McQueen Backstage, in Front of the Lens
THE coming weeks will bring at least three monographs examining the life of Alexander McQueen, including a biography by Judith Watt, the fashion historian at Central Saint Martins, as well as books made up almost entirely of images from his fantastic runway shows, which in themselves have enormous value.
But a different perspective on the designer, one that until now had been shared by a very small number of his intimates, comes from the photographer Anne Deniau.
Starting when Mr. McQueen went to work at Givenchy in 1997, Ms. Deniau, whose usual subjects are artists, dancers and musicians, was hired to create backstage images for the designer’s archives and publicity materials, only a fraction of which were ever seen publicly. In “Love Looks Not With the Eyes: Thirteen Years With Lee Alexander McQueen,” she compiled 400 images that give a sense of life behind the scenes, during those great bursts of creativity just before a show.
“He was a very, very faithful person, which is quite unusual in fashion,” Ms. Deniau said of Mr. McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010. “When he gave you his interest, it was heavy. It was engraved.”
Mr. McQueen was nonetheless a challenging subject, one who was known to walk from his runway bow into a waiting car, before the models had all left the runway, so he would not have to talk to anyone. Ms. Deniau said that for a portrait sitting, he would always ask if she was finished after three or four pictures. Often he would flinch at the sound of a camera click.
Somehow she gained his trust. The pictures are evocative of the torture, the toughness and, most of all, the tenderness of Mr. McQueen, as when he is seen with Sarah Burton or the milliner Philip Treacy. You may get little impression of the clothes, but the emotion is there.
“I wanted the images to be full of poetry, for the light to be beautiful like you would see in a studio, except that actually you had half a second to take the picture and no lighting,” Ms. Deniau said. “I was telling stories, but these stories had to be connected to Lee’s work.”