FUTURISTIC GENIUSES: ALEXANDER McQUEEN & MANISH ARORA
Fashion has been around for the longest time one can remember. Earlier worn for purely utilitarian purposes, the concept of fashion has evolved and gone far and wide, beyond the necessity itself. Fashion is big in today’s business with a staggering value of £26 billion alone in the UK . On one hand you have clothes which are reminders of the past while on the other, you have fantasies that are windows to the unknown future. Despite being a saturated field, an industry that was nearly on the verge of closing down was resurrected by the birth of futuristic vision and sheer creativity. It was guided by freedom and fearlessness. The very reason behind why the world is still gaga over a two century year old industry is because of modern day design mavericks. Yes I’m talking about success labels like Alexander McQueen and Manish Arora.
The reason why I chose these designers is because of the advances they have made in the field of fashion like no other. They made their statements in fashion loud and clear even if people shunned them. Constantly reinterpreting fashion, being unafraid to express their creativity and moving forward is what garnered such worldly acclaim. They ventured into the murky waters of avant garde and never looked back. Unleashing their creative energies into a domain where fashion meets art while being true to themselves. The following essay compares the two designers talking about their design philosophy, the colour preferences, textures and forms created, their clientele, promotional strategies, brand identity, innovative steps to meet their consumer expectations along with one of their collections inspired by a historic period.
Before the fame and success, Alexander McQueen was born and brought up by a working class family in London’s Lewisham district. His father was a taxi driver while his mother, a school teacher. They struggled to make ends meet for Alexander and his five other siblings. At an early age he realized his sexual preferences for which he was ridiculed at school . At the age of 16, he dropped out of school and started working at Savile Row which was famous for English Bespoke tailoring. He wanted to progress further in career and started working with theatrical designers Angels and Bermans.The streak of drama later became a part of his brand identity. He later assisted Romeo Gigli as assistant designer for a short period. The British designer pursued his masters and became a Central Saint Martin’s graduate. On completion of his master’s degree, his entire graduate collection was bought by stylist Isabella Blow for 5000 pounds.
He then opened his own studio in East London consequently. His talent got noticed and soon enough he became the chief designer at Givenchy. This lasted for five years before he shifted his attention towards his own label which he opened in 2004. He believed Givenchy restrained his creative freedom. McQueen wanted to transform the French Haute Couture brand into his creative vision which he couldn’t. He ended his association soon after the tenure. While at Givenchy, McQueen won accolades such as British Designer of the year in 1996, 1997 and 2001. Something like this is quite commendable despite having restrained creative freedom. In the year 2000, Gucci had a 51% stake in McQueen’s company. This boosted his capital and enabled him to set up his stores in New York, Milan, London, and Las Vegas. The funding gave him a boost in popularity like never before. He produced some of his best works after having left Givenchy. Two deaths in his life left really affected him as a person. The first, Isabella Blow who committed suicide in 2007. The designer later dedicated his S/S 2008 in honor of his close ally. The second, his mother died just two years later. One day before her funeral, McQueen killed himself by suicide on February 12, 2010. The entire fraternity of fashion wept thick tears in honor of his memory and contribution in fashion. A year later in 2011, McQueen’s contribution to fashion was honored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.His work has been synonymous to avant garde masterpieces. Even after his death in 2010, the world still wonders what he would be currently designing in heaven.  His label is currently been run by Sarah Burton who is continuing his legacy.
On the Indian terrain, another warrior in the world of fashion is Manish Arora. A commerce student at first, Arora took his leap towards fashion by enrolling at NIFT, New Delhi. Graduating with the best student award in 1994, he opened his first label three years after in 1997. In 1997, he took part in one of the first platforms showcasing Indian fashion designers, India Fashion Week in New Delhi.
Another seven years later he was awarded in one of the first Indian Fashion Awards in Bombay, 2004. There has been a flood of awards since then. In May 2005, he received the designer’s choice for Best Collection Award at Miami Fashion Week. The March 2006 issue of Outlook had the face of the designer along with the ‘Best Indian Fashion Designer’. Apart from his own label he has also collaborated with Reebok, Swatch, and Mac and is a successful designer and businessman in every sense. He broke barriers by sticking to his routes but transforming them with a global taste. Some of his works were exhibited in London by the Victoria and Albert Museum called ‘Global Local’. Apart from been appointed the creative director of Paco Rabanne, his label Manish Arora has also catered to International clientele (India Today, 2014).
