“I want to be honest about the world that we live in, and sometimes my political persuasions come through in my work. Fashion can be really racist, looking at the clothes of other cultures as costumes. . . . That’s mundane and it’s old hat. Let’s break down some barriers.” —Alexander McQueen. Last weekend I had the pleasure to view the Alexander McQueen exhibit: Savage Beauty. A man born with a gift McQueen was a British Fashion Designer who was widely known for his breathtaking, innovating, historic, political, thought-provoking, controversial and flawlessly tailored Haute Couture designs. McQueen was head designer of Givenchy at 27 and four time winner of the prestigious British Designer of the Year award between 1996 through 2003. McQueen’s path in design began at an early age, the youngest of 6 siblings McQueen started designing and creating dresses for his 3 sisters and knew then in his youth of his aspirations to become a fashion designer.
The Alexander McQueen exhibit: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of art is an exhibit of Alice in Wonderland Couture proportions, a magical place that will literally take your breathe but regain your breathe fast because after waiting 2 hours to see the McQueen exhibit (yes you heard correctly 2 hours) you will not want to miss a thing. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed but if you are a McQueen fan pictures will not be needed for the exhibit will be forever unforgettably ingrained in your mind. Curator Andrew Bolton of Savage Beauty only adds to the mystique and beauty of McQueen’s work who explains the title of the exhibit: Savage Beauty as “contrasting opposites in McQueen’s work. As you enter the exhibition, you’re faced with two mannequins—the two mannequins that I think represent many of the themes and ideas that McQueen revisited throughout his career: polarized opposites, whether it’s to do with life or death, lightness or darkness, predator/prey, man/machine.” Below Bolton in his own words also goes more in depth and breaks down each gallery within the exhibit and the concepts behind the displays:
Savage Beauty Curator Andrew Bolton explains the concept behind each McQueen gallery:
“The “Romantic Mind,” which is made out of concrete, in a way reflects the rawness of some of the clothes you see in the particular space. It’s inspired by McQueen’s first atelier in Hoxton Square, where McQueen established his house. McQueen trained in tailoring in Savile Row. McQueen was a remarkable craftsman. He was able to channel the skills of his craft, but also to use fashion as a vehicle to express very complex ideas and concepts. And I think in this particular exhibition, and in this gallery in particular, you see how McQueen would master the crafts of his trade and subvert them.
The surface treatment in “Romantic Gothic” is primarily aged mirrors, a material that evokes the idea of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” McQueen often called himself the “Edgar Allen Poe of fashion.” One of the most prevalent and ongoing themes in McQueen’s work was the Gothic, particularly the darker side of the nineteenth century, of Victorianism. Many of the pieces are inspired by the cult of death, and it’s also peopled with characters associated with the literary concept of the Gothic, like vampires, highwaymen, antiheroes, or Byronic heroes
The “Cabinet of Curiosities” refers to the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century practice of collecting objects from natural history as a way of viewing the world. This room, in a way, is the heart and soul of the exhibition in terms of the fact that you see the breadth of McQueen’s imagination in the pieces on display and the objects that inspired him (nature, primitivism). All the major themes you’ll confront throughout the exhibition are very much present in this particular gallery. You’ll also see ten iconic moments from his runway shows. McQueen was a great sponge, and he looked everywhere for inspiration, and you see all those references come together in this particular gallery
In “Romantic Nationalism,” the surface treatment is marquetry that is designed to reflect McQueen tartan. McQueen was an incredible storyteller, and most of his collections are narrative based. In this particular case, it shows his great pride in his Scottish heritage and also his great love of British history. So in a way, there’s a face-off between the Scots and the Brits.
The second room, “Highland Rape,” is comprised of raw wood. Highland Rape was very provocative when it first was shown in 1995; many people interpreted the rape as being the rape of women. McQueen was very adamant in the fact that the rape in the title referred to the rape of Scotland through the Jacobite Risings of the eighteenth century and the Highland Clearances of the nineteenth century. I think that the violence of that particular time in history was reflected in McQueen’s clothes in the very construction of them; it’s almost as if he took scissors to the garments and slashed them.
In “Romantic Exoticism,” we wanted very much to give the idea of a music box. So we used mirrors to give an idea of infinity, and also rotating turntables. McQueen often looked for inspiration not only in the distant past, but also in other cultures, particularly China and Japan. McQueen loved embroidery, and Japan and China were two cultures that excelled, as did India, another great influence in McQueen’s career.
In “Romantic Primitivism,” the surface treatment is a rusty metal that’s meant to evoke a sunken ship. The featured collection is a collection called Irere, which told the story of a shipwreck at sea and the subsequent landfall in the Amazon. And the video you see suspended above the gallery functioned as a backdrop to McQueen’s collection and was a film shot by John Maybury. Featured very heavily in this particular gallery are contrasting opposites, such as predator/prey, or primitive and civilized.
In “Romantic Naturalism,” the first portion of it is actually a drawing that was created by McQueen that we’ve blown up and reproduced to represent wallpaper. Nature was probably one of the most prominent themes throughout his career. McQueen loved nature—loved the natural world—and often looked to the natural world for the raw materials of his clothes
The final gallery, “Plato’s Atlantis,” is the last fully realized collection that McQueen designed before he died in February 2010. And it’s covered in acrylic tiles to give the idea of a clinical laboratory. And to me it was a collection that in a way summarized all the major themes throughout McQueen’s career—the contrasting oppositions of man and machine, nature and technology. The actual collection was streamed live over the Internet in a way of trying to create a dialogue between the consumer and the creator. McQueen loved to provoke and loved to provoke you emotionally. I think he did that by tapping into one’s cultural anxieties, or one’s uncertainties, or one’s hopes, or one’s desires.”
If you love what you see here then this is just a small fraction of the galleries and the creative force of McQueen, to really experience the entire exhibit you must visit the Metropolitan. Savage Beauty is on display until Sunday August the seventh with extended hours till 9 PM on Thursday and Friday, August 4th and 5th and until midnight on Saturday and Sunday, August 6th and 7th. Visit http://blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen/about/ where I retrieved the info but also more info on the exhibit, designer, visiting hours and provisions. If you plan to visit NY or are in the area this is an exhibit you will not want to miss.
Alexander McQueen 1969-2010