Ideas On A Conveyor Belt


Having one good idea is not enough

For me one of the most powerful films this year was a documentary. ‘McQueen’ did much more than look at the life of Lee Alexander McQueen CBE, the bad boy of fashion who hailed from Stratford East and tore down the class/taste barrier with his iconic shows. He might have aged backwards as his fortunes rose, from overweight and under-educated to fit, tanned, smart. Mentally, though, his problems compounded as he was forced to move away from his roots.

Sympathetically and intelligently co-directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui and structured in fashion-season chapters, the film shows just how much pressure McQueen was under as he moved from a penniless East End student buying material with his unemployment benefit cheque to the head of a Parisienne haute couture fashion house. The word ‘tortured’ pops too easily into the mind when you consider his story arc; humble beginnings, obsessive dedication, anger, sacrifice, loss of friends and lovers, a family tragedy that leads to suicide. But there’s something else at work here. He had seen horrors in his early life, and was haunted by death.

Like all the most talented creatives, McQueen shunned the spotlight, was self-effacing, pushed his staff to their limits and worked harder than anyone. He remained connected to the ground and true to his personal vision, no matter how shocking it might be. And like talented creatives before him, he was surrounded with some truly dreadful hangers-on, and some who were necessary to the process. One of the latter was Isabella Blow, wealthy benefactor and muse who seemed to occupy the Edith Sitwell position, supporting but also keen to be recognised as a talent, which it appears she was not. Touching the hem of the garment does not transfer its properties, and indeed did not as McQueen failed to put her up for a job.

That’s the other thing about talent; it can’t promote those without it. McQueen eschewed networking and self-promotion to concentrate on creating a definitive body of work. I know authors who put more effort into marketing than writing, but by doing so they are doomed to fail (although they may end up better off financially).

A much darker message emerges from ‘McQueen’, though. It is this; that if you have an original voice and a talent to delight, you will be required to produce consistently and regularly until you are used up to a husk and interest wanes. The level at which McQueen was working made nonsense of the idea that the creator must wait for the muse to strike. He was expected to be innovative, technically perfect, original and ground-breaking, not once but all day every day forever until something broke.

McQueen said, ‘We can all be discarded quite easily – you’re there, you’re gone.’ He was 41 when he killed himself, on the day before his mother’s funeral. The film is euphoric and heartbreaking.


14 comments on “Ideas On A Conveyor Belt”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    Now I’m older, and being fashionable isn’t so important – but I was shocked at Alexander McQueen’s suicide, and, like many people, were bothered that such a great talent was snuffed out far, far too soon.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    People who set high standards for themselves are forever at risk of fear of failure and depression, the whole spiralling down to destruction. Technical perfection all day every day is only possible for short periods; exhaustion sets in unless there are bounds put on things. That was a tragic life and death.

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    Creating new ideas, designs, literature and especially new knowledge is immensely difficult and demanding. Still, someone had the bright idea that we could run the UK by selling knowledge and creativity (and rich immigrants and financial services, but we’ll stay away from those). Did that add to the pressure on those who create or use their knowledge? Probably not, but it can’t help. There’s certainly less psychological pressure in manufacturing dresses or VWs or anything (given a financial system to support the process). You can sell the item by the thousand, but the design, the original creative thought, only once. So I’ll blame the government. And I’ll put my hobby horse away in its garage (or stable).

  4. Brooke says:

    What Peter T said. Our city promotes “innovation” in a big way, using tax dollars and land to support medical institutions and universities/colleges (5 major institutions) –very little return. Ideas that can be commercialized are harder and harder to find, i.e. productivity of innovation is declining, according to data..

    Fashion has its unique issues–low margins, no IP protection, fickle markets. Just finished reading autobiographies of the great Dior and Schiaparelli, who kept their balance despite war-post war conditions.

    McQueen fashion reminds me of snarky Caravaggio paintings; the model. often McQueen himself, becomes a living vanitas. Unfortunately the joke was on both artists.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Brooke, does your city use the word “innovation” in its promos? Why not just push “research”? There isn’t an assumed return from research, unless in the long term. Profitable ideas, ie ones that you can sell, don’t come around every day but a nurturing environment should surely help. The idea of using public money should make it open to taking any direction, but the impression that it is just sending money down a rabbit hole is hard to fight when nothing is immediately there to point at. Many things have come out of research into other fields – like post it notes, or at least the minimally adhesive glue they use on post its.

