I thought I’d write a quick review of “Gods and Kings:the rise and fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano” by Dana Thomas, which I’ve just finished reading.
I’d seen a positive review of it in the paper a few months ago and decided I’d like to read it as I’m a fan of well-written biographies and, of course, it’s about fashion and two of my favourite designers. [If you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll know that anyway]
Rather cheekily I was able to suggest it as the next book for the book group that I’m part of so I shall be interested to hear their views of it in a couple of weeks.
I really enjoyed this book! It was an excellent read and whilst it is also filled with information it had, for me, an un-put-downable quality which meant I kept wanting to find out what happened next. Obviously there are a lot of facts out there in the public domain and unless you live under a rock and without an interest in fashion then you’ll know how much of it turns out. Dana Thomas gives a pretty thorough account of the early lives of both protagonists which I felt still seemed respectful of the Galliano and McQueen families-they were mentioned but not overly concentrated on or judgment passed upon-clearly their formative years had huge impact on their characters later on. Thomas also seems to have had access to many of McQueen and Galliano’s friends and colleagues both past and more recently which gave a real depth to their stories.
I was fascinated to learn how Galliano and McQueen developed into the designers they became, their educations, the thought processes behind their left-field ideas and how their individual ascents to fame were not always, actually quite rarely, straightforward. There were business men behind them where £££, $$$ and Euros were the driving force with little interest in creativity. The two men became famous (notorious?) for their shows which cost eye-watering amounts of money to stage but generated acres of press coverage, good and bad, selling clothes was secondary.
What is very evident is that they were hugely talented individuals who, in the case of Galliano, resurrected a stuffy and desiccated fashion house at Dior and, in the case of McQueen, quite literally changed the face of modern fashion with, for example, bumster trousers and digital printing of fabrics.
This book, for me, reinforced my opinion that McQueen was a master of tailoring and a brilliant technician-he earned the respect of the ‘petit-mains’ at Givenchy by the fact he knew exactly what he was talking about and could carry out the work too, and he didn’t simply tell them what he wanted.
They both had their demons in the usual forms-drink/drugs/excess and that became the undoing of them both, with devastating consequences for McQueen. I felt Thomas passes no personal judgement on either of them, nor does she have a favourite of the two, she remains even-handed throughout. The book is meticulously researched and well written, and definitely not a hatchet job or overly fawning. She skilfully intertwines their stories so that it is always moving forward and her descriptions of the clothes are excellent.
There are a number of illustrations in the book including pictures of them both in their youth. I found these very poignant, particularly of McQueen because he looks such an unlikely fashion innovator. Galliano by contrast always looked the part.
The book comes right up to the present day and the death of McQueen in 2010 is sensitively handled (the apparent shutting-out of his family I find upsetting) and so sad and inevitable-seeming. Galliano is quietly returning to fashion at Maison Martin Margiela via Oscar de la Renta-I for one would be happy to see him make a comeback as he seems to be a man who is contrite and has paid for his mistakes, time will tell.
I urge you to read this book if you’re at all interested in the backstory of two of the greatest designers of the last twenty years. It is published by Penguin at £9.99 in paperback