Monday, 9 May 2011

Savagely Beautiful: Alexander McQueen At The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
Finale dress ~ (Autumn/Winter 2004-2005 collection)
Image courtesy of:

The exhibit Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which chronicles the late designer's short but spectacular design career before his tragic suicide on February 11th, 2010 - on the eve of his mother's funeral - opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4th, preceded by a gala opening, held the night before, on May 3rd. The show traces the designer's career from his noteworthy 1992 graduation collection from Central Saint Martin's in London, right through to his Spring/Summer 2010 Plato's Atlantis collection - the last fully realised collection McQueen presented before his demise - and into the exquisite but unfinished Angels and Demons studio collection for Autumn/Winter 2010-2011 which Sarah Burton, who worked by McQueen's side for many years, completed and showed in Paris.

Scarlet silk satin coat; dress of ivory silk chiffon embroidered with crystal beads
(From the Autumn/Winter 2008–2009 The Girl Who Lived In The Tree Collection)
(Photograph by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above image is courtesy of:

(The Plato's Atlantis collection was “streamed live on Nick Knight’s in an attempt to make fashion into an interactive dialogue between creator and consumer. In Plato’s Atlantis, the Sublime of nature was paralleled and supplanted by that of technology — the extreme space-time compressions produced by the Internet. It was a powerful evocation of the Sublime and its coincident expression of the Romantic and the postmodern. At the same time, it was a potent vision of the future of fashion that reflected McQueen’s sweeping imagination.”) (Quote: Bolton, A.,, 2011)

A coat of duck feathers painted gold & a skirt of silk tulle embroidered with gold threads.
(The above photograph is by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The dress as seen on model Polina Kosina
(From the Autumn/Winter 2010-1011 Angels and Demons Collection)
The above two images are courtesy of:

Above left: Green & bronze cotton/synthetic lace
(From the Autumn/Winter 1995-1996 Highland Rape Collection)
Above right: White cotton muslin spray-painted black & yellow with underskirt of white synthetic tulle
(From the Spring/Summer 1999 No. 13 Collection)
Black parachute silk coat; black synthetic trousers; black silk satin hat by Philip Treacy
(From the Autumn/Winter 2002-2003 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Collection)
Above left: yellow glass beads and brown horsehair | Above right: black synthetic hair
(Both are from the Autumn/Winter 2000-2001 Eshu Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above five images are courtesy of:

The gala opening of the new exhibition, hosted by Vogue editor-in-chief  Anna Wintour along with actress Salma Hayek and her husband, owner of the McQueen brand, François-Henri Pinault, follows on the heels of another coup for the House of McQueen: Catherine Middleton's bridal gown, designed by Sarah Burton, currently at the helm as McQueen's creative director. “When I saw her sitting in the car, I knew it was McQueen and for the first half hour I couldn’t stop crying — it brought home how much I miss him,” said  the late designer's sister, Janet McQueen. (Several members of McQueen's family were in attendance in New York for the opening of Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.) (Source & quote: Menkes, S., Alexander McQueen in All His Dark Glory,, May 2, 2011)

The "oyster" dress made of ivory silk organza, georgette & chiffon
(From the Spring/Summer 2003 Irere Collection)

Above left: overdress is cut from the panels of a 19th century Japanese screen. The under-dress is made of oyster shells
Above right: jacket of pink & gray bird’s-eye wool embroidered with silk thread; trousers of pink & gray bird’s-eye wool; hat of pink & gray bird’s-eye wool embroidered with silk thread & decorated with Amaranthus
(Both are from the Spring/Summer 2001 Voss Collection)

“Coiled” metal corset created by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen
(From the Autumn/Winter 1999–2000 The Overlook Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above four image are courtesy of:

The exhibition, curated by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton, begins with McQueen's forté and the foundation of his House: tailoring. The strength of McQueen's tailoring techniques, which underpinned and threaded their way through his entire career and which, by degrees, he improved and perfected through the years, was quite evident from his first creations from the designer’s 1992 graduation show at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. (That vanguard collection, inspired by Jack the Ripper, was bought, in its entirety, by the designer's muse, discoverer and friend, Isabella Blow, who, from the onset, intuitively recognized the rarity of McQueen's creative genius. Later, after Blow's own suicide in 2007, Isabella's extensive collection of McQueens was set to be auctioned off when Daphne Guinness intervened; she purchased the whole of Isabella's collection before it went under the auctioneer's gavel. On the night of the gala and as a live tribute to the designer, Ms. Guinness got dressed for the event in the store windows of Barneys New York: “I just did my noh theater thing,” she was quoted as saying.) (Quote: Horyn, C., At The Met Costume Gala, McQueen Reigns,, May 3, 2011)

Above left: razor-clam shells stripped & varnished
Above right: red and black ostrich feathers & red-painted glass medical slides
(Both ensembles are from the Spring/Summer 2001 Voss Collection)
Black leather dress; collar of red pheasant feathers & resin vulture skulls; black leather gloves
(From the Autumn/Winter 1997–1998 Eclect/Dissect Collection)
(Givenchy Haute Couture)

