Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty


I am still spellbound. Today, I was one of the privileged few to preview The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Retrospective Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. The exhibit is in recognition of the iconic work of the late British designer and courtier Lee Alexander McQueen, known for the strong, sensual, provocative and technically complicated but beautifully crafted designs of his 19-year career. Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art stated “This landmark exhibition continues the Museum’s tradition of celebrating designers who changed the course of history and culture by creating new possibilities.” McQueen is also known for having worked as chief designer at Givenchy from 1996 to 2001 and winning the CFDA’s International Designer of the Year award in 2003.

The curator of the exhibit is unrivaled in talent and skill. It is a brilliant display of artwork and I am sure loved ones and followers of the late McQueen would argue that it flawlessly captures his tragic genius.

“Alexander McQueen was best known for his astonishing and extravagant runway presentations, which were given dramatic scenarios and narrative structures that suggested avant-garde installation and performance,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator of The Costume Institute. “His fashions were an outlet for his emotions, an expression of the deepest, often darkest, aspects of his imagination. He was a true romantic in the Byronic sense of the word – he channeled the sublime.”

Vaguely ominous and menacing sounds and scenes fill the space, dim lighting set a somber tone and a hologram of Kate Moss in a flowing white gown is equal parts beautiful and bewitching. Most poignant is the obvious foreshadowing of untimely death in the collections, pieces and the quotes of the designer himself. The exhibition is macabre at its finest and perfectly fitting to honor the work of a 40-year old suicide who once said “I oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil.”

How often is it that fashion can so easily put you in touch with thoughts of the divine and a higher plateau? McQueen’s work was borderline other worldly. Indeed, he had a rare talent for seamlessly blending the surreal and ethereal. The exhibit stays true to these bold stylistic traits. The selected pieces are all fantastical in nature, using mixed mediums, bold color, dark frames, clear lines and concrete structure to complete truly unique sculptures of design.

The Spring 2011 exhibition will open to the public on Wednesday May 4 through July 31 in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, second floor. The exhibition is made possible by Alexander McQueen ™ in partnership with American Express and Condé Nast. It features nearly 100 ensembles and 70 accessories from McQueen’s career. They were brought primarily from his archive collection in London but a few were also brought from the Givenchy Archive in Paris and private collections. It incorporates some of his signature designs including the bumster trouser, kimono jacket and the origami frock. McQueen once referred to himself as a “romantic schizophrenic.” The seven galleries within the exhibition explore the recurring themes of his work: “The Romantic Mind, Romantic Gothic, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Romantic Nationalism, Romantic Exoticism, Romantic Primitivism, and Romantic Naturalism.” The exhibit also features accessories designed in partnership with jewelers Erik Halley, Sarah Harmarnee, and Shaune Leane and milliners Dais Rees and Philip Treacy. A 240-page hardcover book Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was published to accompany the exhibit. It is available for purchase in the museum store. The Costume Gala Benefit was held tonight at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Honorary Chairs were Francois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek, and the Co-Chairs were Colin Firth, Stella McCartney and Anna Wintour.

Sarah Burton, current Creative Director of Alexander McQueen and designer of the Duchess of Cambridge Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress said of McQueen in an interview with Tim Blanks, “What I realize as well is that he created a world for himself where he could do anything he wanted to do, with no constraints.”

His work was multi-dimensional, there was also something tangible and intimate about his designs. He also used his work to communicate ideas about race, class, sexuality, religion, politics and the environment. He linked fashion, social consciousness and the psyche through his work. This is the ultimate challenge presented to artists and true visionaries, to generate art that is human and transcendental en masse. Even for those lacking in the fervent ardor that has characterized my life of loving fashion and art, or completely oblivious to the many facets of the industry, I have no doubt you will appreciate the inherent value. To characterize the exhibit as fashion would be a serious injustice. It is art in its most arrogant, boastful and brave form.

It is commonplace for an artist or designer to experience exponential growth in popularity and interest posthumously. This is no different for the work of Alexander McQueen. This exhibition will keep viewers enraptured by his story and his work for a long time to come. He has truly been immortalized.

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The exhibit is open to the public at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 4 – July 31.