People wait in line, speaking in only hushed tones anticipating the work they are about to witness. Women wear Louboutin’s, architectural heels that would make the common woman cry in pain, and are dressed as if they are being critiqued by the surrounding viewers. I ask the woman behind me where she was from, she responds Chicago, the man in front of me Florida. By the end of summer thousands would have made the fashion pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to pay homage to one of the greatest designers of the 21st century. Alexander McQueen captivated the world with his theatrical presentations and interweaving of historical references with modern day couture. His work kept the fashion world anxious, each season bringing about new and innovative ways to dress the body. Creating looks that couldn’t just be considered fashion, but were wearable art, McQueen’s wasn’t afraid to take a risk, never altering who he was as a designer to satisfy an audience. He has reached a status that many designers dream of achieving but some never become, iconic. McQueen now exist within the walls of where great designers like Chanel were once exhibited, continuing his vision of theatrical forward thinking fashion through Sarah Burton.
I entered the exhibit with dark walls and low lights, greeted by an introductory statement fit for the late designer. Soft almost hauntingly beautiful music fills the air as the people move about slowly, mentally capturing each image and reading the inspiration behind each piece. McQueen had a purpose for each collection, a message he wanted to send to not just the fashion world but society in general. The first collection The romantic mind McQueen tailored his pieces to perfection, taking into factor the beauty of the female form. A personal favorite of mind was his jacket called “It’s a jungle out there” (autumn/ winter 1997-98) infused the image of Christ upon the cross, architectural shoulders and shape, with a low opening that contrasted between the seductive shape of a woman and saintly image of Christ.
With Romantic Gothic and Cabinet of Curiosities McQueen showed his growth as a designer and pushed the envelope of what was considered fashion, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The mannequins that were once headless now wore mask that obscured their facial proportions. He shifted our idea of the role of the model, making the model obsolete and the garment the focal point. Wind filled sounds engulfed the audience, giving an aura that the designer himself lived amongst us in the room. The contrast between hard and soft, feminine and masculine, this play upon opposites seemed to be of great importance to the designer. I understood his thought of why must we choose sides in creating fashion and what we define as beauty. The same emotion created by a long silk organza gown, can be felt when looking upon a dress created from leather, metal, and feathers. With The horn of plenty (autumn/winter 2009–10) the words of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven range through my ears screaming nevermore. Nevermore was correct, the piece transformed the model, growing feathers where there once were limbs. The raven which was once considered the romantic model for death took a seemingly gothic symbolic reference and recreated it to be a symbol of beauty.
Moving towards the next room I felt as if I were in the presence of modern day royalty. Garments constructed of Scottish style plaid, headdresses reflected gold and metallic embellishments, and yards of fabric flowed upon the mannequin forms. Romantic Nationalism pays homage to McQueen and his heritage with this collection; it felt as if one were in the presence of the monarchy, each subject lined up in accordance to their role. The queen herself held upon the highest of pedestals, looking down upon the commoner. The piece entitled The Girl Who Lived in the Tree (autumn/winter 2008–9) captured a woman’s journey from peasant to royalty, and the extravagance of beauty and wealth that is now available to her.
McQueen sought to break down cultural barriers through his work, with the next collection of work entitled Romantic Exoticism. He made reference to Asia through modern day kimono shapes, and Asian inspired cultural designs. Walking toward the next room viewers are transferred from the inspirations of Asia to Africa and indigenous people with a savage, almost animalistic collection of pieces. With Romantic Primativism the designer changed the meaning of beauty; creating dresses that appeared shredded and destroyed, but took hundreds of hours of manual construction. With Eshu (autumn/winter 2000–2001) McQueen showcased the beauty of the Yoruba tribe combining materials that here in America we normally wouldn’t consider fabric; yellow glass beads with horsehair. Yet that is McQueen taking things we normally wouldn’t consider and transforming our mindset to being more open besides our own views.
The exhibit came to a close with the final collection of Romantic Naturalism the famed armadillo shoe gracing the feet of the mannequins. Headdresses that make reference to the time period of Viking warriors encased with chrome detailing. The collection was inspired by Atlantis, the fantasy encased world that has perplexed historians for years in terms of validity and existence. A blue back drop set the scene, feeling as if time continued beyond our meaning. This collection created during the time period of his death embodied our view of McQueen. A designer who could take his viewers beyond existence of time, and transport them to a world, that without evidence many wouldn’t believe existed. Alexander McQueen was, and still remains one of the greatest designers of our time. His unexpected end left many with questions as to why a man with such talent could leave, during a time period in which the world needed to believe in beauty and fantasy during a time period of uncertainty.
“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.”
In love and fabulosity,