For me, what I do is an artistic expression which is channeled through me. Fashion is just the medium.
As I waited the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s winding line that took me from Japanese ceramics through Hellenistic vases and into the House of McQueen, I marveled at the fact that an exhibition of one fashion designer’s work could draw a two-hour wait, every single day for months. There are a million and one visceral artistic experiences one can find in this incredible city of ours. Yet, here we were, tourist and taxpayer alike, waiting a line of epic proportions, drawn to the Savage Beauty of Alexander McQueen, like lemmings creeping to the edge of a great precipice. What is it that captivates us so? Curiosity? Glamour? Repulsion? The tragic demise of a prolific designer? Or some convoluted combination of these?
My questioning mind was blissfully silenced as I crossed the threshold of the exhibition. I instantly knew I was on hallowed ground, stepping into the Church of McQueen. The chilling music and Gothic decor of the first room set a romantic, yet harrowing and macabre atmosphere that followed the viewer throughout the exhibition. It was almost as if the specter of the tragic genius was lurking about every beautifully designed corner of the room. Curator Andrew Bolton captured the essence of McQueen with painstaking precision in a way that honored not just the clothing, but the artist himself. This was clearly a labor of love.
Alexander McQueen’s true creative genius is apparent through the entire conceptualization of his clothing, from vision to execution. He transformed runway shows into cathartic pieces of performance art that didn’t just showcase his collection, but screamed its statement. (Many of the runway shows can be experienced through video installation pieces of the exhibition.) There is nothing subtle about McQueen, who drew upon a variety of inspirations from his Scottish heritage to Victorian England and even Jack the Ripper. The examination of Alexander McQueen the Romantic permeated Savage Beauty and is outlined in the carefully placed text and quotes from McQueen himself throughout the exhibit. I found myself relishing these placards, rich with literary references and words from McQueen, giving this display a refreshing depth that high profile exhibitions often lack. It is through this perfectly balanced combination of text and art that the designer himself is unveiled.
But, on to the clothes. The clothes — le sigh — the clothes. From billowing midnight black capes to a cascading crimson gown adorned with ostrich plumes, McQueen transforms clothing into walking works for art. I could wax poetic about these fantastic pieces for hours, but I’ll spare you and let the clothing speak for itself. McQueen’s diversity of collections range from the haunting Highland Rape to the fairy tale fashions of The Girl Who Lived in the Tree and McQueen takes us on journeys from the jungle and into the future. Each collection is more aggressively avant-garde than the last and leaves the viewer revived, transformed and haunted.
Nothing summed up Savage Beauty for me like a video from the finale of McQueen’s Spring/Summer 1999 runway show. A demure model enters the stage wearing a flowing white dress. The stage revolves and two spray paint guns are pointed threateningly at our heroine. As the stage spins faster and the guns splatter her dress with paint we see the beautiful model become more and more vulnerable as the purity of her dress becomes tainted. It is this masochistic process of creating art that forces us to see ugliness in beauty and darkness in the artist, and ourselves.
So, I urge you, I entreat you, I beg you. Go to the Met before August 7th . Wait the line. Experience McQueen as you never have before or will again. Because Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is more than a display of the textiles that cover the glossy pages of Vogue. McQueen’s Savage Beauty is living, breathing art. And it is this art that truly makes Alexander McQueen immortal.