Alexander McQueen debuts its spring / summer 2021 collections with an eerie film by Jonathan Glazer

Set against a London dawn, it showcases the fragile strength behind Sarah Burton's creations

A still from the film 'First Light', by Jonathan Glazer for Alexander McQueen. Courtesy McQueen
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Alexander McQueen has released its spring / summer 2021 women’s and pre-autumn 2021 men’s collections in a short film by acclaimed director Jonathan Glazer.

Having never been a house that conforms to the rules, it not only mixes seasons (previously a no-no in fashion circles) but has done so in a film that can best be described as eerily haunting.

Proving once and for all that the old tropes of spring florals are long gone, this women’s collection is fragile and terse yet powerful, while the menswear is tailored with surgical precision.

Glazer shot the video in London, where the brand is based, in what is described, after creative director’s Sarah Burton’s exploration of heritage skills across the UK, as “coming home".

Spring / summer 2021 womenswear by Alexander McQueen. Courtesy McQueen
Spring / summer 2021 womenswear by Alexander McQueen. Courtesy McQueen

Entitled First Light, the film is shot entirely at dawn – in that watery, grey light that every Londoner will tell you is when the city is at its most beautiful.

We watch two gowned women wade into the River Thames, passing the jumble of architecture old and new that makes up the city. We follow young men clad in second-skin leather cross a bridge, looking for someone or something. We gaze at a couple hiding under a bridge, before the camera settles on to a woman's face, ears covered in cuffs and jewellery, looking into the distance, crying. At what is never explained.

At one point, a young woman in an ivory corseted dress makes angels in the London mud, the dirt running down her neck as she sits up.

Blending strength with fragility, Burton has conjured delicate dresses of layered faille, some with corsets and some with the elegant draped fabric of a Watteau back.

There is washed denim cut and shaped around the body as a waterfall skirt and swing-back jacket, and hybrid coats that merge tailoring with a fishtail parka. Vast puffed leg o’ mutton sleeves sit on severely cut coats, as a shrunken cropped jumper sits over a butterfly draped tulle skirt.

Men’s, too, mixes hard and soft, with tightly waisted knee-length coats, stove pipe trousers, skinny-fit leather jackets and, best of all, a silky bomber jacket merged with a camel wool-fronted coat. Many pieces come emblazoned with the words: “Alexander McQueen, est. 1992.”

The beauty of Burton’s and Glazer’s work is that both raise questions and yet give no answers, letting instead the audience fill in the spaces. In the hazy first light of a London dawn, Glazer’s film feels eerie and haunting, yet is filled with youthful energy.

Given no information, we are left to assume these men and women have been out all night before heading to the river. In the quiet dawn, there is an unspoken zest for life, that in turn speaks volumes of the stifling atmosphere of lockdown, and energies kept restrained indoors.

As a director, Glazer is unflinching in his gaze. The man behind the unsettling films such as Under the Skin (2013) and the shockingly brutal The Fall (2019), he is not afraid to reveal the most deplorable sides of people. Just as Lee McQueen himself fed off the darker elements of life, so Glazer, too, is drawn to the darkness and complexity that dwells in each human.

The irony, of course, is to use Glazer to present a spring / summer collection, that after the constraints of 2020 would have been forgiven for being about lightness and freedom.

While Burton has made the collection largely pale in colour, together she and Glazer have embraced something infinitely darker and more troubling, as if the malaise of the past months will linger.

The film offers a vaguely Dickensian view of London (in one version, an old fashioned ‘Peeler’ policeman chases someone unseen along the opposite bank) yet captures an authentic sense of the city. The River Thames has always been the heart of London, with every modern low tide revealing the clay pipes, bones and bottles of lives and centuries past.

How fitting that it should be used as backdrop to the complex and intelligent work of Burton.