Joel-Peter Witkin, The Inspiration Behind McQueen’s Asylum. | Boraaa: Joel-Peter Witkin, The Inspiration Behind McQueen’s Asylum.

Joel-Peter Witkin, The Inspiration Behind McQueen’s Asylum.


Everyone knows how I feel towards Alexander McQueen and his work, so it’s no surprise that I love investigating other works of art that acted as his inspiration.

15 years ago this September, McQueen presented one of the most visionary shows of his career in an old London bus garage. The audience arrived to the sound of a beating heart pulsing, and were faced with a large mirrored box and their own reflections instead of the usual runway experience. The box lit up and the audience were presented with padded walls, reminiscent of a clinical asylum space with a smaller box in the centre. Models emerged from the darkness with bandages wrapped around their heads, displaying McQueen’s creations of feathers, antique fabrics and shells.

The shows finales was spectacular, the walls of the case shattered to the ground releasing moths and butterflies and revealing a naked woman wearing nothing but a mask that ran breathing tubes all over the back of a sofa. The heartbeat noise flatlined. This woman was Michelle Olley, a journalist who kept a diary of working on the show. ‘My body’s going to be so at odds with the fashion sparrows and bony old crow-people in the audience… i am what most of them fear most - fat.’ This was in fact a homage to an image created by the American photographer, Joel-Peter Witkin.

Joel-Peter Witkin’s work is full of taboo and controversial images, forcing the viewers to think about the outsiders in society, including circus performers and fetishists. McQueen collected Witkin’s work and it is clear that the SS01 show was heavily influenced by the image ‘Sanitarium, New Mexico 1983.’

McQueen has also used other images from Witkin as a references, such as the crucifix masks in the Dante AW96 show, recently exhibited in the Savage Beauty exhibition.

Even though in recent years the relationship seemed to decline, it is clear that Witkin had a profound impact on McQueen’s career. They both share the language of being dark, provocative and incredibly powerful.

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