My Favorite 21st Century Puppet-Master, Alexander McQueen

One of the strangest days was the morning I heard of Alexander McQueen’s death. It was strange because in the moments of that morning I was in a state of dark emotion that made his suicide even more eerie and oddly poignant.

Lately, I have been watching his fashion shows again, the doll-like models whose eyes are made up to appear blank and lifeless. In addition to this, McQueen‘s inspiration from the Surrealist artists of the early twentieth century is evident. To these male surrealist artists, women seemed very much inanimate objects there for the gaze and exploit of men.

A detail of a La Poupee by Hans Bellmer

But McQueen had a sensitivity that these men did not possess, the exception perhaps being puppet and dollmaker artist, Hans Bellmer.

McQueen picked up on what Bellmer had picked up on — an awe of the female form and its possibilities for otherworldly symbolism of the erotic and its artful aggregate begging to be manipulated.

There needs to be a mention, too, of Sybarites, dolls made by Charles Fegen and Desmond Lingard. These are resin dolls that absolutely mirror the models who move languidly about the catwalk during a McQueen show.

A detail of the "Resurrections" of the Sybarites

Compare these couture dolls to a model in one of McQueen’s theatrical runway shows. The women in the video, particularly the one at the end who is being created by robots, exemplify doll-like marionettes being controlled by someone or something just out of view. The woman in the final moments of this video rotates as if she is not a woman of flesh and blood, but a doll twirling for our entertainment and gazes as if she is a dancer in a music box.

McQueen’s use of women as puppets, dolls, mannequins, and eerie automatons is beautiful, however. His sensitivity is palpable, his need to show the fairy tales in art and life no doubt the main impetus for his fantastical fashion and  runway shows.

He was a great puppeteer. McQueen danced us into the 21st century only to leave us soon into our new century for the true otherworldly space that eventually wooed him more than anything on our earth.

We are left with a beauty that is discomforting and strange, but something constantly appealing, timeless. This puppet-master with great empathy will live in our dreams, even, I would guess, in the dreams of dolls.



  • You’ve got a nice new piece here post-Thanksgiving. After reading about the masculine gaze here, I’m curious to eventually hear your take on an artist like Vanessa Beecroft. Beecroft is woman–a photographer who takes very fine looking female models and poses them nude or scantily clad in public places.

    Take a look at this article for a review:

  • Susan Snodgrass wrote:

    Similar comments here. Great images but not all the links are active, ex. Sybarites. Again, a bit more bio and set up vs immediately directing reader to outside link on designer. I don’t agree with your analysis of Hans Bellmer and I would bet that many others would also disagree. I think your comments would benefit from some more criticality or least mention of more feminist perspectives on the use of dolls as sexual objects and figures of male folly. (I think Tiffany’s suggestion is a good one.) How about other female artists using dolls, ex. Kim Dingle, Laurie Simmons. Less reliance on Wikipedia and more links from the various disciplines you are collecting from.

    All in all, I think this is really interesting territory!

  • Carrie–

    I really enjoyed this article as well, especially because I am an Alexander McQueen fanatic. I love the work he’s done and am quite sad that such a brilliant artist has been lost to this world. I agree with Susan’s comment about looking up such artists as Laurie Simmons (she has a really really interesting documentary on art21 ( that features Meryl Streep and puppets (creepy, creepy dolls if you ask me)). I think there’s a nice link between this article and that documentary. Overall, your work is great!

  • sarah taylor wrote:

    This post was great for me because since I know absolutely nothing about dolls but do know a little about fashion, reading your take on Alexander McQueen was interesting, especially from this standpoint. I loved the final paragraph and how you seamlessly connected the profound doll aspect of your blog to McQueen’s work and his death.

  • I adore Alexander Mcqueen so much! His design is otherworldly to say the least. I really appreciate your keen observation here, about his usage of dolls as props in his installation art. His view of women is very unique, and I think you can dig deeper into that to further interpret his provoking and discomforting art.

  • Mike Miner wrote:

    Hi, Carrie—
    I enjoyed reading your post, and the link to the McQueen video.

    The visual look of the blog appealed to me a lot, the striated gray background, quiet color scheme and classic look were very calming for me, conducive to reading rather than flipping around.

    I found myself wondering while I read what you would make of the difference between the construction of dolls as representations of real women (or a female principle) and the transformation of real women (models) into living, doll-like automatons.

  • I was seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

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