Bespoke by Valerie Wallace

After Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)
Note: Each stanza’s respective vocabularies are from seven women fitted by the late Alexander McQueen and were built out of transcribed print and video interviews, presentations, tweets, and press releases; the arrangement and intentions of their words in this poem are mine. I see each stanza as a facet of McQueen speaking.
1. From Naomi Campbell’s words.

Who was I – asking with women and concepts
The whole butterfly night of the world and why
A wing in a mirror could interpret

It, and the body’s grief and courage. My
Life begins with every question I face,

In each wild shape my surgery finds

When I call out my name with my touch.

I know the deep privacy of the possibly lost.
Am I meant to be tempted as I am,
Unwrap intimacy, take its top off,

Go deeper, to nerve and blood and calm.
Everything feels wild. Nothing feels young.
I have found beauty, pulled back the cover,
And in my time was some kind of wonder.
2. From Kate Moss’ words.

When I started out, fashion aspired to trends.
Designers still traffic together,

Obviously. Now I’ve got lots of friends

still I show both sides: beautiful and vulgar.
I don’t see myself as what people buy.
Sleeve, skirt, legs, hips, wedding, glamour: perfect
Fit. I never rest til the details get right.

Know what I mean? Exposed defect.

Nasty is gorgeous when you work it.
Find your art in each element. Nothing is precious
In my house. Nightmares paired with red tartan,
Frocks undone by marvelous vices.

Perform my clothes like you’re devastated.

I’m not finished ’til you’re implicated.
3. From Helena Bonham Carter’s words.

God knows I’ve got a healthy bit of self-loathing

But I’m the sort of person to get on with it.

Work clears out the drama. I don’t actually like fighting.
I take pleasure in discipline. It’s what made me – that,
And not being concerned with how others perceive me.
I’m not about to exploit suffering in my shows
But I make a choice to see the damaged and bizarre.

Monstrous and magical are roots of the same emotion. How

To invent the narrative cupboard, to be honest beyond costume?
I tangle Victorian with tulle, fancy with natural.

Sometimes black and white, sometimes tangerine. There’s room
In fashion to give yourself up, isn’t there, to a kind of proposal
Of intuition. This is what is more and more with me.

I wasn’t ready before, to obey strange dreams I couldn’t see.
4. From Isabella Blow’s words.

For instance, today I slashed fragility.

I’m not a nun in a bloody convent.

I haven’t got a fashion personality.

I snort. I’m a pig, not a silent
Nothing happens by being mute.
My hands, my mouth, explore borders
To close the body. Even suicide
Has a cloth. I design armor for
The battlefield. I cast power into
The subjective, show hideous as delicious.

Look at the ostrich who clomps in duck shoes.
The tuna who desires more than deep sea hush.
Does my craftsmanship exact a price? Darling, come.
One thing’s for certain. We’ll never die of boredom.
5. From Björk’s words.

I nourish the urges we’re born with,

Not to be outrageous (laughs), but to listen

To hunger, the will to prowl. Life’s organic clash,

That’s the current I skim for each collection.

I’m not interested in emotionally restrictive outfits.

When I use a cage, it’s so people can see the danger

Of tyranny, like racism, or when nationhood spits

Religion. I want to push people so they stop

Walking past what they feel. Yes, design is manipulation.
Building a new angle, attempting opposite of what was thought
Style could do. Each show full volume, no restriction;

This is how I put an idea in people’s minds.

People will remember integrity, won’t they?
Sometimes I feel such urgency –
6. From Amy Mullins’ words.

The runway’s terrain is my church.

I want people to shout, whipped good, a place
Where claws & glory ignite the soul.

We neglect beauty unless we make space

To display our frightened & deficient.
Magnolias & grapevines wait

To be stepped into. Ours is the ancient
Shadow of constant existence, weighted

With generations which tell us to hide.

If I have learned how to claim my own

Decrepit existence with clean lines

& the double realm of abandon

It is because you have watched me do it -

You who were made different, through it.
7. From Annabelle Nielson’s words.

I never thought it was a coincidence, that I loved water.
More than whispering stars, a sort of protective,
Surrounding peace. Ocean darkness has that power.
I may not be especially religious, but a choice to believe
Anything but wonder is taken from you when you dive. Mutely,
I find inspiration at the bottom of the sea.
Midnight, moonlight, excitement, flare: beauty

Living by its own private energy. Nothing about the ocean is weak.
It’s got its own vocabulary; it’s millions of one true moment.
The ocean gives & what it gave me is I felt understood,

Found closure & renewed vision in a place so vibrant.

A bit like singing inside a gospel choir: for a time you could
Believe you were a vessel – but if you kept at it, you’d

Discover you were just a gold thread weaving through.
Valerie Wallace received an MFA from SAIC in 2004, and has received many grants and residencies to support her writing, for which she is extremely grateful. Her chapbook, The Dictators’ Guide to Good Housekeeping was published in 2012; 10 poems from it were selected by Margaret Atwood for the Atty Award. Her first book, House of McQueen, was selected for the 2016 Four Way Books Intro Prize by Vievee Francis and will be published in 2018.