Savage Beauty: The Alexander McQueen Exhibition

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Last week, I took a few days off and traveled to New York. Surprisingly, I had never been there before, and I was dying to see the Alexander McQueen retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Admittedly, I'm a museum nerd, especially with art museums. This was one of the best exhibitions that I've seen. Between the displays of the clothes, lighting, music and backdrops, you felt as though you had entered the world of Alexander McQueen. The New Yorker commented:

While McQueen had many anxieties, running dry wasn’t among them. He was supremely confident of his instincts and his virtuosity. That ballast freed him to improvise, to take wild chances, and to jettison received ideas about what clothing should be made of (why not seashells or dead birds?), what it should look like (Renaissance court dress, galactic disco wear, the skins of a mutant species), and, above all, how much it could mean. The designer who creates a dress rarely invests it with as much feeling as the woman who wears it, and couture is not an obvious medium for self-revelation, but in McQueen’s case it was. His work was a form of confessional poetry.

Overall, this exhibition was hauntingly beautiful. When his clothes are seen in one space, it made McQueen's suicide last year seem inevitable. While whimsical, inventive, ironic and beautifully made, there was a darkness present in all of his designs.

Savage Beauty framed the collection from the perspective of Romanticism. I'm not sure if McQueen thought of himself in that light, but it fit perfectly. The romanticism of the 18th had dark and menacing elements to it. Look at all of the gothic romances that were written during that period. His collection as a graduate student was based on Jack the Ripper.

Creative types generally have dark sides. As the expression goes, there's a thin line between genius and insanity. The artists who influence are usually the ones who aren't afraid to embrace this darkness and channel it for their work. Andrew Bolton, the curator of the exhibition noted:

For McQueen the runway was primarily a vehicle to express his imagination. He was very dark. That darkness came from a deep romanticism—the darkest side of the nineteenth century—and that’s what I always felt when I saw his collections. He was deeply political as a designer and I think one of the reasons why McQueen’s collections often were so hard to watch is that they often channeled our cultural anxieties and uncertainties, and that was very much part of his raison d’être.

As a retrospective, Savage Beauty also focused on McQueens marriage of technology with his runway presentations. It was exciting to watch the famous Kate Moss hologram and look over to study the dress at the same time.

Looking back at his work, it's easy to see that McQueen was a visionary. His clothes were less fashion and more works of art. His runway shows were performance art. Will the fashion industry ever encounter another designer with the same combination of skills and imagination that McQueen had?

Adrienne works in the conservative movement and blogs at Cosmopolitan Conservative and Adrienne Loves.


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