McQueen’s S/S 1995 collection, ‘The Birds’ is arguably one of his most underrated – there are few pictures of the collection available online and the video of the full show is near impossible to find (although I finally did manage to find it here!) The lack of buzz around this collection is mystifying in a way, as it was the first to feature the bird motif that would soon become a signature of McQueen’s macabre aesthetic; it also featured reincarnations of both the painted evening tuxedos and the shrinkwrap dresses, both reimagined in a striking black and white colour palette.
The collection itself was slicker than usual – the colour palette veered between monochrome and flame red with the occasional sprinkle of metallic, and the silhouette and cut of the fabric were both razor-sharp. Models walked the runway with cropped punk hairdos in a multitude of colours with a badass attitude and tyre-prints stamped menacingly on their bare chests; the juxtaposition of delicacy and aggression is one that McQueen knows so well.
This contrast reappeared later in the show, in the form of androgyny. A male model walked the runway dressed entirely in womenswear (perhaps a reference to this iconic image by Jean Paul Gaultier) – a tightly corseted pencil skirt emblazoned with huge black crows was teamed with a traditional black tuxedo jacket, white shirt and black tie, creating a striking look that has become one of the show’s most memorable.
Overall, the collection represented a true step forward for McQueen. It was the first example of a move towards a new aesthetic – one which retained the dark sexuality and blatant provocation that were fast becoming a staple, but also flirted with a streamlined, more commercial silhouette. However, the nose rings, punk ‘dos and transvestite models made the firm statement that McQueen was not about to sell out – a statement which was soon to be cemented in his infamous ‘Highland Rape’ collection.