Alexander McQueen A/W 96 “Dante”

“Dante”, Alexander McQueen’s was shown on March 1, 1996, in the ruined Christ Church in East London. McQueen’s eighth collection is titled “Dante” after Dante Alighieri and inspired by his famous work Divine Comedy. The narrative poem represents the soul’s journey towards God and the stages needed to be passed to attain salvation as taken from Roman Catholic theology and philosophy. Dante’s location was also connected to the designer of the church Nicholas Hawkson and his rumoured connection to Satanism which added an eerie appeal Lee could not escape.

“Dante” was also inspired by  Don McCullin’s photographs taken during the Vietnam War. The show was a commentary on religion and war while being dedicated to Lee’s long-term friend and mentor Isabella Blow. McQueen stated, “I think religion has caused every war in the world, which is why I showed in a church.” Those words stuck with me as I looked back to the state of society and religion’s hand in shaping it. I remember the crusades, the thirty-year war, the middle east and 9/11. I especially respect Lee’s commentary on such a controversial topic considering his strict religious background growing up and his family’s connection to Spitalfields.  War and Religion are synonymous and inseparable in that respect. However, it is important to note, this show does not romanticize death, rather it creates the awareness of it through clothes.

As I watched this show I experienced a multitude of feelings, such as; fear, joy, surprise and happiness. This was the first instance of McQueen’s input regarding the art direction of a space. From the candles to the cross-style stage, to the skeletons littered in the church, the devil was in the details. There was a common colour code, black represented death and mourning, white/bone represented the symbol of purity and lilac represented the victorian aspect of half-mourning. 

If you look closely at the styling for each look, there was a specific focus on hair designs. Headpieces and Hairstyles took center stage. Particularly braiding done on some of the model’s hair in reference to the military and the other frayed hairstyles.

Additionally, I noted that lace was the principal fabric used throughout the collection. I took this as a naughty spin on the traditional garments and their presentation. The high-quality lacework and embroidery in this collection propelled Lee to the forefront of the fashion industry’s gaze.

From the beginning of the show to the end, you could see the dark romance of everything. The organs played to generate a still and mournful atmosphere, the interaction between the female and male models which gave of flirty energy,  the black lace that was grim yet hot.

Regarding details, a few details did catch my eye in this show. The military jacket with gold detailing symbolized war in a beautiful and raw form. In the same manner, you can see the high-level tailoring employed in the garment which raises it even more. I perceived it as a preparation for war.

“Dante” A/W 96

Similarly, I saw Lee’s interpretation of denim acid wash on menswear which was coincidentally his first menswear release. I believe this contributed to the wearable appeal of the collection. 

“Dante” A/W 96

Detailing as I previously mentioned was crucial in the art direction and fame of this collection. The crown of thorns by Philip Treacy had to be my favourite headpiece along with the antlers which were co-designed by Shaun Leane. This was McQueen’s first use of the crown of thorns but it would not be his last. The thorns to me were a representation of the pains Lee bore in creating the collection. 

When I first saw the antlers I interpreted them as horns of demons Dante saw during his journey through hell. Although those interpretations may not have been Lee’s intention, I believe it is left to each individual to decide their interpretation of it.  I can hands-down say that the styling of this runway show is one of my favourite ever.

If you don’t take anything away from this collection, I implore you to remember these headpieces.

Why was Dante such an iconic collection?

There are a series of reasons that intertwine with each other. Firstly, this was Lee’s first attempt at art direction. Secondly, it was his first runway collection with menswear. Thirdly, it was his first collection with more wearable pieces which garnered retail appeal. All these aspects like a chain reaction resulted in McQueen’s appointment as the creative director of the French haute couture house, Givenchy, later that year.

It can be said, and I will say that “Dante” in many ways made McQueen. His increase in art direction after the collection, his first real sale of pieces which provided him with the capital to work on more collections and his appointment at Givenchy can all be attributed to this singular day in March.

Link to watch the show:


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