John Matheson is a freelance writer and fashion archivist based in London with previous experience as a long-standing aspirational retail training and education manager. As a makeup artist he has worked backstage at New York and London Fashion Weeks. He currently explores his love of fashion and culture through the online community @McQueen_Vault. An un-ending curiosity for the unique and obscure marry perfectly with his exploration of fashion and pop culture with a passion digging for hidden treasures of information and connections to references. Lifelong passions include natural history, music, science fiction and hanging with his handsome hubby in their cozy casa!
Lucifer: Can you remember what was the first trigger to actually understand you had an interest in fashion, or that fashion exists at all?
John Matheson: I grew up in a rural part of Tennessee in the America, so I was far from glamour in the “fashion” sense. My sister did a small amount of local modeling and fashioned her appearance after the band Duran Duran and since I idolized her, that made me curious about fashion. I paged through her copies of Elle and Vogue and quickly become infatuated with Jean-Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Christian LaCroix, and Vivienne Westwood.
L: Where does fashion usually manifest in your daily life?
J.M: It’s like wearing glasses I can’t take off, and so I see fashion everywhere. Given my current projects fashion is in almost everything I do at the moment. That is also why I have to find completely unrelated things mixed into daily life, so I don’t get sucked into losing perspective with its importance. I also try very hard to stay subjective because it’s very easy to find everything amazing and “dahling your fabulous” this and that. To me, the more real and kind people are these days the more truly stylish they are. Anyone can put on a designer rag and still be a dick.
L: Did you start your fashion archives knowing it would develop into a public platform?
J.M: Absolutely not. I’ve always been a hunter/gatherer. Its transformation into a public community was just a fun side effect.
L: When did you decide to transform your passion for Alexander McQueen’s genius designs into your daily activity?
J.M: I recently was forced to change my career path and had experienced the loss of a family member so needed some distraction. I had long needed to organize the materials I had gathered over the years, so this acted as a motivation to make it happen. With the pure emotion that drives the McQueen story, it was a natural route to follow.
L: In your personal opinion, what are the steps in starting a fashion archive?
J.M: You cannot do this unless you have a deep-seeded passion for the subject matter. There is so much misinformation and un-truths, you need to be willing to put in the time and go beyond a Google search, and find a reason about the subject that truly compels you. Look everywhere, then look beyond that. Be courteous to sources/resources and give back. Be open to being wrong, and learning, and above all respect your subject matter. It’s one thing to explore for details, it’s wholly another to propagate gossip and fiction.
L: Which are your favorite channels for research?
J.M: The internet is a double-edged sword but obviously a favorite. I would truly not be able to do this without its reach, but I am cautious in how I use it, and often find because of the nature of what I search, physical magazines often yield the greatest bounties. I have also been lucky enough to speak to many of the original McQueen creators. Through their gracious sharing of knowledge and items, I have gained unbelievable amounts of detail. Some to share with the public, and some to not. The time with McQueen and the creations so many people produced are very personal, and I will never disrespect that. I always joke, “It’s called a vault for a reason – things can go in, but they don’t have to come out!”
L: The important influences in Alexander McQueen’s creativity as observed by you?
J.M: McQueen was and is London, emotion, and storytelling conveyed through superior mastery of technique. His ability to convey autobiographical concepts through fashion is unparalleled. It’s fascinating to look back at the tension (both from him and put on him) by the press and British class system. He used this and was shaped by it. Some of the things written about him were unbelievably cruel, but then he would smartly say similar self-deprecating comments in articles at the time to play up his persona for press for column inches. That friction clearly impacted the emotion he conveyed. But he provoked and sliced swathes into the establishment and that made him a target, and eventually a legend… like they say: “no risk no reward”. Lastly, McQueen had an uncanny ability to surround himself with an arsenal of world class talent. This unsung skill has been one of my most fascinating discoveries since starting the journey with the archive. These hundreds of people that made up his studio and collaborators went to unbelievable ends (sometimes risking their own health) to realize his vision. His ability to identify these people and push their skills is one of the biggest reasons he produced such an astonishing legacy.
L: In your opinion what is the Alexander McQueen legacy that has to be preserved by the current and future designers while continuing with his namesake brand?
