Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Dark Dreams of Alexander McQueen

Gallery View Title Gallery
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed possible.” -- Alexander McQueen.

Tomorrow marks the opening of the exhibit Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on view until July 31, 2011. It features approximately 100 pieces from the 19-year career of the British fashion designer who died last year at the age of 40.

The above quote by McQueen, selected by Curator Andrew Bolton as an overall theme of the show, appears halfway through the exhibit, fittingly in the same room as a tiny 3-D hologram of Kate Moss, in an undulating dress, floats in a prism, in the similar way it first wowed guests at the 2006 runway show in which it appeared.

Andrew Bolton, in his remarks to the press yesterday morning, described the exhibit as a “Gothic fairytale” with each room set up “like chapters in a book.”

Gallery View - The Romantic Mind
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

And what a story it is, showcasing as above, McQueen’s early days when he was known for the precision of his tailoring, having apprenticed on London’s Savile Row, before moving on to his darker and more disturbing visions. In the “Romantic Gothic” room, surrounded by distressed gilt-frame mirrors, look for the swooping coat of black parachute silk being blown behind the mannequin with the masked tricorn hat, shown below on Isabella Blow, Mr. McQueen’s mentor, as well as the stunning corset of lilac silk faille overlaid with black silk lace and embroidered with jet beads, with collars that slice upwards, partially obscuring the wearer’s face. There is also a case featuring some of the final dresses Mr. McQueen created, such as the coat of duck feathers painted gold and skirt of white tulle embroidered with gold thread.

In a 2003 photo, Isabella Blow wears an Alexander McQueen coat of black parachute silk and black silk satin hat by Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen. Photo by Donald McPherson.

Ensemble, Dante, autumn/winter 1996-97
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

Dress, autumn/winter 2010
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

In the wild “Cabinet of Curiosities,” hats and accessories McQueen made in collaboration with the milliner Philip Treacy and jeweler Shaun Leane, among others, will stop you in your tracks with their inventiveness and craftsmanship, as well as their juxtaposition of beauty and horror. The Butterfly hat I selected as my “May Inspiration,” above right, is one of the many pieces on display, as is the “Chinese Garden” Hat of carved cork, shown below on Isabella Blow. Multiple screens display some of McQueen’s famously over-the-top runway presentations, including the 1999 show where model Shalom Harlow had her white dress splattered with paint by two menacing robots as she slowly revolved on a turntable, and models as human chess pieces from the 2005 show It’s Only a Game. As you try to take it all in you may very well feel like you’re on a human chessboard yourself as you position and reposition amongst other museum goers.

“Chinese Garden” Hat, It’s Only a Game, spring/summer 2005, carved cork. Photo by Richard Saker.

Other galleries like “Romantic Nationalism,” “Romantic Exoticism,” and “Romantic Naturalism,” will startle you with McQueen’s sartorial takes on Scottish history, the influence of China, Japan and India, and his interest in the raw materials found in nature. He was an artist who had both the vision and the skill to realize the most outrageous, the most beautiful and terrifying of fashion dreams.

Gallery View - Romantic Nationalism
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ensemble, Widows of Culloden, autumn/winter 2006-7
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

Dress, Widows of Culloden, autumn/winter 1996-7
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

Ensemble, VOSS, spring/summer 2001
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

In my exclusive interview with the Costume Institute’s Curator in Charge, Harold Koda, he noted that even within “a short span of time, McQueen had a mature career, with a highly-evolved vision.” He felt McQueen’s spring/summer 2010 presentation, Plato’s Atlantis, was a high point in fashion. “When you see the detailing, the layering of textiles, engineered to perfection, you think, Where can he go from here?”

Ensemble, Plato's Atlantis, spring/summer 2010
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

It was the last show McQueen himself presented, and one ensemble from it, above, which you may recognize from Lady Gaga’s video “Bad Romance,” is part of the exhibition’s finale.

Mr. Koda’s favorite part of the show? The “Cabinet of Curiosities.” “It’s seeing McQueen’s imagination feeding off others’ imaginations,” he says, “like love letters of a very intense affair.”

And like a very intense affair, and the music that plays throughout each of the galleries, the total effect of all that is on view is haunting and unforgettable.

Dress, autumn/winter 2010
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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New York NY 10028


Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

Oh, I so wish I could see this exhibit...fascinating. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Like Pam, I wish I could be there! I can't wait for you to go and share your impressions with us. That would be a fashion exhibition of the decade.

fashionoverfifty said...

I love seeing the works of a true artist. I am even more impressed to know now of his skill as a tailor/couturier. What a great match between he and Treacy! Love to see this~

herCatwalk said...

The Chinese hat is crazy!

Alexis of NorthOnHarper said...

The clothing is so amazing... the word clothing doesn't do it justice.... amazing.... I am hoping to see it at the end of the month...

