McQueen used the female body in ways that were unfamiliar in the world of fashion, for example at Bellmer La Poupée, with the cage. Was this disturbing?
I never found this particular moment at Bellmer disturbing – it is part of the McQueen sensationalism. So many of the girls that I knew really enjoyed the theatrics and the opportunity to wear his great clothes. Debra Shaw, who wore the cage outfit you mention, sent me a message the other day saying how honoured she felt. I know it was uncomfortable and brave to take on the challenge of getting down and then up the steps, but in the quest to create stand-alone fashion imagery, this was part of the McQueen goal. He was literally saying even then: I can make girls walk on water. Utter self-belief.
Katy England said that McQueen needed “strong, ballsy girls” as models – ones who could carry off the clothes. Why was this so important to McQueen?
I think Katy England said “strong and ballsy” because many women have a style of their own, a need for self-expression. I think this should be celebrated after so much oppression for so many women for so long historically. This was a theme in the shows Joan and In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem 1692. He liked warrior women.
Was there a feeling of camaraderie among the models?
The girls need good friends to back them up when they are tired or hungry and travelling as a pack. Paris and McQueen are at the end of the collections, something to be excited about and always unusual. After so many clothing changes, make-up and hairstyles, a chance to be dressed in an incredible new form or shape by Lee was a very uplifting experience. His teams rarely changed and Sarah Burton has been a mainstay since the Nineties. A McQueen show was like a homecoming.
Were McQueen’s shows hard to stage?
The actual locations for many shows were often unusual and in the case of Lee, he liked to create sets that were involved – so there had to be major organisation. This is often overlooked: the precision of Lee and his set designers and production collaborators. He broke every rule and raised the bar to an unattainable point very early on in his career, with little money. So much was done on a wing and a prayer. But it never stopped him. If he had an idea, he just did it.