Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tortured Soul

 This review has been a long time coming. I've already discussed my issues with the set up of the Alexander McQueen exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, but logistics notwithstanding the clothes, the clothes, the clothes. Like Gaultier, McQueen's collections can also be traced to childhood and family. Scottish tartans and heather and bracken used in his Highland Rape (autumn/winter 95-96) collection are a nod to his Scottish roots. And his love of England, the country he grew up in, is also evident in his collections like The Girl Who Lives in the Tree (autumn/winter 2008-09). But it's McQueen's flair for fantasy and the dramatic which makes him an inspiration and stand out in the fashion world.

What McQueen definitely does well: gowns.  This gold feathered gown was encased in glass with a gold leaf background. It's an example of his autumn/winter 2010-2011 collection. The designer's last. The beauty of McQueen's work was that it was transformative. Each piece is like a person in an of itself; layered, ever-changing and constantly evolving.
Some of the more exciting pieces were housed in a tight room with black walls. As you entered you could hear the savage screams. Pain or ecstasy? The pieces were reminiscent of crows or ravens. Black, hunting birds. The Romantic Gothic section was the essence of McQueen; tortured but brilliant. It was immediately followed by some of McQueen's more esoteric accessories, in the Cabinet of Curiousities. A red masque topped with a crown of thorns, a laser-cut, sleeveless dress which cast shadows on the wearer's legs, a golden tunic dress and headpiece recalling ancient Rome.

  What I particularly loved were the pieces from the Romantic Primitivism section, which was the focus of his Nihilism collection (spring/summer 1994) like the beaded dress here and the bodysuit featured above the jump. It all plays on an idea of nature and tribalism. The works were very tactile and it was hard to not reach out and touch dresses that looked like mossy branches or animal skin jackets with horns sticking out of them. 

The opening of the exhibit, titled The Romantic Mind, was a lesson in fashion construction. It featured McQueen's work from as early as grad school. His 1992 collection, Jack Ripper Stalks His Victims, features impeccably tailored jackets with interesting construction details like locks of the designer's hair as tags. It is a throwback to the Victorian era which shows his skill and also his affection for British Romanticism.

Perhaps most interesting were many of McQueen's quotes which were posted on the walls as you moved through various sections of the exhibit. They were all illuminating and poignant but the one that struck me (and which I tried to capture) was the following "There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you've never dreamed were possible."

I believe McQueen lived his life taking us to places we never dreamed of. And he himself has journeyed to where we cannot follow. 

*Note: All references to specific collections and inspirations are garnered from the book Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

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