Twenty-one years ago, Alexander McQueen showed his seminal SS95 collection ‘The Birds’ at a warehouse near Kings Cross. It was called Bagleys and he’d been to raves there with friends – then the area and its surrounding North and East End suburbs were alight with the booming underground rave scene that was rioting rooftops and multi-level builds across London.
The collection itself was inspired by Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller The Birds and debuted a swallow motif that would continue to pop up in McQueen’s designs over the years.
Now, that bird is focal point of the new ‘Swallow’ collection from McQ Alexander McQueen – the youthful offshoot of the brand that serves up the subversive McQueen spirit with a street twist. The swallow has appeared in McQ collections over the past five years but now takes the limelight, repurposed for a full capsule collection inspired by the original motif.
To celebrate the collection launch, McQ is putting on a series of parties Warp Records, the legendary independent electronic music label that championed some of the most enduring, skilled musical acts of the 90s club scene. Rising up in the wake of the 80s ravers’ thirst for acid house and techno, Warp dished it up in new forms, pushing boundaries with artists who created music for dancing and, importantly, listening to. Autechre to Disjecta, Seefeel to Aphex Twin (who in the early 90s could be found DJ-ing at raves across London) Warp ushered in soul-baring music for knackered dancers the UK over.
Warp made us a special playlist of label tracks from 1995 to mark the release of Swallow, and we’re publishing it ahead of their launch event in Shoreditch tonight. It’s a belter. Read our interview with Tom Tosseyn then turn it up.
Tempe Nakiska: How did the collaboration on the Swallow collection come about?
Tom Tosseyn: Some time ago I worked on a limited edition tote bag for McQ for which I made three different artworks, it worked well and from one thing came the other… I guess also on a level of aesthetics and subculture there is a connection between the brand and my work/person.
TN: Were you aware of the swallow’s significance in the context of Alexander McQueen before coming on board for the project?
TT: I wasn’t until I saw the exhibition in London and worked on the previous collaboration, when I read about McQueen’s first show, how everything took shape including the birds’ story.
TN: There’s a dark and double-sided feel to the redesign, what did you envision for it?
TT: I redrew the swallow in a way that you feel the shape of a human skull, as if the bird was painted on it, as some kind of mask, hiding its identity. That’s what I like about the design, you can look at it in two ways: you can see the bird or you see the skull. I love this duality about it.
TN: Why are graphics and symbolism so important in fashion culture and its language today?
TT: From kings to villains, subculture to mainstream bands, streetwear to high end fashion, everybody want to belong in some way or another, be part a group, family or scene or just be hip and trendy and a symbol or logo gives that immediate recognition. Whether it’s subtle or screaming loud in your face, it’s like showing what you stand for and an extension of your personality.
For myself, when I was teenager and subcultures were still a fact (now it’s a totally different story, you can be part of anything anytime when you feel like it) I had my backpack covered of patches and pins with band logos from BAUHAUS, THE CURE, JOY DIVISION, CHRISTIAN DEATH, EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN, SIOUXIE, …
All those new wave and gothic bands I was totally into, or painted them on my jacket, not for fashionable reasons or because it was hip, like how PUNK is the cool thing now, but because you were part of that subculture and wanted to stand out, be different, be who you wanted to be… rebel against and also show this.
“You were part of that subculture and wanted to stand out, be different, be who you wanted to be… rebel against and also show this […] Now it’s a totally different story, you can be part of anything anytime when you feel like it” – Tom Tosseyn