The haunting documentary film McQueen (2018) explores the life and career of the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who started his fashion career in his teens before being hired as Creative Director for Givenchy and launching his own label, which continues to this day.
The documentary, directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, pays tribute to the groundbreaking designer and his desire to unhinge fashion and haute couture. The film celebrates the ecstasy of the creative process in fashion and how often couture is conceptualized in a whirlwind of madness.
McQueen is a staggeringly beautiful piece of filmmaking. Between home videos taken by McQueen’s friends/family, Cinematographer Will Pugh fills scenes with skull imagery, draped in dripping gold, slime, and butterflies. The skull was McQueen’s most recognizable motifs (you’ve definitely seen at least one silk skull scarf in your life).
The documentary asks, “What made this man tick?” But the audience is left with more questions than that: how did an overweight, gay misfit from London’s streets manage to get himself to the highest rungs of fashion? Talent? Passion? Intuition? Luck?
McQueen rose to fame in the bubbling London of the 1990s and instantly became recognized as one of the most audacious inventive modern fashion designers.
Fashion is an incredibly emotional art form, and McQueen’s work was consistently jarring. At the time, it was controversial and frightening but dripping in beauty and creativity. His shows (sometimes 14 per year) were more like works of modern art/theater than commercial catwalks, known to be the can’t-miss, theatrical hot-ticket events that used cameras, robotics, and media trickery to support the stories his clothes were telling.
McQueen believed it was his duty to shock audiences into consciousness, not just about fashion but the world it reflects. McQueen’s intention was to leave his audience “repulsed or exhilarated.” He was an artist who didn’t follow trends or commercialism. He translated his own dark psyche into avant-garde forms of expression. Savage beauty was his thing. Alexander McQueen both revolted and riveted the fashion world.
But ego, personalities, the pressures of beauty, money, fame, combined with trauma, loss, and despair, can spin people out of control.
Alexander McQueen took his own life in 2010.
I was fortunate to see McQueen at Pacific Place Seattle, put on by Seattle Magazine. 100% of proceeds for the event, McQueen: Fashion Meets Film, benefitted Forefront Suicide Prevention.
Forefront Suicide Prevention is a Center of Excellence at the University of Washington focused on reducing suicide by empowering individuals and communities to take sustainable action, championing systemic change, and restoring hope.
Many of us have confided in others during dark times, and vice versa. We don’t usually know what to do when a loved one or a friend shows suicide warning signs.
Developed by Forefront Suicide Prevention, the LEARN® steps empower individuals to help others move in the direction of hope, recovery, and survival. This intervention framework is a way to integrate information on the safe storage of lethal means – and remove the dangers when someone is at-risk for suicide.
It serves as a a reminder: I see you. I care.
LOOK FOR SIGNS
• Talking, joking or researching ways to die.
• Feeling hopeless, depressed, trapped, burdensome, anxious, ashamed, or humiliated.
• Changes in personality, academic/work performance, sleep, withdrawing from friends/activities.
• Increasing use of alcohol/drugs, reckless behavior, self‐harm/cutting, giving away possessions.
EMPATHIZE AND LISTEN
• People who have survived suicide attempts report what was most helpful to them—just listen.
• Listen with compassion, remain calm, avoid judgement and validate their feelings.
• Don’t offer quick fixes, tell them everything will be OK, show anger, panic, or ask “why” questions.
• Let them know that you care about them.
ASK ABOUT SUICIDE
• Ask in a way that invites an honest response. Use any signs you’ve noticed as part of “the ask.”
• Be direct. Use the word “suicide” and be prepared to hear a “yes.”
• Asking about suicide will NOT put the idea in someone’s head.
“Sometimes when people feel hopeless they are thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about suicide?”
REMOVE THE DANGER
• If they say yes, ask them “Do you have a plan?” “Do you have access to those means?”
• Putting time and distance between a person at risk for suicide and lethal means can save lives.
• Remove or limit access to firearms, medications, belts, ropes, knives, alcohol and chemicals.
• Report concerning posts on social media.
• Ideally with the person at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
• If the person will not agree to stay safe, do not leave them alone. CALL 911.
We need everyone to play a role in suicide prevention. Most suicides are preventable. Together, we can save lives.
Remember that suicidal ideation and thoughts are not a choice, they are symptoms of an illness.
Excellent article and ideas to close it out. It’s good to have a blueprint on what to say, not say, and to ask.
My friends grew distant when I was suicidal. I never want to do that to anyone because I didn’t know what to say. Thank you.