J.M: Haha! Wouldn’t the AMQ Executives love to read this? The public has to have access to detail and the emotions of McQueen in a meaningful way, and this is tricky for a brand because it will cost them but have an immeasurable value in return that may not be monetary. McQueen the brand has to understand that the McQueen story is one of the most compelling in Fashion History and the fans want desperately to be a part of it but may not necessarily be able to buy the £3000 jacket or bag. The recent “Unlocking McQueen Stories” in the London flagship are a great foray into this. Sarah Burton navigates an almost impossible job deftly by acknowledging the house legacy in ways that don’t constantly rely on looking retro McQueen, yet quietly pay their respects. It is an immeasurable loss he is gone, but she is not him, nor should she be. People need to get past that and still celebrate him without tearing her down.
L: Which of Alexander McQueen creations that you own is your personal favorite?
J.M: My husband gave me an un-used pair of the original shoes from Autumn/Winter 2009 “The Horn of Plenty” show and they were my first pieces in my collection. They will always be my most treasured items.
L: If you could have any of the creations by Alexander McQueen-which would it be? Why?
J.M: I love tartan and the items he created for both his own label and for Givenchy in tartan, especially the Haute Couture collections, are amongst my absolute favorites. There are several pieces from the AW ’97 Haute Couture show “Eclect Dissect” collection I especially adore. Because I’m so fascinated by craft, it would be incredible to eventually own some Couture items just for their pure workmanship.
L: Do you consider that there is something about Alexander McQueen creativity that has not been talked about enough?
J.M: Absolutely… his ability to identify and develop/push people to achieve the un-achievable.
L: Your recommendation on film as a fashion reference/ worth watching for aesthetics/music with video clip / fashion book you enjoyed.
J.M: Oh Dear, there’s so many… Films – Orlando, Bladerunner, Fellini’s Casanova, The Colour of Pomegranates, The Hunger, DePalma’s Carrie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Auntie Mame, Mad Max, The Piano, The Tales of Hoffmann, The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen, Querelle, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hereditary… and of course their soundtracks! Books I love: Anna Piaggi’s Fashion Algebra, both Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty books (of course), Buffalo by Ray Petri, Karlheinz Weinberger, In The Gutter by Val Hennessy, The Works of Hieronymus Bosch, Dreamer by Mel Odom, Decorated Skin by Karl Gröning, Diary of a Collection by Christian LaCroix, Backstage McQueen by Robert Fairer, Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies, Mannequins by St Martins Press, Serpens by Guido Mocafico, Orlando Furioso by Gustave Doré, Antonio’s Tales from A Thousand and One Nights by Antonio Lopez, Pierre et Gilles (anything), Venus by Pater Sato
L: If you were organizing a fashion exhibition, what would it be about and what would the main 3 points be for it to be interesting? Maybe you missed something in the past ones that you visited.
J.M: Any exhibition that goes beyond the surface. I realize you have to capture the public’s interest with popular themes but sometimes they end up too democratic. I would love to see more exhibitions showing technique and craft. One of the reasons some of these old-world techniques are dying out is because people don’t even know they exist before they go extinct. More cultures should be showcased to see traditional global techniques in patterns, printing, decoration, etc… Also, music and sound are critical to exhibitions! I can still hear John Gosling’s sound design for Savage Beauty in my head. He is an absolute genius and the soundscapes he created were inseparable from the exhibition’s mood.
L: Do you have any fantasy projects related to fashion?
J.M: Anything that would allow me to do research and reference sourcing and digging for details!
L: I know you sometimes use Chimearaman as a nickname, if you could create a perfect chimera creature, what historical periods, contemporary or past characters would you mix into in?
J.M: Wow, what a great question! I’d start with Bavarian charivari silverwork, the grace of Tilda Swinton, Scottish tartans and weaving, a Nepalese choice of colour, spices and perfume from Istanbul, a twist of the English Fop, the beauty of nomadic Mongolian layering, any 18th/19th century mourning clothes, American Appalachian quilting, 17th century French silk brocades, a punch of Grace Jones’ beauty, the regal jewels of the Maharaja’s and Maharajis, the honesty of presence of Anna Piaggi, a dip of American tintype photography, and the crowning couture crash of Isabella Blow all drawn in one image by Richard Grey, Antonio Lopez, and JC Leyendecker! Could you imagine?!?