PRINT September 1996


FOREGOING A RECITAL OF PEDIGREES for Steven Klein (L’Uomo Vogue, Arena Homme Plus, i-D, W, etc.) and for Alexander McQueen (fashion’s new naughtiest darling in the tradition of Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano) gets me right to what their turn-on is: the thrill of daring to be wrong. As much as it is possible, fashion conventions—easy class distinctions, ugliness/beauty, fantasy/reality—are told to go fuck themselves.

Klein’s work is as concerned with light and color (or their absence) as clothes, and emits the dingy shimmer of things “off”: fashion photography’s master colorist Saul Leiter on an all-night bender; storms moving in. Klein scouts women’s looks to find the severe independence of intelligence, men’s to find fashion, the complexity of surface. If male beauty is an old silver thing, Klein never removes its tarnish entirely; he likes its dissolution, its mess. Sometimes he places men in tableaux suggesting trade, rough play: guys waiting for a transaction in the bushes, in parks (the transaction and waiting are only ways for the men to figure out they are each other, the same, and their appearance—face, torso, package—the only thing making them who they are). At others, he favors a good dose of humor. In a spread for Interview titled “Eggheads,” the boys, no matter how stiletto-ready or lost in erotic thought about themselves, all had big egg bouffants.

McQueen is to be applauded for exploring the “haute” limits of unwearability as much as he is for giving design the equivalent of a mooning. Like Klein, he lends a shadowland atmosphere to fashion, taking all his Savile Row know-how and doing something absolutely contrary with it: skin-baring slits in suits; sharp nips and tucks at waist and shoulder; accessories of feathers, crucifixes, and horns; translucent plastic as shirt fabric (for men and women). Rather than see his lace frock as a soigne sex sheath, consider it flamenco’s veils and mantillas sabotaged. S/M as sadness and mourning.

The shot of the model named Carmen Hawk, hunched, declares nothing specific about gender—everyone has a back and a butt—and neither do McQueen’s pants, since he has done bumsters for men. Keeping the garments, model, and surroundings both what they are and aren’t, Klein provides a look at fashion—what is worn, the body it is worn by, the relation between fabric and skin, how it is all rendered—that scours away everything except the ineradicable, soft pleasure of looking at a body doing what it does.

He shows someone, defacing self for surface, or at least turned toward the ominous and away from being known as “Carmen,” in poses so banal they aren’t really poses, just quotidian positions someone might find herself striking while getting through any long day, wearing these suggestive things by a man, McQueen, about whom, in these pictures, little is known except how he likes different fabrics to wrong the body or not.

Bruce Hainley contributes regularly to Artforum.

Flash Track is organized in collaboration with Paris contributor Olivier Zahm.