Alexander McQueen smashed fashion’s disability taboo in just one step

“When I used Aimee [Mullins] for [this collection], I made a point of not putting her in . . . sprinting legs [prostheses for running]. . . . We did try them on but I thought no, that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is that she was to mould in with the rest of the girls” Alexander McQueen said in ID, July 2000. Once again fashion’s revolutionary enfant terrible was breaking new ground.

McQueen made this ensemble with carved prosthetic legs for world-class Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins for his 13th S/S99 show, back in 1999.  “They were solid wood, solid ash, so there’s no give in the ankle. So any kind of a runway walk that I had practiced went out the window” says Mullins. “And then suddenly they laced me into this leather bodice, and there were some spinning discs in the floor of the runway, which I had, while practicing in these wooden legs, you know… was very conscious of how to avoid them. But now that my neck was secured in this almost neck-brace position, I couldn’t look down. I couldn’t even see where the spinning discs were. And I just remember thinking, ‘Okay, you’ve done the Olympics. You’ve done harder things than this. You can do this. You can survive it.’ And you know, the fact is, nobody knew that they were prosthetic legs. They were the star of the show—these wooden boots peeking out from under this raffia dress—but in fact, they were actually legs made for me. His clothes have always been very sensuous, and I mean the full gamut of that. So hard and strict and unrelenting, as life can be sometimes. And then this incredibly romantic swishing of the raffia” she adds on the moment McQueen changed fashion by “smashing a lingering taboo, celebrating disability where the fashion world had otherwise chosen to ignore it”.

This was just one act of brilliant, though-provoking political statements of McQueen. Dazed and Confused’s Fashion-Able issue is another milestone of McQueen’s saga.

“Fashion-Able was inspired by Lee’s SS99 show ‘No.13’, which addressed his belief that beauty can be found in extreme difference and individuality” writes Katie Grand in Dazed. “Each of the real models that we cast in the shoot had a different physical disability and I know that it was very important to him that they felt at ease and could trust our vision, knowing that we all wanted achieve something artistic and beautiful. He had asked some of his most respected cotemporaries, such as Hussein Chalayan, Rei Kawakubo and milliner Philip Treacy to custom-create pieces for each subject. For Sue Bramley, Treacy dreamed up this incredible, ornate crimson butterfly headpiece that trailed down the forehead, protecting the eyes. Nature was a reoccurring theme in Lee’s work and he felt that the butterflies had a romantic, elegant quality. I remember him describing the piece in great detail to her, so she could get a sense of how it might appear. I think we all felt humbled that day. It was the most challenging project we had ever done together and certainly the most unique experience for everyone involved”.

“Lee and I were so young when we started working together. He was an amazing talent on many different levels because he was so supremely skilled. From pattern cutting to creating clothes on the body, it all seemed instinctive – he was an artist and his sense of showmanship was unparalleled. On a more personal note, he was great fun to work with. In the beginning he was a very happy, funny guy who was quick and brilliant, sometimes it was hard to keep up with his train of thought. We spent so much time together over the years that it felt like a marriage. We had a very deep connection.

Another highlight from the shoot was when Nick (Knight) took Catherine Long’s picture. She was wearing this beautiful Comme Des Garçons dress that was specially tailored to fit her body, with just one sleeve. At the time, nothing was digital, so Nick would print these amazing big Polaroids on set. I remember Catherine, Lee and Nick looking through the shots together and she suddenly seemed quite overwhelmed and said, ‘I never thought I could look so beautiful’. For me, that was a very important part of the story.We had achieved what we set out to achieve and had proved that beauty can be found in difference” she adds.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed every year on December 3 to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’.

The theme reiterates the 2030 Agenda of leaving no one behind and encourages the development of a society that is sustainable and resilient for all.

Main image via MetMuseum