A said...

I wish I could see this! I just adore his bird and feather imagery, particularly in things like that gold dress. Great post, thanks for sharing.

Jessica said...

I am so going to go to this exhibit. I flipped out when I heard it was coming! Great post my dear!

Stilettos and Flip-Flops said...

Making plans to go to the exhibit in the very very very near future. Can't wait to to blog about it. Actually, I feel like I've already seen it with all the blogging about it. Great post by the way.



SO want to see this exhibit! You've got me seriously thinking about coming up. And if I do, I'll take you up on that drink. I adore The Met.

Veshoevius said...

Jill what a wonderful and beautifully illustrated post - you totally made me want to get on a plane to New York to go see this! It looks like an amazing exhibition, I still get shivers up my spine seeing the tricorn hat and parachute silk cloak outfit.

I still find it hard to believe McQueen is not with us anymore, and looking at these creations which take fashion to level of works of art it is heartbreaking to think that someone so talented and successful didn't think he had anything to live for anymore. Maybe it is prerequisite to have a tortured soul in order to produce works of such dark beauty?

Congratulations too on making the links a la mode with this - thoroughly well deserved!

Cloud of Secrets said...

My golly, how I'd like to see this show. I admit, I haven't been a well-informed McQueen fan; I've been more studious about designers whose easygoing clothes I might actually wear in my own life. But even after reading your entry I'm becoming a breathless fan, and I think such a delectable exhibit would make my an absolute devotee -- as a looker, if not a wearer.

Somone whose clothing designs are set in an exhibition with themes like "Gothic Fairytale" and "Cabinet of Curiosities" -- my heart is pounding.

I'm going to forward your link to my mother-in-law, who has museum interests and I think museum interests, and will be in the area.

Cloud of Secrets said...

"Museum interests and I think fashion interests," I meant to say.

Motilo.com said...

Most inspirational British designer. Beauty & rage.

jill815 said...

Hi Pam, I wish you were here so we could go see this together, I'm ready for a second visit.

jill815 said...

Hi Catherine, the McQueen exhibit is one of the most haunting exhibits of any kind I have ever seen.

jill815 said...

Hi Paula, the hats McQueen and Treacy came up with are crazy and amazing. The butterfly hat is a showstopper. When I go back to the exhibit I want to spend more time in the tailoring gallery. I just read that McQueen heard on TV there was a shortage of tailoring apprentices, took himself to a tailor the next day, and was brought on as an apprentice on the spot. Fascinating!

Jules said...

The pictures look gorgeous I can only imagine how beautiful it all is in person. I am in NYC as well so I am definitely going to check it out. Great post!


jill815 said...

Hi herCatwalk & Alexis at North on Harper, it was great to meet you through IFB and be included with you on the Links a la Mode list.

jill815 said...

Hi A, I think I should do a whole other post devoted to the bird imagery, it runs throughout the entire exhibit, in every gallery and is breathtaking. There is text as well about how much McQueen loved birds, especially the colors of their feathers.

jill815 said...

Hi Jessica, thanks for stopping by, this exhibit is worth seeing several times.

jill815 said...

Hi Stilettos and Flip-flops, I will stop by your blog and see if you've posted about the show. There's so much there that everybody could take away something different to write about.

jill815 said...

Hi Vahni, are you coming to NYC? I will email you about this, I would love to meet you and I'd be happy to buy you a drink at the Met!

jill815 said...

Hi Veshoevius, the tricorn hat and parachute silk coat is one of my favorite parts of the exhibit because of the way they have a little fan underneath blowing it behind the mannequin. The curators must've been inspired by that picture of Isabella Blow wearing it.

Are you coming to see the exhibit? Let me know because I would love to meet you!

The more I read about McQueen the more it seems like he had extreme highs and lows. It is heartbreaking he is no longer here, especially when it is so easy to see he was an artist. I can only imagine the depths of the despair he was in when he took his own life.

jill815 said...

Hi Sarah, I have to say, when Andrew Bolton said he arranged the exhibit to be a Gothic fairytale I instantly thought of you!

I'm with you, I tend to focus on designers that I think of as more wearable but when you see these pieces, room after room of them, in the most exquisite materials and steeped in narrative, it is hard not to fall completely in love with McQueen's work.

Does your mother-in-law want a friend to see this exhibit with? Email me, maybe we can meet up!

jill815 said...

Hi Motilo, thanks for stopping by, I think you hit the nail on the head, McQueen's work is about beauty and rage. That's it exactly and the exhibit really allows that to come out, helped along with the music and the lighting. It is one of the most beautiful fashion exhibits I have ever seen.

jill815 said...

Hi Jules, you have to see this exhibit, you will love it! I stopped by your blog and loved the hilarious pink pump tape dispenser so I am your newest follower.