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Saturday, 11 June 2011

"SAVAGE BEAUTY" Alexander McQueen at the MET: May 4- Aug 7 2011

“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I am here for, to demolish the rules but to keep to tradition.”

Alexander McQueen:”Romantic Mind”

I was extremely lucky to be in New York at the end of May and to be able to go and see the
Alexander McQueen exhibition at the magnificent  Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I saw the title banner: “Savage Beauty” I was a little discomfited, for what could possibly be seen as savage in McQueen’s magnificent creations?  What I was about to embark on was a journey not only into McQueen’s vision of fetishism and the macabre but as I strolled from one themed gallery to another I felt myself being submerged into a world of vivid imagery and revolutionary designs, each one highlighting the body of McQueen’s work, some more disturbing than others but all powerfully thought provoking.

In the first gallery “Romantic Mind” you are rewarded with the beautiful craftsmanship McQueen acquired from his Savile row training: a row of mannequins in beautifully tailored jackets and trousers, all so familiar and now all part of his legacy. As I was carried along by the crowd of avid fans and the curious, all of us hungry for more..... Things started to get decidedly chilly. I was no longer sure whether the cold that settled on my bare shoulders was from an overzealous A/C going full throttle or something more chilling that bade me forward into the realms of McQueen’s gothic mind.
*Gallery View Romantic Mind. Courtesy of The Met*

The “Cabinet of Curiosities” is like nothing you could possibly imagine. This inner sanctum, a walled room that could easily mimic the cloistered sections in McQueen’s mind, is where your breath catches in your throat and you let out a silent prayer. The array of curios from collaborations with a number of well know designers such as jeweller Shaun Leane and milliner Philip Treacy are all on display in shelved compartments . These bewildering pieces cry out to be inspected, each design more complex and mind boggling than the other. A wondrous sight.

*Cabinet of Curiosities. Courtesy of The Met*

“People find my things aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality.”

Alexander McQueen “Romantic Gothic and the Cabinet of Curiosities”

Gallery view: Romantic Gothic. Courtesy of The Met

And so the themes progress from romantic to traumatic , from sane to insane, from the ravages of the hunted in the eerie “Highland rape” and the spine chilling hologram of Kate Moss’s “Widow of Culloden” gown silently billowing, layer upon layer of silk endlessly turning before your eyes.

I think I reached my limit of what I could only describe as palatable, after all the excesses and extremes, when I got to the glass box used in “Voss: the spring/summer 2001 collection”. Inside I spied the voluptuously naked woman reclining on a divan wearing some eerie fetish mask, I quickly moved on, my quota filled for the day and an overwhelming desire for sunlight and hearing children’s laughter pulling me on and out to the final display:

 “Romantic Naturalism/ Plato’s Atlantis”: here in this somewhat cold and clinical room was the last collection Alexander McQueen produced before his untimely demise.  I was able to feast my eyes on the serenely  beautiful  and hypnotic  moth prints that had so enchanted me , as well as the ungainly bondage shoes that only Lady Gaga and Daphne Guinness would find charmingly beguiling...to me they are the hooves of the devil, but to each his own.

This exhibition is neither for the “happily ever after” school of thought nor for the yummy mummy who wanders in for some quiet time while dragging her rambunctious little one. This is hard and thought provoking, moving as well as disturbing, but clearly a journey to be undertaken by any die hard McQueen fan and admirer. His was not often a quiet mind but it was far from boring.   The Met has done an immense and incredible job with this exhibition, it is an excellent tribute to this much loved man who transformed the face of fashion and the way we perceive it. I would recommend going when things are a little quieter, so that you can take your time to listen, read and fully absorb the sheer volume of  sights and sounds. Then I recommend a coffee or even a glass of wine because you will need the distraction... you will come out wearing this whole experience  like a heavy mantel , saddened by the fact that the genius that is Alexander McQueen is no more.  

All images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I would like to thank Nancy Chilton at the Met for her help in acquiring these beautiful images to accompany my piece, without them it would not have been possible to describe my visit.