There are moments that make history, moments that remain forever in the imagination of those fortunate enough to see them, to participate in them, and the ability to think about them and turn them into something that has forever and indelibly marked the course of events.
Without fear of contradiction, one such moment in the contemporary fashion world is undoubtedly Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2001 show entitled “Voss”.
Let’s start by saying that to call it simply a “show” is extremely reductive, that was something that crossed all kinds of boundaries and was able to amalgamate fashion, art, performance, social denunciation and raising awareness of a topic that is more important and contemporary today than ever before, mental health.
Sublime, enchanting, shocking, powerful, engaging and destabilizing, Alexander McQueen’s SS01 fashion show was all this and more. An almost theatrical portrayal of an extremely complex and still denigrated human condition, that of mental instability and all those mental health-related difficulties that affect a huge segment of the human population at various levels.
One of the most well-known, famous and revolutionary fashion shows of the British designer who passed away at the age of only 40 in 2010, “Voss” is a lofty moment in contemporary fashion history in all respects..
The title of the show is a reference to nature, its beauty and enchantment (Voss is a Norwegian town famous for the wild and wonderful nature in which it is located) and in fact the garments in the collection reflect this very aspect – see the clothes also constructed with natural and animal elements such as shellfish shells and stuffed birds. But there is another one that is much more important and hidden before the eyes of everyone present and beyond: the context and setting of the show.
A large glass catwalk-like box placed in front of the spectators and the many photographers invited to the show and was the nerve center of the entire show.
White tiles like those typical of a psychiatric hospital as well as walls composed of mirrors like those we find in interrogation rooms, used to control what goes on inside without being seen and, as a final element, another glass box but covered with metal to hide the contents.
McQueen’s choice was to drop the audience immediately into a surreal and eerie atmosphere: for more than an hour the audience was left to wait for the show to begin while they could only see themselves reflected on the mirrored walls of the box with only the sound of a very slow and continued heartbeat in the background.
In this way the designer also directly involved the audience, pushing them into a condition of stress and anguish, almost as if they were experiencing a kind of coercion to stay there, sitting and forced to wait. The same coercion of people forced to live trapped in a condition that is very difficult to understand, to share, and that often still leads, in many cases, to marginalization due to repression and superficiality (although things are fortunately changing thanks to normalization and awareness on the issue of mental health).
The models moved as if they were vulnerable and helpless, gripped by fear and anguish, of those who are forcibly locked up not only in physical place but in a place of the soul and mind from which it is difficult to escape.
After the last model on the runway, who walked down the runway in a bodice made of microscope slides painted blood red and a red skirt of ostrich feathers, the lights went out, the music stopped, and the only background noise returned to a slow heartbeat.
Once the lights come back on, the steel-covered box opens and shows its interior: writer Michelle Olley naked, with a respirator, a pair of horns, lying on a chaise longue and surrounded by butterflies, like a post-apocalyptic Venus.
An ending that leaves the viewer open-mouthed and speechless, but at the same time forces the viewer to reflect in an almost overpowering way on one of the most sensitive and relevant aspects of our lives: the treatment, understanding and acceptance of mental disorders at all levels.