posted 2011-09-07 13:00:21

Long Live McQueen

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of
Michele Tram

Contributing Writer

Alexander McQueen was an iconic visionary with a career spanning two decades and a slew of reputable credentials and awards. He knew he had wanted to be a fashion designer since his youth, unaware of the potential social consequences. With an unwavering perseverance, his fashion career would ultimately be launched when he began an apprenticeship at Savile Row in London. Under the guidance of Anderson & Sheppard, he honed his tailoring skills—skills that would eventually become his trademark. McQueen passed away at age 40 in April 2010 due to a suicide, which had been partially prompted by his mother’s death and severe depression.

During the summer of 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrated the iconic designer with Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, an exhibition like no other. Curator Andrew Bolton assembled over 160 costumes & accessories, mainly from past archives in London and the Givenchy Archive in Paris. The showcase was split into six different categories: The Mind, Gothic & Cabinet of Curiosities, Nationalism, Exoticism, Privitism, and Naturalism; all were weaved by the prevalent theme of “Romanticism.”

Held at the Iris and B. Gerald Exhibition Hall, McQueen devotees were able to view the exclusive collection from May 4-August 7. The public was extremely receptive to “Savage Beauty,” ultimately resulting in a one-week extension for the exhibition. “Savage Beauty” placed 8th in MET’s most popular exhibitions of all time with a record-shattering 661,509 people viewing the show.

The exhibition title reflects upon a major theme in McQueen’s work: the contrast between grotesque and beautiful. Over the years, a common motif that has persisted to be prevalent in McQueen’s clothing is the ability to elicit reactions from the public, regardless of whether they are negative or positive. McQueen never limited himself when creating his designs; he used unfathomable materials to accessorize his garments including black crow feathers, synthetic hair, and razor clam shells.

The collections on display exhibited far less commercial overtones than some of his more mainstream work. Despite this, McQueen’s trademark designs were still a part of the grand exhibition: the “bumster” trouser, a kimono jacket, and the 3 point “origami” frock coat. The garments have a journalistic aspect to them as they transform into a narrative outlet for McQueen’s thoughts on life, love and everything in between. His fashion design focused on both inner and outer beauty, because he believed that humans’ judgmental prejudices often limit their views of what the truth is.

Drawing from his interest and experience with various cultures, he often sought inspiration in many places: Spain, Asia, Africa, and Japan. McQueen’s collection of “Highland Rape” was what originally brought him to fame as it provoked incredulous repulsion in many; on the runway, semi-nude models were seen in ripped-dresses particularly near the vaginal area. McQueen eventually clarified the issue by stating it symbolized England’s rape of Scotland and the brutal state it was left in.

Since the beginning of his career, McQueen has stated, “When I’m dead and gone, people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen.” His legacy will live on forever through his visceral designs.