Although distinct in their signature styles, Manish Arora and Alexander McQueen share similar design aesthetics. They love to surprise and mesmerize their audience with new innovative concepts. Alexander McQueen in his earlier days introduced the ‘bumster pants’ which was quite controversial but loved by quite a few (BBC News Magazine, 2010). With their strong aesthetics and design philosophies in cooperated in their garments, one can easily distinguish an Alexander McQueen and Manish Arora from the herd.
Manish Arora loves all things colorful and funky along with perspicacious craftsmanship skills. He infuses psychedelic colours and eccentricity of designs in his collections . Manish Arora has his own set of inspirations which shapes his aesthetics. The eccentric designer likes to play with fantasy elements such as whimsical costumes, acrobatic-based performances and all things unknown and magical .He is motivated by colours shown in animated movies where the colours just stand out. Inspired by the Japanese way of precision, he directs the same precision through the cuts in his designs. As the Indian Express (2012) quotes “Manish is too many things at the same time, a thick rope woven from philosophies and psychologies; history and modernity; Indianness and glocality.”
McQueen’s design philosophies have been inspired by edgy, dark, and politically driven themes. One great example of his politically motivated collection was ‘Highland Rape’ which visualized the political tension between England and Scotland. Alexander McQueen stated in an interview” I use things that people want to hide in their heads. War, religion, sex: things we all think about but don’t bring to the forefront. But I do and I force them to watch it.” Alexander McQueen stated that his design philosophy was “To make a piece that can transcend any trend and will still hold as much presence in 100 years’ time when you find it an antique store as when you bought it in my store yesterday.”  A believer in the beauty of nature, he also took to natural elements and materials in his collections. Some of them were leather, feathers, bones, shells and horns.
McQueen is not only a sought after designer but one of my biggest inspirations. His theatrical performances, elaborate backdrops and stunning collections give me the chills. According to me, one of his most memorable shows would be Alexander McQueen Women’s wear Spring/Summer 2010, Plato’s Atlantis. It was a few months before his untimely death at the age of 40 . The show was inspired by the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin who had written on the ‘Origin of Species’. He came up with an internal logic that depicted the end of civilization. That humankind which evolved from the sea may soon head back to the origin as the ice cap dissolves. 
The show entrapped me in its futuristic vision. It started off with mysterious music at the beginning which built up as time progressed. There was a highly anorexic woman in sand with snakes all over her body . There were two cameras rolling back and forth the runway in anticipation for what was coming next. Alexander always kept his audience clinging onto their seats in anticipation for what would happen next. From the very first second the first model entered right till the end, one could not move his/her eyes any place else. The show predominantly displayed reptilian theme from the shoes to its garments. They also incorporated quirky digital prints. The models wore short dresses with well-defined shoulders and hips. It was a bold silhouette. There were panels of scaled gold, chiffon with snakeskin, butterfly wings and marbled prints of gold and yellow, grey, brown and nude. There was great attention to detail and colour People were in shock with the mania he had created on the runway. He loved to show drama on the runway, it was always an intense show. This is where his signature shoes- the ‘Armadillo heel’ were displayed. Lady Gaga had flaunted one of his outfits in her ‘Bad Romance’ track. The women looked like warriors with their armored heads. He was one designer well ahead of his time with an eclectic mix of technology and digital prints on the forefront.
Manish Arora’s designs presented at Delhi Couture Week 2013 took us back to our roots and culture. The Show named ‘Indian’ took extravagance and fantasy to another level altogether. The set reflected India in a very pop culture way with the use of bright colours. His inspiration derived from ‘circus acrobatics’ were visible with the stage set. Elephants on wither sides were present on the set as though to welcome the walking pieces of art.The collection consisted of churidaars, kurtas and anarkalis.It was inspired by the Baroque period of Europe which shouted grandeur, perfectly apt for the Bridal collection . Each garment reflected great taste and craftsmanship skills. A variety of material such as enamel stones, faux leather, metal, sequins and crystal. There was use of digital and block print on fabrics such was silk crepes, chiffon, georgette and silk brocades. The lehengas displayed were every girl’s dream.
In the world of mainstream clichéd colours, one can blindly identify a Manish Arora’s colours. Eye popping shades such as bright pinks, green, orange, turquoise, blues and gold. In some of his garments he used black backgrounds with bright colours. This brings the colours alive. With funky prints and quirky colours it brings an over the top. This is in stark contrast to Alexander McQueen’s colour preferences. The brand uses dark and bold colours. Prominent colours in his collections include red, black, gold, white and blue. In some of his collections the colour schemes were inspired by nature such as Spring Summer 2010 from insects.
