Savage, sinister, and celebratory beauty: My trip to the Alexander McQueen exhibit

From the collection: "The Horn of Plenty"

Shoes almost too dangerous to walk in, headdresses the wearer may or may not be able to see out of, and dresses impossible to move in. Yes, the Alexander McQueen exhibit, “Savage Beauty” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art was everything you would expect. And all presented in a thrilling and eerie way.

Oh and it’s not an exhibit; it’s an event.

The lights were dim. There was sinister music. Many of the mannequins were slowly rotating. There’s looped video from this theatrical runway shows. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a raven had flown over my head at any point during my visit.

It seemed that the goal of this exhibit was for visitors to experience these pieces as close to their presentation in the runway shows as possible, in attempt to preserve each collection’s story and statement. This was perhaps most clear in the recreation the runway show from McQueen’s spring/summer 2001 collection entitled “VOSS” which involved a video from the controversial show, a trick of two-way mirrors and very, very low lighting.

Of course there was the added somber tone to the exhibition considering McQueen’s 2010 suicide. Yet I left the exhibit feeling

A leg carved for Aimee Mullins, a model without legs

somewhat uplifted – because while fashion doesn’t always lead us to places that empower women, I started to see how McQueen wanted to celebrate women as a whole, not just the stick thin model types that might be able to buy and wear his clothes. Visitors could see his commentaries on race, class, and body image. These statements were made through his clothes and quotes of his next to particularly salient ensembles. This quote was next to a dress with clear Asian influences: “I want to be honest about the world that we live in, and sometimes my political persuasions come through in my work. Fashion can be really racist, looking at the clothes of other cultures as costumes.”

Visitors could also see his choices to rejoice in different women with the display of the legs carved for a runway show in which he used Aimee Mullins, a model without legs, and through dresses that forced voluptuous shapes onto the wearer by adding wider hips and defined, large busts. High fashion is never going to be a place the fully embraces women of all sizes, we know this, but it really seemed that McQueen was trying to get to a place that was more accepting.

With videos, provocative pieces, controversial pieces, and bits of Alexander McQueen’s philosophies throughout the winding hallways the exhibition was no doubt engaging and thorough, but perhaps the best part of it wasn’t the drama of the clothing, but understanding more about the philosophies of the man behind the controversial clothing and the stories he was telling.

For information on the exhibit check out the Met’s blog.

–By Samantha Howard

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