It is not hard to see how many critics jumped to the conclusion that Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 1995/96 Highland Rape collection depicted the rape of women: torn leathers and lace, exposed breasts and bleach strained crotches feature heavily in the collection described as ‘romanticizing rape’. However despite being called a misogynist, who glorified rape to attain media coverage, McQueen was unfazed by the initial reviews (Hall 2013).
‘[This collection] was a shout against English designers… doing flamboyant Scottish clothes. My father’s family originates from the Isle of Skye, and I’d studied the history of the Scottish upheavals and the Clearances. People were so unintelligent they thought this was about women being raped- yet Highland Rape was about England’s rape of Scotland.’ (McQueen cited in Bolton 2011, p.122)
In watching the runway show with this in mind, the exposed, blood splattered models, appearing in wild states of distress and chaos, are no longer seen as rape victims but Scotland herself- left wounded by England (Boseley 2011). Models of menace and dominance juxtapose those of fearfulness, who grasp at their exposed bodies. With the introduction of tartan and British military themes, it is clear this is not about the rape of women but the history and relationship of two countries and the rape of a culture.
This is perhaps made most evident between the last two models of the show. The first model, a symbol of England – confident and aggressive- in a cropped black top with a collar of feathers obscuring her face and pants riding low on her hips, menacingly strides forth. Behind her the second model appears in a knee length, little black dress, torn violently down her chest to reveal her left breast. She timorously walks down the runway, avoiding the gaze of the first model in what can only be described as an act of defeat. This is a Scotland that has been shaken to its core (Hall 2013).
Tartan and green leather, lace and dreaded red hair mark this collection as having Highland origins, while the treatment and sculpting of these materials by the master hands of McQueen begins to tell a narrative of upheaval and malice. Through a carefully curated and choreographed show the tension between Scotland and England is enhanced. In the collection that gave rise to his stardom, Alexander McQueen showed his ability to incorporate political and social events in the creation of fashion. Highland Rape can be viewed in its entirety here.
Boseley, E 2011, Alexander McQueen Highland Rape AW 1995, weblog, 10 May, viewed 19 September 2014, <http://makingtheunfinished.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/alexander-mcqueen-highland-rape-aw-1995>
Hall, J 2013, Highland Rape, weblog, 22 November, viewed 19 September 2014, <http://stylejourno.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/highland-rape.html>
Bolton, A 2011, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Yale University Press, New haven.