  6. Brooke says:

    Helen, innovation is oft used–by City, universities, businesses, non profits, gurus like Richard Florida — innovation is like “so,” first word of sentences.
    Research here is mostly publicly funded–government at work–with little to show for it. One prominent physician said universities in our city shouldn’t get another dime of government money until health outcomes in ALL neighborhoods improved. Amen to that.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Agreed that there should certainly be some priorities and health should certainly be at the top of the list, although access to food, housing, clothing are also factors which we should be addressing. We’ve been throwing around the idea of a guaranteed minimal income of some sort, but it has to be acceptable to the broad range if ideologies in the country.
    Sorry, we were talking about research. Yes, we hear a lot about no more money till something comes out of that ivory tower out there, but for every silly project we hear about (mostly in behaviour studies) there is at least one in medicine or physics and we did have a Nobel scientist a few years ago.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    When it comes to money and how it is wasted, ie not on health etc. it’s still down to the banks/insurance, we are still bailing them & the financial markets out.

    This is from Forbes,

    ‘In 2018, there will be almost $1 trillion less global QE than in 2017. What does that mean?’

    so Quantitative Easing, if it’s dropping by a trillion, how much is being pumped into the markets by governments and the reason it’s dropping?

    Well part of the drop is due to Europe as Business Insider states

    ‘The European Central Bank on Thursday announced plans to end the €2.5 trillion ($3 trillion) bond-buying program known as quantitative easing that it has undertaken since the eurozone debt crisis.

    Bond purchases, now running at a maximum of €30 billion ($35.3 billion) a month, will be lowered to €15 billion ($17.65 billion) a month in September before being stopped at the end of December, the ECB said.’

    but according to other sources it’s not really stopping per se. Still the amounts are staggering, and this is why we have cuts, that and the monopolisation of capital and all the other invested interests that entails. The word banker should still be used as the nasty of defamations.

    As for ideas advertising is a things that chews up ideas and the creators of them, in the UK it’s one of our other successes.

    It’s sad that ideas and invention can be discarded, Trevor Bayliss (inventor of the wing up radio) used to try to champion inventors but the patent system was very much against them.

    Now I need to put my high horses some where, any suggestions?


  9. snowy says:

    Hang them next to the dead one I’ve been flogging in the previous post!

  10. Peter Tromans says:

    To obtain research money these days, you usually have to promise ‘deliverables’ for some box-ticker to check off when the project is over. If the deliverables aren’t delivered, it’s no money next time. In consequence, deliverables are best made something that you have already done (secretly in your shed) and hence not new, or something relatively certain or trivial. All of which biases your research proposal. It wasn’t always like this, but, quite correctly, we wanted to ‘be results focused’, ‘cut out the dead wood’, etc. and maybe went a bit too far, as usual.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Considering the rather rude remark I made to a lead nurse about box checking as an indicator of healing I think I understand what you’re saying Peter, although I know I need some definitions and explanations to follow Wayne’s argument.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    It’s a loosely assembled argument the high horse makes me loose focus; basically there are arguments on where money is best spent, health, arts, research and so on, but bucket loads of money is spent on the financial markets without anyone batting an eyelid, with the European central bank putting in 30 billion a month 10 years after the financial meltdown (and remember this does not include what other central banks did, The Bank of England put in Billions) and this does not include the direct bailouts, loans and the tax avoidance schemes these banks helped (just think of money laundering, crime and the tax not paid).

    In short the banks are not too big to fail, the world won’t end if they do (in the 70’s my dad got his mortgage from the local council) yet we spend more on these corrupt and frankly, ‘not fit for purpose’ invested interests and the few per cent who really benefit from them, when it could be spent else where to the benefit of health, education, research and so on.


  13. Helen Martin says:

    I think I’ve got you, Wayne. We always said that the reason our banks didn’t fail was the strict regulation we had of them. The downside of that is that all of our banks are huge. We have a large number of locally based credit unions, which helps. We may have to start worrying, though, because although our government doesn’t help the banks it has loosened the regulations so banks can now offer insurance and other financial products. If things are all packaged for the buyers “convenience” we could end up with failures all over the place when too many risks are taken.
    But what do I know? I just don’t like the feel of it.

  14. Wayne Mook says:

    Just to add to my point Goldman Sachs apologised for their part in the billions defrauded from the state development fund in Malaysia, oh course they say it wasn’t them, even though on of their ex-officials as pleaded guilty in the US and Malaysia brought charges against the firm, part of the embezzled money was used to help finance the Wolf of Wall Street film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

    I guess the billions will never be invested where it’s needed.


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