Above left: beige leather dress over a metal wire crinoline hoop
(From the Autumn/Winter 2000–2001 Eshu Collection)
Above right: black duck feathers
(From the Autumn/Winter 2009-2010 The Horn of Plenty Collection)
Above left: lilac leather and horsehair
(From the Spring/Summer 2005 It's Only A Game Collection)
Above right: corset of brown leather; skirt of cream silk lace; prosthetic legs of carved elm wood
(From the Spring/Summer 1999 No. 13 Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above seven images are courtesy of:

Two of the earliest designs on display in the exhibition, jackets, were cut and sewn by Alexander McQueen and are the rarest pieces in the collection. (Among the backdrops for the variously-themed rooms or galleries of the exhibition - The Romantic Mind,  Romantic Gothic, Cabinet of Curiosities, Romantic Nationalism, Romantic ExoticismRomantic Primitivism, and Romantic Naturalism - designed by the McQueen production team of Joseph Bennett and Sam Gainsbury, are aged and gray-speckled, smoked mirrors; library walls reminiscent of  a grand old English country house; marquetry; rusty metal; a drawing created by McQueen that was blown-up and reproduced into wallpaper; and even a violently smashed wooden backdrop.) 

But in an exhibition charged throughout with the spirit of McQueen, the probable centerpiece of the show is likely to be  the Cabinet of Curiosities gallery, where wide boxed shelves contain  menacing and exotic accessories, including those of  Shaun Leane, the jewellery designer who collaborated closely with McQueen on some of the most unforgettable pieces of his collections; there are, as well, shoes and  headdresses from past shows. Above the cabinet displays, videos from  ten of McQueen's iconic runway presentations - which were often laden with  elements of Victorian Gothicism and Byronism - run ceaselessly. (Sources: Menkes, S., Alexander McQueen in All His Dark Glory,, May 2, 2011; Horyn, C., At The Met Costume Gala, McQueen Reigns,, May 3, 2011)

Above left: cream silk tulle & lace with resin antlers headdress
Above right: ruffled dress made entirely of pheasant feathers

Bias-cut McQueen wool tartan appliquéd with black cotton lace; underskirt of black synthetic tulle; faux jabot of black cotton with Broderie Anglaise

Dress of McQueen wool tartan; top of nude silk net appliquéd with black lace; underskirt of cream silk tulle
(The above four ensembles are from the Autumn/Winter 2006-2007 Widows of Culloden Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The above four image are courtesy of:

Image courtesy of:

Above left: dress, leggings & “Armadillo” boots embroidered with iridescent enamel paillettes
Above right: silk jacquard in a snake pattern embroidered with yellow enamel paillettes in a honeycomb pattern
(Both are from the Spring/Summer 2010 Plato's Atlantis Collection)
(Photographs are by Sølve Sundsbø/The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Both images are courtesy of:
Chiffon dresses from the Autumn/Winter 2010 Angels & Demons Collection 
Image courtesy of: The New York Review of Books

Also included in the show is a miniature version of the infamous Kate Moss hologram, the hauntingly beautiful and ghostly finale - which had originally been set to the evocative strains of John Williams's and Itzhak Perlman's theme song for the 1993 epic historical drama film, Schindler's List - from McQueen's Autumn/Winter 2006 Widows of Culloden collection in which the designer paid tribute to Moss in a show of support during a difficult time in her career when most other designers and sponsor companies bluntly rescinded their contracts in the face of  a public drug scandal - in an industry renowned for the prevalence of its substance abuses; it was an attitude that McQueen always felt to be hypocritical.

As Sarah Mower described  the show's finale in her 2006 editorial review for the fashion website, “Only Alexander McQueen could provide the astonishing feat of techno-magic that ended his show. Inside an empty glass pyramid, a mysterious puff of white smoke appeared from nowhere and spun in midair, slowly resolving itself into the moving, twisting shape of a woman enveloped in the billowing folds of a white dress. It was Kate Moss, her blonde hair and pale arms trailing in a dream-like apparition of fragility and beauty that danced for a few seconds, then shrank and dematerialized into the ether. This vision was in fact a state-of-the-art hologram — a piece by the video maker Baillie Walsh, art-directed by McQueen.” (Quote: Mower, S.,, March 3, 2006)

Addendum: When the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition finally drew to a close on Sunday, August 7th, 2011, it set a new attendance record: 661,509 visitors came to view the show since its opening on May 4th, making it the eighth most attended exhibition on record at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surpassing  the Met's 2008 show, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, which attracted 576,000 visitors.
(Source: Wilson, E., On The Runway,, August 8, 2011)

Kate Moss hologram ~ Autumn/Winter 2006
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Video courtesy of:  ~

Video courtesy of:  ~
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art - 2011)

The Edgar Allan Poe of fashion
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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, from May 4th until August 7th, 2011:

Video courtesy of:  ~

Suggested readings:
Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation (2010), by Kristin Knox: A&C Black - Bloomsbury Press

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (2011), by Andrew Bolton, Alexander McQueen, Tim Blanks & Sølve Sundsbø: Yale University Press
Love Looks Not With The Eyes: Thirteen Years With Lee Alexander McQueen (2012), by Anne Deniau: Harry N. Abrams

Alexander McQueen: Evolution (2012), by Katherine Gleason: Race Point Publishing

Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy (2013), Judith Watt: HarperCollins

Alexander McQueen: Working Process - Photographs by Nick Waplington (2013), Alexander McQueen & Nick Waplington: Damiani Editore

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