Dazed – « Being McQueen’s muse »

It’s been over a decade since Alexander McQueen put a naked woman in a glass box at the centre of his SS01 runway – Michelle Olley tells her story

You might not know her name, but you’ve seen her picture. It was September 2000 when journalist Michelle Olley (formerly of fetish magazine Skin Two and the short-lived reboot of Penthouse) got a call from Alexander McQueen’s right hand Sidonie Barton, saying she had a proposal for her. Olley had been put forward by casting agent she knew through the London club scene to be the centrepiece in McQueen’s monumental asylum-themed SS01 show VOSS, where models prowled around a padded room, their heads bandaged. For the show’s finale, the glass walls of a box in the centre of the runway fell down and shattered, revealing a naked Olley reclining on a chaise longue in an image that referenced a picture by American photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. As the audience broke into rapturous applause, Olley’s fate as the focal point of one of the most powerful and provocative fashion shows in history was sealed. On the show’s fifteenth anniversary, she reflects on her experience. 

“Sidonie phoned me and asked, ‘Do you fancy coming in to the McQueen office tomorrow? We’ve got something that you might be interested in doing.’ So there I was the next morning sat in the office looking at this rack of clothes behind me with all of these McQueen classics, things with horns sticking out. They sat down and Lee said to me, ‘Well basically it’s going to be about beauty – it’s going to be really beautiful, but it’s also going to be about death and rebirth and you’ll be completely naked. Well, you won’t be completely naked, you’ll obviously be covered in moths – some of them will be dead – and you’ll have this tube coming out of your mouth’ and he wasn’t even looking at me in the eye, he was sort of visualising it.

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