As you know On Monday May 2nd, The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art held a special preview of their new exhibit Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and we were on hand to capture exclusive photos and videos from the event, and a review of the exhibit itself, on display May 4th - July 31st. We also got a taste of the evening's major event, The Costume Institute Benefit - an annual fundraising gala thrown by Vogue's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Check back tomorrow for photos from the red carpet.
"I am a romantic schizophrenic. I am going to take you on journeys you've never dreamed were possible."
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is quite simply one of the most powerful and epic fashion exhibits ever shown in a museum, and there's a sense that everyone involved knows this to be true and is embracing the challenge of putting together such an ambitious display of one designer's work with complete and total care and love for Alexander McQueen and his legacy. Since McQueen's tragic death in early 2010, the fashion world has felt the loss of one of its most beloved and talented designers. McQueen's work was not only exceptional in its technical design and function, but it was truly inspired and always ground-breaking. His designs were works of art, and have luckily found a home at The Met, among some of the greatest works of art to have ever been created. This exhibit takes its audience through the late designer's imagination, and through his process, as though trying to create just a hint of the world that McQueen saw and was inspired by. For an hour or so, we get to enter into the dark and often twisted recesses of his mind, and view some of his most renowned and respected works.
The first gallery of the exhibit is entitled The Romantic Mind and is reminiscent of an artist's studio, with fluorescent lights hung overheard and raw dress forms encompassing its audience, draped by some of McQueen's more tailored designs. This room highlights his technical ingenuity, drawing attention to the precision of the designer's tailoring and pattern-making skills. Each form plays host to a complete outfit, or even just an article of clothing, that captures a different element of McQueen's aesthetic style - embracing technical and traditional elements of design, while simultaneously reinventing and reconstructing these elements.
“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition."
Upon entering the second gallery of the exhibit, entitled Romantic Gothic, one begins to get a hint of the darker side of McQueen's vision of the world and art. This room focuses on the designer's fascination with historical patterns and dress structures, particularly those of the Victorian Gothic era, and dichotomies such as life and death. The room itself is dark and menacing, reminiscent of a Gothic chamber of some sort, creating the look and feel of a haunted house, with the sounds of winds howling and distant footsteps. The dresses featured in this gallery all have a touch of the old world about them, but are twisted and warped, with elements of leather, fur and feathers thrown about. We are also introduced to the exceptional mask work that appears throughout, created specifically for the exhibit by Guido Palau.
"There's something ... kind of Edgar Allan Poe, kind of dark and kind of melancholic about my collections."
Rounding the bend, one next enters the Cabinet of Curiosities, a display room of McQueen's most macabre and grotesque accessories and designs, as well as videos of several of his highly experimental runway shows. With each headdress and heel, we begin to feel more and more like a voyeur, with so many of the works in this gallery focusing on more fetishistic aspects of McQueen's obsession with gothic elements. Many of the pieces on display were collaborations with other designers, especially the more detailed accessories, such as a headdress from McQueen's La Dame Bleue collection designed by Philip Treacy.
The next gallery, entitled Romantic Nationalism, is a tribute to the designer's fascination with his own history, particularly that of his Scottish background. Dresses from his Widows of Culloden and The Girl Who Lived In The Tree collections line either side of the room, which is reminiscent of a great hall in a Scottish castle. These designs are exceptionally patriotic, and highly structured, but fascinatingly haunting and solemn. Walking through to the next chamber, as the dresses become lighter in tone and color, the room around them is literally splitting down the center, with wooden panels collapsing around and between the dresses. There is a sense that the old world is crumbling, while the modern world, and the modernity of McQueen's designs, are taking its place.
The exhibit continues with a small-scale version of Kate Moss' stunning appearance as a hologram in McQueen's 2006 Widows of Culloden collection (click here for a previous article on the dress and a video of the original hologram). This is followed by a fun-house of sorts, entitled Romantic Exoticism, with dresses in mirrored coves rotating on either side of the corridor. The works in this gallery explore the influence of other cultures on the designer’s imagination, especially China and Japan, with some of the designs even featuring football gear as templates for the delicate work on and around them, and extravagant head pieces worn over simple and sleek wraps.
"I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.
The final two galleries of the exhibit contain some of the designer's more famous and recognizable dresses. Romantic Primitivism captures McQueen’s engagement with the ideal of the “noble savage,” paying particular attention to the dichotomy between primitive and civilized culture. Romantic Naturalism considers his enduring interest in raw materials and forms from nature, most notably the flowers used in his Sarabande collection, and serves as the dramatic grand finale to the exhibit.
I cannot urge you enough to check out this stunning display of Alexander McQueen's legacy. There has truly never been a fashion exhibit quite like this one, and there has never been a designer quite like McQueen. Fashion is art, and there's no better proof than Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.
Statements were made by McQueen's close friend, Stella McCartney, and his long-time collaborator and successor at Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton (who most recently was in the news for having designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress). Check out the videos below for coverage of their statements. Also in attendance were Andrew Bolton, the curator of the exhibit, Fern Mallis, former VP of IMG Fashion, and Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief ofVogue.
Met patron wearing Alexander McQueen