York Fashion Week SS23 honours the legacy of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood
For artist and designer Gary James McQueen, storytelling is at the heart of his work, no matter what form that work might take. “One idea branches and transcends, so it can incorporate art pieces and film-making, but also brings fashion into those spaces,” he says.
Next week, he will open York Fashion Week SS23 at the Yorkshire Museum, launching an extravaganza of catwalks and shows, talks and shopping events taking place across the city as part of a five-day festival of fashion.
Gary’s own presentation is called The Legacy and it will begin with a screening of Guiding Light, his remarkable short film that showcases his latest fashion collection on avatar models walking round a temple-like tower, encapsulating the classical, the mythical, the contemporary and the futuristic in one mesmerising, haunting vision.
“I have one foot in the digital space and one foot in the traditional space, so I am quite a rare case in knowing how to bring these two worlds together in the best possible way,” he says. Last year, he presented an immersive art experience at the V&A in London. “It was a digital try-on experience, so the user could stand in front of a screen and then the camera picks up their body and it projects my clothes onto them.”
Now 44, Gary first learned about art and fashion from his late uncle Lee, otherwise known as Alexander McQueen, the visionary designer who died in 2010, aged just 40. Gary’s mum, Janet, was Lee’s elder sister. She was a black cab driver and young Gary would often be looked after by his grandmother in Stratford, where Uncle Lee also lived.
“I would spend a lot of time sitting with him as he was drawing, and watching the films that inspired him,” Gary says. “I used to draw from these films and create my own little world and characters. As I fell into fashion, I realised that this was the platform that I had always loved, the storytelling, wanting to dress these characters, the hair and make-up - all the ingredients I needed to create my own world.
“I always found it quite relaxing because Lee was in his own world when he was drawing and I was in my own world. When Lee was focused, you could see that he was somewhere else.”
At college, Gary studied Graphic Design and then worked for a publishing company, but at 25, he was made redundant. His uncle suggested he take a job at Alexander McQueen, where his digital skills and talent for storytelling could be put to good use, and so in 2005, he joined as head textile designer for menswear ready-to-wear, developing a niche expertise in optical-illusion textile design and entrusted with personal projects including the Chrome Skull artwork, which became the face of the commemorative Savage Beauty exhibition.
He left McQueen in 2012, two years after his uncle’s death. “Lee was not only my uncle and somebody I looked up to personally, but everybody did,” he says.
He established and has since been building his own Gary James McQueen brand, embracing the McQueen spirit, adapting his wolf's head insignia from the McQueen coat of arms and creating textile designs using digital software, then printed onto scarves.
“Scarves felt like a great canvas for me to tell a story,” he says. “There are also many other uses for the traditional industry, for example, for the development stages, and also pattern cutting, creating clothing by using an avatar.
“In terms of fantastical designs, the possibilities are endless, but what I like to do is make something that is relatable to the physical world. That doesn’t mean I sacrifice my fantastical ideas.”
He continues to honour the McQueen legacy. “A lot of the younger generation do not know who Alexander McQueen was,” he says. “They just see a clothing brand, which is still going strong. That is Lee’s legacy in one sense, that the fashion house still exists, but for me, the legacy is the art of storytelling, and I am trying to keep that alive in what I do.”
*Gary James McQueen: The Legacy, Yorkshire Museum, Thursday, April 27, 7.30pm–9pm, with a showing of Guiding Light digital fashion film, followed by a question and answer session with the designer. See Gary’s work and his Guiding Light film at www.garyjamesmcqueen.com
MORE YFW EVENTS
Thursday, April 27: Fashion Avenue, The Guildhall, 9.30am–4.30pm, hosted by Kat Atkinson, exploring fashion careers, free to students. Speakers: Sonia Schofield, hair & make-up artist; Simon Whitaker of Master Debonair; Tendai Murairwa, designer/seamstress; designer Elizabeth Kynaston.
Get Summer Ready with stylist Laura Fawcett, Fenwicks, 6.30pm–9pm.
The Red House Sustainable Fashion Preview, from 7pm (invite only), designer collectables showcased by Tim Hogarth, with a preview styled by Tee - founder of True-Street Curators - with model and body confidence activist Rachel Peru.
Friday, April 28: Fashion and Beauty Showcase, Browns York, 1.30pm–3.30pm, with new fashion and a presentation by Estee Lauder, afternoon tea and a gin tasting by Hooting Owl Gin. Tickets £30 from Estee Lauder in Browns York or on 01904 611166
Jigsaw Trunk Show, Jigsaw, 5.30pm–7pm, in-store shopping event and runway show styled by Holly Woodhouse, with an exclusive 15 per cent off.
Indie Retail: The Runway, The Guildhall York, 8–10pm. A theatrical runway show.
Saturday, April 29: Independent Design: The Runway, The Guildhall York, 8–10pm.
Sunday, April 30: CinemArts presents Westwood, The Guildhall York, 6–8pm, celebrating Vivienne Westwood with a special screening.
The Breast Friends Runway Show, Browns York, 6–9pm, a joyous and uplifting event with inspirational models all moving on from a breast cancer diagnosis, profits to go to the charity.