Renée Kurz, former volunteer in India, now working as a fashion designer, analyses the exhibition that unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most successful ever organized at the MET: Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty.
“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.” — McQueen
We arrived at the Met before the doors opened, putting ourselves in a thick queue to enter along with hundreds of others into the world of Alexander McQueen.This exhibition turned fanatic sensation showcases this late designer’s immense contribution to fashion over a 19-year career; a prolific yet all too short life that tragically ended in suicide last February in his London flat. And now over a hundred of McQueen’s works are on display in New York, attracting unbelievable crowds that rush past the permanent collections of old masters towards a 21st century master of fashion who sculpted the woman’s body with precision tailoring and Grecian draping. I believe many of those running to the Met have the same questions as we: Who was Alexander McQueen? And why is this exhibition that demands and extension so popular?
McQueen’s main concern was about pushing the boundaries of his imagination… perhaps even living more guided by his imagination than by reality. For him it was about creating other worlds often which were inspired by the natural world or even speaking out as an alternative to the ordered world. His last collection was titled Plato’s Atlantis and was inspired by the writings of Charles Darwin, but McQueen took the opposite approach of evolution and imagined devolution. The prints of jellyfish aqua grays, snake skin and scales enforce the idea of man returning to the ocean and results in an overall science fiction look. In his own words, “I try and modify fashion like a scientist by offering what is relevant to today and what will continue to be so tomorrow. I do this to transform mentalities more than the body.” His themes of predator and prey, lightness and darkness, life and death are timeless opposed dichotomies that charge all creative expression and human tension. His work definitely opens us up to worlds beyond; especially in his more exotic collections spanning the world from Africa to Japan, as he brings us into his own search for meaning… a search that is more dark than light.
Many admire McQueen’s deep commitment to craft and his revitalization of the work of artisans in a culture that has lost regard for the artisan. This aspect inspired me greatly to go further with my own work; to improve my skills in an effort to better express my own creative ideas and to also work towards reviving the role of the artisan in society. Art and fashion is a barometer of a culture and I believe McQueen made that barometer vibrate.
We are called to see more within Alexander McQueen than the glimmer of what meets the eye. We are called to see his tireless work and restless soul; his beautiful and passionate heart which beheld so much, maybe too much. We are called to have compassion on an artist that could translate his imagination as vividly as reality in a very concrete way with very simple materials, yet suffer within its limits. We celebrate Alexander McQueen’s contributions to the world, and mourn that the world could not reciprocate.