Remember When There Was a Horse on the Givenchy Couture Runway?

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Alexander McQueen established himself as “l’enfant terrible” of fashion when he first presented his controversial Highland Rape collection in 1995 (for obvious reasons) before declaring Hubert de Givenchy’s designs “irrelevant” when he assumed creative control of the house in 1996. And while his first couture collection for Givenchy in 1997 was panned by critics and even by McQueen himself, it was his Fall/Winter 1998 couture show—a lace, ruffle, fur, and embroidery-packed extravaganza of epic, almost fairy tale-esque proportions, which took place 20 years ago this week—that would revive his reputation for couture spectaculars.

Meant to evoke Lady Godiva, McQueen had model Esther de Jong open the show on a white Andalusian horse. Hair teased into 18th century-influenced tufts and cheeks rouged a bright pink, she wore a layered white sheer gown covered in lush pink flowers and leaves and was accompanied by her very own Prince Charming in military regalia.

McQueen frequently looked to historical sources for design inspirations, and this season was no different. The Rococo-inspired collection radiated a Marie Antoinette aesthetic updated for the late 1990s. Models came down a runway of artfully destroyed tiles surrounded by Amazon-style rainforest greenery and a three-foot-high waterfall. The sight led one fashion critic to call it an “Anastasia lost in the Amazon” look, replete with “dead parrots, to paint-slashed eyes, to Gibson-girl haircuts.” While the collection today is regarded for its modern takes on historical looks and impeccable tailoring, at the time, it led critics to believe McQueen’s wild-child behavior had been tamed—and, ultimately, that something was missing from the collection.

McQueen would go on to rebel for Spring/Summer 1999 and arguably all of his seasons after. With his following couture collection—the famous “No. 13” show—he sent athlete and model Aimee Mullins, a double amputee, down the runway wearing carved elm prosthetic legs, defying beauty standards at the time.

Even though McQueen regularly butted heads with management and received negative reviews throughout his time at Givenchy, the work he did for the fashion house established him as a creative force unlike anything the fashion world had ever known. When he departed Givenchy in 2001 and reappeared with his monumental Voss show during the Spring/Summer 2001 season, he would only further cement himself as an integral part of fashion history.

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