Savage Beauty – Alexander McQueen – MET
The show was about the unforeseen, the unfamiliar, the savage. Much like McQueen, every detail was unexpected, harsh, consequential and romantic. I stood in line at the Met amongst so many others anxiously waiting. Two hours after winding through the museum’s corridors we arrived at the opening. At first I was filled with anger, I had been waiting so long in anticipation for what everyone had promised would be a spectacular show. I couldn’t possibly enjoy it with obstructed views and shallow remarks.
Hundreds of people were let in but everyone stood silent, gazing at the pieces, reading McQueen’s words. The temperature seemed to drop, an unmistakable shift, as the crowd shuffled into McQueen’s mind, piece by piece, following his wishes and thoughts. Quietly I fixed my eyes on every detail of the clothing, so close I could touch. Every piece had a story, an agenda. I tried to understand his choices as I imagined McQueen himself walking amongst us, enjoying our focus and surprise. He would of expected our reactions, he had dreamt them up while he was designing, imagining the cut of every sleeve, the movement of every fabric, the display of every forbidden piece of skin.
The crowd continuously moved through the rooms reluctant to leave the space they were in but hypnotized by the beauty promised in the next. Every one of us became a witness of the evolution of McQueen’s thoughts and desires.
Every piece was meticulously chosen and lovingly placed, so much so that the story of Lee Alexander McQueen would not have been the same had a garment been missing. The clothing had a surrealist tendency: unnaturally “natural” shapes that exaggerated the female form and bizarre materials such as medical slides, feathers, and clam shells. Every ensemble, every piece of clothing and accessory provoked an emotion. There were a number of pieces that left a profound impression on me.
No. 13 (Spring/Summer 1999 collection) was interesting at first glance, then you learn that the wooden boots are not boots at all but prosthetic legs made specifically for athlete Aimee Mullins. Mullins lost both her legs to fibular hemimelia; she explains the experience with great astonishment and pride: “.. And you know, the fact is, nobody knew that they were prosthetic legs. They were the star of the show—these wooden boots peeking out from under this raffia dress—but in fact, they were actually legs made for me.” Mullins goes on to explain McQueen’s clothing in the most appropriate rendition I have heard yet: “His clothes have always been very sensuous, and I mean the full gamut of that. So hard and strict and unrelenting, as life can be sometimes. And then this incredibly romantic swishing of the raffia.”
Another piece I found to be layered with such incredible symbolism and beauty was The Horn of Plenty from the Autumn/Winter 2009-10 collection. The dress, made of black duck feathers, was a clear reminder of death. The Horn of Plenty has an incredibly robust female form with strong shoulders, a cinched waist and voluptuous hips. McQueen gave death the beauty of a woman. As I walked through each room I realized McQueen created ironies, describing negative events in profoundly lovely ways and positive instances with the grim reminder of a pending darkness.
What was most surprising to me was how the show affected each person in much the same way whether one was old or young, male or female. McQueen was bravest of all for sharing his dark moments with the world, dark moments that every one of us have felt at some point or another. Unsettling and unexplainable moments were McQueen’s triumph and downfall. The exhibition reminded us all to savor these moments and embrace the savage within.