at her own reflection. At one point, a model wearing a dress made entirely of white razor-clam shells walked to the front and center of the box and began tearing the shells off her dress as if releasing herself from the possession she was under.
Here are some pictures of what I think were some of the most intriguing pieces of the collection:
Erin O’Connor tearing the razor-clam shells off of her dress
My personal favourite McQueen dress of all time- The skirt is made of Ostrich feathers dyed red and black, while the bodice is made out of microscope slides painted red to represent blood. “There’s blood beneath every layer of skin” –Alexander McQueen
Models staying in character as patients in an Asylum
A bodice made out of puzzle pieces
Skirt made out of black clam shells
Traditional Japanese-Inspired hand embroidery
Another stunning hand-embroidered dress with black ostrich feathers
A dress inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Birds” (1963)
…And just when the audience thought the show was over, the biggest surprise was yet to be revealed. After the last model left the stage, the glass box in the middle began to open. The four glass walls smashed onto the ground sending glass shards flying everywhere, to reveal a naked Michelle Olley reclining in a chair, wearing a mask with moths all over her body. As soon as the walls dropped, hundreds of moths flew out in all directions, finally free from the constraints of the little box.
The finale presentation of Michelle Olley laying naked in the middle of the broken box was inspired by Joel-Peter Witkin’s ‘Sanitarium’ from 1939.
With VOSS, Alexander McQueen wanted to make his audience question the notion of conventional beauty. What is conventional beauty? What is normal? What lengths would people take to achieve what they believe is considered to be ‘beautiful’? The finale of Michelle Olley trapped inside a glass box with a mask and tubes sticking out of her may have been an exaggeration of the way society treats individuals not considered to be “beautiful”…by putting them away, hiding them behind a mask, ridiculing them for who they are…but is this really an exaggeration? McQueen seemed to find the beauty in what we normally would not consider beautiful. To McQueen, there was something so beautiful, so vulnerable and so delicate about the girl of “Sanitarium”
“I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.” –Alexander McQueen
Some Footage from the Spring/Summer 2001 Collection
VOSS Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2001
Lee Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)