Alexander McQueen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Savage Beauty is the name of the Alexander McQueen Exhibit now going on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (May 4 – July 31, 2011) and that’s the perfect title for it.  I made the above slide show from photos of McQueen’s work from the Metropolitan Museum of Art web page.  For detailed information on the clothes, I suggest you check out this Metropolitan Museum of Art web page  .

This morning I got up early to get to the Met in order to be there when they opened to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, so as to beat the crowds, but I didn’t, even though I was there not more than 15 minutes after the museum opened. I didn’t have to wait in line, but it was already so crowded I found it uncomfortable. As I left the exhibit, the line was already long.  I’ve never seen any exhibit get this much attention.  I returned in the afternoon to see the exhibit again, and there were people in a line that had an 1-1/2 hour wait.  It wound around the museum.  However, if you are a Met member, you can go right in and don’t have to wait in the line.   It’s worth becoming a member just not to have to wait in line for 1-1/2 hours.

On the weekends the museum is crowded with people of all ages, but during the week,  children arrive at the museum by the bus load.  I don’t think all of McQueen’s dresses are appropriate for children to see.  Some are transparent or leave certain areas of the body that are usually covered, uncovered.  To quote McQueen:  “I especially like the accessory for its sadomasochistic aspect.”  Leave the kiddies at home.  The following dress is called ‘Highland Rape.”  McQueen says he is a romantic.  No kidding.  In “Highland Rape,” he is romanticsizing rape.

Highland Rape, autumn/winter 1995–96
Green and bronze cotton/synthetic lace
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photography by Sølve Sundsbø

“I’m a romantic schizophrenic”…Alexander McQueen — You don’t say.  Call me an old fuddy duddy, call me Puritanical, but a woman dressing as though she has been raped seems a little twisted to me.  Didn’t McQueen ever watch “Law and Order, SVU?” However, I like the colors and the primitiveness. In the exhibit, wind fans were used on some of the outfits (like above).  I guess to show how pretty the outfit would be in a high wind–something that is obviously concerning.  I always ask myself “How will this dress look if I’m hit by wind?”

Unfortunately, taking photographs at the exhibit is verboten. I tried to take some photos when the security guards had their backs turned, but I was caught pretty fast and told to put my camera away, and what I took came out blurry because the exhibit is totally dark except for the creations which are lit.  This makes the exhibit so dramatic, which emphasizes the drama of the designs.  The exhibit also incorporates videos and there is even a hologram, which is the first one I’ve ever seen.  The hologram of a flowing white dress is very beautiful.

I see McQueen as being a mad genius driven to suicide by his own genius.  However, maybe I’m the one being romantic here.  I don’t mean to romanticize suicide.  He’s like the Vincent Van Gogh of  Haute Couture.  McQueen sometimes used materials other than fabric, like in the two dresses pictured below.

I pilfered the  photos below from the  The Met Site that you should visit to see more of his masterpieces.  It’s a beautiful web page.  These photos are also in the slide show.

Click on Photo to see original site on the Internet that I  borrowed this photo from.  The right front side of the bodice is bare. The glass medical slides that make the top of the dress also are transparent even though they are painted red.

VOSS, spring/summer 2001
Red and black ostrich feathers and glass medical slides painted red
Courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Photography by Sølve Sundsbø

This shoe has beautiful shape and lines, but the shape and lines have no relation to the shape and lines of the foot. The higher fashion the shoe, the more the shape of the foot is hidden or distorted.

One thing I hate about modern fashion is this invention of the 4″ heal in women’s shoes. He seems to be one of the main instigators of that trend. I always thought the 3″ heal was obscene. Ruining the feet of women just for some subjective idea of beauty.  I think the fashion of the 3- or 4-inch heel is western’s civilization’s version of the ancient Chinese custom of binding women’s feet so they can’t grow and will remain small, even though it will make the woman almost crippled. When you look at a beautiful woman, does anyone say, “She’s beautiful, but her shoes could have a higher heel?  Or “She’s so beautiful, but her feet could be a little smaller.”  Audrey Hepburn mostly wore flats.  Not only in real life, but in her movies, and she looked very stylish in them.

McQueen was a tailor before becoming a designer. I think all designers should start out as tailors.  He seemed to learn his craft by on-the-job-training, which I think is the best way to learn.   He said “You have to learn how to construct clothes before you can deconstruct them,” which is an insight into how he approached his craft.

I’ve seen some movie stars dressed in his gowns being interviewed on one red carpet or another, and the dresses were beautiful and not as far out as the ones shown in this exhibit. These clothes in this exhibit are creations like a painting or a sculpture except they are in costume form.  They are to be looked at and admired for their creativity, but have little, if any, utilitarian purpose.  It’s a little like designing chairs that are just to be looked at as art objects, but not to sit in.

For me, like photography, fashion only becomes an art at a certain point.  The clothes in this exhibit are all clothes in which the fashion has reached the point of being an art object.  However,  when fashion reaches that point, it is no longer wearable (except maybe if you are Lady Gaga).  It becomes an art object, which means it’s an “object.”  Not something to be used for utilitarian purposes.

I read that McQueen studied the dress of primitive African tribes. This primitive feeling is in many of his creations.  The Razor clam-shell dress is beautiful to look at, but no one could wear anything like this.  It seems to me making clothes that are only to show off the creative talent of the designer, and have no utilitarian use, is quite egotistical.  People who commit suicide are usually totally self-absorbed.  They are locked into themselves and can’t get out and therefore commit suicide in order to free themselves from their hell.  Self-absorbism is what is hell.  Would people be lined up around the museum to see this exhibit if McQueen hadn’t committed suicide?  I doubt if he would even have had an exhibit.  The exhibit is also in the main part of the museum and not in their couture department, where the Met’s fashion exhibits are usually held.

Clam Shell DressAlexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)Dress VOSS, spring/summer 2001 Razor-clam shells stripped and varnished Courtesy of Alexander McQueen Photography by Sølve Sundsbø
Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010) “Bumster” Skirt Highland Rape, autumn/winter 1995–96 (re-edition from original pattern) Black silk taffeta Courtesy of Alexander McQueen Photography by Sølve Sundsbø

“Bumster Skirt.”  

This seems to me,  the high-fashion version of the working-class male version of wearing the pants down as though they are falling off.   It’s like using fashion to say “In your face.”  It’s  getting close to mooning.  And the psychology behind it is close to mooning.  It’s like mooning done with more class than mooners usually have, but the anger is the same.

High-fashion influenced from prison and ghetto fashion.  The wealthy copying  style from the poor.   Cotton denim replaced by silk taffeta, but the underlying idea is the same.

One thing I came away with after seeing this exhibit, is the idea of using materials, like clam shells, and different varieties of woven materials that I’m not familiar with, in different ways that one doesn’t usually use them.  That’s being creative.


Postscript 8/7/11–Today is the last day of the exhibit. Below is a photo from the Gothamist showing the line outside yesterday. The article in the Gothamist said they stopped letting Met museum members in first.  I’m really glad that I went when the exhibit first opened.

People lined up outside the Met to see the McQueen exhibit on its penultimate day.

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