“Beauty can come from the strangest of places, even the most disgusting places.”— Alexander McQueen
It’s February 11th, the 2-year anniversary of the death of Alexander ‘Lee’ McQueen. I was fortunate enough to be in New York at the time of his Savage Beauty exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the above is the only remnant of the pictures I tried to sneak, and has been the background pic on my phone ever since). I’ve never had the fortune to see an Alexander McQueen show, but I can only imagine how marvelous and visceral it must be. McQueen has said that he didn’t care if people liked his work, he just wanted them to leave his shows feeling something. I couldn’t leave the Savage Beauty exhibit not feeling something. As someone also in the arts (the creative writing grad programme at Hunter College), I do understand something about the process of inspiration and the subsequent translation of that inspiration into creation. It is arguable that no one, in fashion at least, did it better than McQueen.
Like all artists, he started with the autobiographical, the place that birthed him (Scotland) — but not so singularly that he forgot the place that raised him (England) — and then branched out into timeless muses: nature, other art (namely Literature), the cultures of the world, particularly their national dress. Yet, McQueen dove to dark depths with each collection and story, making clothes that told macabre tales of opposites, light and dark, tyrant and subject, destruction and redemption, the marginalized and the mainstream. That dark romanticism permeated all of the work produced in his epic 19-year career, and the exhibit at the Met was a journey through a fiercely driven and constantly-constructing creative mind. McQueen was an unyielding promoter of freedom of expression, and throughout the whole exhibit, there seemed to be a consistently underlying theme of struggle against the confines of what fashion can be.
Accessories like armour and bondage, rigid corsets, horns protruding from jackets, and who could ever forget the incredible “armadillo boots”; it’s as if McQueen was equipping his designs with the weaponry to fight against any attack. It should come as no surprise that he was inspired by Darwin, and the final collection in the exhibit, pieces from Plato’s Atlantis (spring/summer 2010), drew directly from On the Origin of the Species. It reflected McQueen’s thoughts on nature’s devolution with the prospect of the melting ice caps. It was a reptilian cornucopia, with scales (and who else but McQueen could channel that into armadillo boots!), kaleidoscopic prints, metallic textures, all while remaining true to the romantic ideal of the Sublime. After all, when you get swept up in a rushing hundreds-of-feet-high wave of hypothermic ice-cap water, I have to imagine that a certain calm will come over you as you are crushed in a muted death. But hey, that’s just me.
By the time the exhibit closed on August 7th, it was the most visited in the Met’s history. I waited in line for 2 hours, and of course it hurt my heart to have to spend that much time listening to some jock-infested family from the Midwest, or somewhere, with two 20-something boys, the father and the mother, with the latter being the only one who wanted to see the exhibit, though she didn’t know why. Assuredly, the men were going on about the wait and the only thing the mother could say was, “Everyone says it’s something to see.” And worse, they were in front of me! But I guess, if some knuckleheads can see such beauty and imagination and leave with more inspiration and knowledge than they had before, then I can let that one slide.
I’ll leave you with a quote by McQueen: “I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.” I’m grateful he had that ability, as he gave the world a pure outpouring of all that he was, and it was truly beautiful.
P.S. Check out a review of a Fall 2011 Alexander McQueen show from Paris Fashion Week that I did for Fashion Pulse Daily.