Dirs: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui

Runtime: 111 minutes

THERE is much to take the breath away in this suitably spiky documentary about the late Alexander McQueen. One imagines he would have wanted it that way. A fashion designer who calls a show “Highland Rape” is not one of life’s wallflowers.

Yet the most shocking revelation does not concern the infamous “bum cleavage” trousers, the drug taking, or the darker parts of McQueen’s personality, but the fact that at the height of his fame he was producing 14 collections of clothing a year.

That is akin to 14 musicals by a composer, or 14 books by a writer. Nothing better illustrates the sometimes exhilarating, occasionally toxic marriage of big business and high fashion, or lays bare the kind of pressure McQueen was under.

All that is to come as Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s film opens with a home video of McQueen (known to those closest to him by his first name, Lee), relaxing with friends. While today’s documentary makers are spoiled for choice in the footage they can access, this makes it all the more important to choose wisely, which the co-directors largely do. In opening with grainy, amateur footage they humanise their subject, reminding the viewer that the story they are about to see may be incredible in some ways, but at its heart is a man like many another.

The story canters through the well-known part of McQueen’s life, his east end of London upbringing, the Savile Row years, and his time at St Martin’s School of Art.

He is talent- spotted by the fashion maven Isabella Blow, who swoops to buy his first creations. “That’s 350 quid love, you can take it or leave it,” McQueen recalls telling her. One of his first employers remembers him setting off to Italy without a job, a place to stay, or scarcely a word of the language. He landed work immediately.

The basics established, Bonhôte and Ettedgui (Listen to Me Marlon, George Best: All By Himself), go on to explore McQueen’s life and work via some of his landmark shows. There is a certain merit in this in as much as we can see the development of McQueen’s talent and fame. Too many shows are selected, however, which makes for a bloated runtime.

That said, the scenes from the fashion world offer some much needed amusement, whether it is listening to the fashion press talk twaddle, or hearing the recollections of those who took part in McQueen’s always bizarre shows. One model, chosen for her voluptuousness, recalled the shock that greeted the sight of her naked in a perspex box filled with moths. “Fat birds and moths,” she laughs. “Isn’t that just fashion’s worst nightmare? The giddy whirl of shows and big money transfers to the top fashion houses plays out to a rich, suitably theatrical score by Michael Nyman (The Piano).

More satisfying still are the interviews with McQueen’s relatives, Blow’s husband, Detmar, and Sebastian Pons, who worked for the designer. From his mother we find out that he was a happy, loving, well-provided for child who would grow up with an obsession about his Scottish roots. From others we discover things were not that simple. This is by and large a loving tribute to McQueen and his genius – do not let the catwalk shockfests fool you, his clothes were beautiful and the envy of his peers. Yet while it does not gloss over the more difficult parts of McQueen’s character, nor does it explore them in the same depth as his early years, which may be a failing to some.

Since 2009’s The September Issue, to the recent Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, fashion documentaries have been coming down the runway at a fair old lick, their quality improving all the time. The set would never have been complete without a look at McQueen. Bonhôte and Ettedgui's film does him proud, while leaving questions behind. McQueen, one fancies, would have liked that, too.

Glasgow Film Theatre, June 8-14