Alexander McQueen was the master of Avant garde. His unconventional silhouettes made the person look like from a different planet but highly fashionable at the same time. Some of McQueen’s signature materials were bones, glass, leather, brocade, shells, feathers etc. . He would a variety of innovative materials whether natural, synthetic, conventional or unconventional. In addition to his clothes he also advanced in the field of fabric technology. Absolutely bespoke British tailoring is what defines McQueen . He enjoyed playing with twisted elements such as tradition and modernity, strength and fragility. In his Spring/Summer 2010 collection.
the dresses were sharp with well-defined shoulders and hips. He had two sides of his designer mind. One side was dark that portrayed woman as strong, sharp and masculine; the other was that of a romantic that played with softness and had older European-like clothing.
Manish Arora’s garments display fine craftsman ship skills, embroidery with a great attention to details and bold silhouettes. Sometimes he plays with flowing drapes while on the other hand fitting garments accentuating the shoulders and the waist. He might even insert his quirky quotient and come up with silhouettes that throw in a surprise. Both the designers possess a raw energy which is effortlessly shown in the garments. Manish Arora’s clothes have a playful vibe to them. Heavy embellishments are noticeable in his clothes . He uses tactile textures such as fur and smooth textiles like satin . His collection includes stiff and smooth fabrics such as Lurex, wool, satin, and Varanasi silks.
Alexander McQueen caters to clients who are bold, futuristic and want to feel beautiful. He designed a range of outfits from wacky couture to soft and feminine gowns. His clientele included some of the most influential people in fashion such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Daphne Guinness, Cameron Diaz Kate Middleton, Katie Holmes, Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama etc. Beyoncé had some of her tour costumes designed by Alexander McQueen.  Vogue editor Anna Wintour said of McQueen, “He brought a uniquely British sense of daring and aesthetic fearlessness to the global stage of fashion. In such a short career, Alexander McQueen’s influence was astonishing – from street style, to music culture and the world’s museums. His passing marks an insurmountable loss.” Sarah Burton continues his legacy.
Manish Arora’s Indian flavors have international tastes. Models would strut his collection in Milan and Paris Fashion week. Apart from being a Bollywood favorite, some of his international clientele are Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and Louisa Roa. According to me any girl who is expressive, wants to go crazy with colours and print can always opt for a Manish Arora .
In order for any label to maintain a good image in the public, promotional activities are carried out. McQueen’s biggest marketing strategy is his runway which exudes raw energy, power and modernity. With whimsical backdrops not to mention the clothing, McQueen’s show is the most sought after during fashion week. McQueen wittily turned a popular comedy film “Borat” into a fashion show. It involved models to wear only mankinis which turned heads and also became the subject to talk about. An avid techie in terms of fashion, he captured the world’s attention in his Ready to wear 1999 show when two robots spray painted on a white dress live in front of the audience. In this manner he engaged the viewers in the creative process and also convinced them that anything can be fashionable. With popular celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker & Kate Middleton donning his outfits, it’s a public endorsement which only adds further value to his brand. Manish Arora also has several promotional strategies which captures attention of people, especially those of India. In collaboration with Bharat Sikka, he had made a film called Holi Holy. It celebrated widows playing Holi breaking a century long tradition. Some of his garments were displayed in the five minute fashion film which indirectly but effectively promoted his garments. His store opening for ‘Fishfry’ was promoted (Vogue India Online, 2013). He also collaborated on a range with Reebok for contemporary sportswear called ‘Fishfry for Reebok’. He teamed up with MAC and launched a range of cosmetics with eye-popping ‘Manishesque’ shades which was available internationally. He is also present on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Over the years of success and accomplishments, each of these labels have created quite a name for themselves. These labels have created a certain way to be recognized, by standing strong to their brand image. When one thinks of Alexander McQueen, one can associate it with bespoke British tailoring, raw energy, futurism, provocatively pushing, and eye catching. While on one hand he shows women as strong and fierce, his softer romantic side also makes him a sensitive designer. On the other hand, Manish Arora symbolizes Indian pop culture, youth, and bright shades with a whimsical feel. When the designer had earlier presented his collections internationally, he wanted them to put India on display. As of now he wants them to know him as a designer called Manish Arora who subtly displays India through his craftsmanship skills and textiles.
Manish Arora follows similar design aesthetics when it comes to catering to customer needs. He has always been footloose and fancy free. He designs his creations for the customers to choose from a variety and not a one-on-one consultation service. 
Both designers are experts at their field. Reinterpreting fashion refreshingly is what gives them an edge over other designers. They are constantly stretching the limits of fashion and going way beyond just the utilitarian aspect. They are creating pieces of art and infusing them into fashion. The scope for fashion in the future lies in their hands.
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