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Lucire: Living

Alexander McQueen: the legend

Lola Saab visited the year’s most talked-about fashion exhibition: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, curated by Andrew Bolton and held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Lucire 2011Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty The entrance gives visitors an idea of what to expect

The Cabinet of Curiosities’ gallery view.

THE ALEXANDER MCQUEEN EXHIBIT closed on August 7, 2011 after a run as one of New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s most viewed exhibitions. Amidst swirling rumours that it may be heading to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, a look back on the mastermind who was the subject of the exhibit is well in order.
   The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City recently hosted Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. Located on the second floor in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, the exhibit was immensely popular, with a seemingly never-ending long line of guests impatiently waiting to enter McQueen’s amazing world of beauty at its best. Curated by Andrew Bolton, the fascinating journey allowed visitors to explore beautiful and stunning pieces created by Lee Alexander McQueen and the museum welcomed guests into the spectacular retrospective that served as homage to McQueen’s artistic creations.
   McQueen created remarkable pieces that not only represent fashion but also symbolize inspiring and artistic features that arouse one’s imagination. Once saying, ‘I like to think of myself as a plastic surgeon with a knife,’ the outstanding designer truly had a way of dissecting every angle and section of each of his wonderfully magnificent creations.
   He was a great artist with a remarkable sense of fashion, whose every piece was innovative, original and meticulously detailed. He used an array of colours as though he was painting a mural and he designed each piece as if he were sculpting. With almost 100 ensembles, 70 accessories and a number of videos, the beautifully organized exhibition highlighted the late designer’s hard work and fantastic features in a manner that literally took everyone’s breath away.
   The exhibition presents pieces from throughout McQueen’s 19-year career starting with his graduate collection at Central St Martin’s in 1992 and ending with the final runway show that occurred shortly after his death. As guests walk from one gallery to the next, they step into a new theme: Romantic Mind, Romantic Gothic and Cabinet of Curiosities, Romantic Nationalism, Romantic Exoticism, Romantic Primitivism and Romantic Naturalism.
   The collections reveal ingenuity and innovative skill with opposing elements coming together to create masterpieces, this melding together of opposition reflecting McQueen’s statement, ‘I oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil.’
   The entrance exposes a fascinating welcome to the world of Alexander McQueen, an amazing red and black ostrich feather dress complete with glass medical slides painted red and a dress made from razor-clam shells, both items from his VOSS spring–summer 2001 collection acting as the first pieces to greet the visitors.
   The calm, dark and serene atmosphere forms a majestic ambiance as a number of pieces emerge one after the other. The first gallery mainly contains jackets, perfectly tailored and artistically designed. In the next room’s dark and theatrical setting, a coat of black parachute silk from the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious autumn–winter 2002–3 collection magnificently blows in the wind as aged mirrors surround it. A pair of black synthetic pants and a black silk satin hat made by Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen accompany the mysterious all-black ensemble and this Cabinet of Curiosities is filled with accessories and more artistic creations, many designed by McQueen in collaboration with other accessory designers.
   The wondrous spectacle continues as a mini three-dimensional show takes place within a large glass prism and a hologram from the Widows of Culloden autumn–winter 2006–7 collection features model Kate Moss gracefully twirling in a dress of silk organza and tulle.
   McQueen was chief designer at Givenchy from 1996 to 2001. He continued to create skilfully original designs for his own label and in 2006 he launched the McQ label.
   He once said, ‘Working in the atelier [at Givenchy] was fundamental to my career … Because I was a tailor, I didn’t totally understand softness or lightness … But working at Givenchy helped me learn my craft.’
   Each of McQueen’s exquisite pieces are mesmerizing and inspiring to look at. Throughout the tour, one ensemble continues to lead to another, making the awestruck guests yearn for more. A dress with nude silk organza embroidered with silk and fresh flowers from the Sarabande spring–summer 2007 collection embodies the meticulous delicacy and stylish appeal that is visible throughout McQueen’s work. Many pieces also include animal fur, underscoring a statement McQueen once made about the relationship between animals and humans: ‘We use a lot of real skins—animal skins, but they were all by-products. None were killed for their fur; they have all been killed for their meat … a play on animal and man. They are both gross and very much the same.’ A fierce and creative bodysuit from the It’s a Jungle Out There autumn–winter 1997–8 collection is made of brown leather with bleached denim and taxidermy with the pair of crocodile heads on the shoulder of the jacket acting as the highlight of the ensemble. A jacket from the same collection includes long impala horns on pony skin, the effect of this jacket just as awe-inspiring as the first.
   Just as the magnificent exhibit appears to wind to a close, guests enter a showcase of the ensembles from the last collection that was presented before the designer’s sudden death: Plato’s Atlantis spring–summer 2010. The garments are contemporary and inspirational, their modernity underscored by a video projected onto the back wall that shows colourful snake images coming to life then suddenly vanishing and turning into a human-like figure. The garments revolve around raw material and figures of nature, reflecting the influential part that nature’s beauty played in McQueen’s career. He admitted, ‘I have always loved the mechanics of nature and to a greater or lesser extent my work is always informed by that.’
   The talented designer’s death in February 2010 at the tender age of 40 was a shock and loss to people in and around the fashion industry. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is a tribute to the legendary British fashion designer who will always be known for his amazingly innovative and creatively bold designs. McQueen’s innovation is visible in his daring designs which illustrate that women should feel free to dress as they please and his attitude towards fashion can be summed up in this quote: ‘I want to be the purveyor of a certain silhouette or a way of cutting, so that when I’m dead and gone people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen.’ •

Above Coat from the Romantic Mind section at Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.



‘There’s no way back for me now, I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed possible.’

Alexander McQueen






Lola Saab is Paris editor of Lucire.

Left The Romantic Gothic, gallery view. Below left Designs from the Romantic Mind.

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