A new direction

Seán McGirr’s Alexander McQueen debut riffed on the house’s iconic SS95 collection, The Birds
By Barry Pierce | Fashion | 3 March 2024

It had to be not just one of the most anticipated shows of the season, but one of the most anticipated shows of the decade so far. Few brands hold as much reverence and respect (especially in Britain) as Alexander McQueen. When Lee McQueen himself was at the helm it was an intensely personal brand, the runways often feeling like a brief glimpse into the mind of a genius. After Lee’s death, it felt natural that his right-hand woman Sarah Burton would take over. Her thirteen-year tenure as creative director evolved McQueen’s vision and kept his legacy beating.

But now, it’s Seán McGirr’s turn. His announcement as creative director was received with trepidation. He would be the first outsider to take over the brand, the first person who never actually worked with Lee McQueen to take creative control. Being a student of the 00s however, McQueen would have influenced him in both conscious and unconscious ways. The biggest question he would have to answer, however, was whether he wanted to continue McQueen as a brand in the manner of McQueen’s style, trying to almost ventriloquise the designer and create as he would have created, or whether McGirr would take more from himself and his own style and refract that through some of McQueen’s codes.

McGirr went for the latter. His job before McQueen was as head of ready-to-wear for both men’s and womenswear at J.W. Anderson, and Anderson’s influence is palpable on the designer: you could see it in the use of huge, chunky cable knits and those furry cup outfits that brought to mind Méret Oppenheim’s Le Déjeuner en fourrure. But McGirr wasn’t here to make a J.W. Anderson x Alexander McQueen capsule. Instead, the main source of inspiration was McQueen’s SS95 collection The Birds.

Typical with McQueen’s humour, you would have thought that The Birds would have brought to mind an idyllic crisp morning listening to the dawn chorus but he actually meant Tippi Hedren being terrorised within an inch of her life by crows. There were some direct references to SS95 in McGirr’s debut, a necklace made from metal rods, for example, but it was more an appropriation of the vibe rather than the lookbook. Within this atmosphere, McQueen’s East End was celebrated in its dark romance: trenchcoats with trilbys tilted downwards to conceal identity were neo-noir gangsters, and extended shirt collars overlapping blazers felt equally disco fever and back booth boozer.

Presented inside a disused railway depot in Paris’ Chinatown, decorated with parachute sheets, the venue felt very on-brand, while many of the outfits felt like a new direction for McQueen (we’re not sure Lee ever used slime green), there was enough of him in there to keep the pedants happy. The use of shimmery sheer, cinched waists in tailored coats, and feather-like scarfs and boas were all appropriately McQueen. Even the final looks, a series of hard plastic dresses felt like something that Lee would have giddily trotted down the runway.

Backstage, McGirr spoke of the importance of humour in our humourless world. The use of Enya on the runway certainly brought a few smiles. As Orinoco Flow played over the final parade, it felt like a perfect blend of McGirr’s Irishness and Lee McQueen’s cheekiness.

GALLERYCatwalk images from Alexander McQueen WOMENS-FALL-WINTER-24