The dramatic loss of Mr. McQueen to suicide, along with John Galliano’s disgraced exit from Dior last year, underscored a reality little noted in the industry. For 10 years — and as it happens largely financed by the same multinationals that ultimately robbed fashion of its endearing mom-and-pop elements — a great cultural theater was inaugurated, one that featured epic showmen like Mr. McQueen, Mr. Galliano and Tom Ford at Gucci, and that introduced large segments of the general public to the previously obscure customs of a small tribal world, thus transforming fashion from an insular business and pursuit of the cognoscenti into an irresistible and, some would argue, dominant cultural force.
No spectator lucky enough to have had a front-row seat on the transgressive theater of fashion over the last decade was left in any doubt that these were unusual and vivid times: smoke and fireworks in tented firetraps (Mr. Galliano); fur-lined catwalks (Gucci); caged wolves at the medieval Conciergerie in Paris (Mr. McQueen); elaborate Kabuki scenarios enacted in the Espace Éphémère set up twice yearly in the Jardins des Tuileries (Dior) near the Louvre; bondage and Jack the Ripper scenarios played out in warehouses skirting the gloomy canals in Milan (McQueen men’s wear.)
As one looks forward to a month of new fashions displayed on the catwalks of New York, London, Milan and Paris, perhaps only Marc Jacobs in New York, Karl Lagerfeld in Paris and Miuccia Prada in Milan offer much promise of fascinating spectacle or challenging aesthetics or even a little goofball fun. The trouble is that even Mr. Jacobs’s ability to generate buzz, Ms. Prada’s sly subversions, Mr. Lagerfeld’s well-financed (by the Wertheimer family that controls Chanel) coups de théâtre can do only so much to offset an overall drift toward aesthetic complacency and boredom.
True, Mr. Lagerfeld may thrill everybody for an hour with another stage set like the one in 2010 that featured small mountains of ice hacked off a glacier in Sweden and then trucked across the continent to the Grand Palais in Paris. Yet even a stunt like that can’t alter the fact that in a borderline bear market hardly any designer can justify a line item for live wolves.
McQueen is dead, in other words. Long live McQueen.”