• July 30, 2011

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

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.

Renee K.

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