This summer the Metropolitan Museum of Art was buzzing with excitement over “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” a lavish tribute to the mercurial designer. The exhibition — which was open from May 4th to August 7th — ushered more than 661,509 visitors through a new realm, where the bizarre and unnatural reined supreme. With such record high attendance numbers, “Savage Beauty” became the eighth biggest show in history at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The late Alexander McQueen — who committed suicide last year, just days before his final runway show — was a British fashion designer and couturier. With his impeccable tailoring, avant-garde style and unadulterated creative genius, McQueen pushed the boundaries of fashion, putting on some of the most outrageous runway shows and collections in history.
McQueen is perhaps best known for his ability to combine tradition and innovation. From 1996 to 2001 McQueen served as the chief designer at Givenchy, a prominent French haute couture fashion house — filling the rather intimidating shoes of John Galliano, who had been promoted to Christian Dior. At Givenchy McQueen perfect the technical skill of fashion design, learning the rules only to break them later. “That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition,” McQueen once said.
The “Savage Beauty” exhibit, organized by The Costume Institute, hailed Alexander McQueen for his extraordinary contributions to fashion. The display featured over one hundred ensembles and nearly as much accessories from McQueen’s phenomenal nineteen-year career — from his 1992 Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design postgraduate collection entitled Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims all the way to his final runway show in February 2010.
McQueen, who considered himself a “romantic schizophrenic,” was particularly inspired by the nineteenth century, specifically the Victorian Gothic. Throughout the exhibit it became readily apparent that McQueen drew on the ideals of the Victorian era, creating juxtaposition between romance and horror, life and death, lightness and darkness. “People find my things sometimes aggressive,” McQueen noted. “But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality.”
Another aspect of this romantic style was McQueen’s heartfelt romantic nationalism toward Scotland. Drawing much of his inspiration from history and his Scottish heritage, McQueen’s collections function as a historical narrative of sorts. The McQueen tartan — which arguably made him a household name — first appeared on bedraggled and blood-splattered models in his Highland Rape collection, which explored Scotland’s turbulent political history. McQueen used drama and narrative to challenge and expand fashion as a whole.
Among some of the most popular items of the “Savage Beauty” exhibit were the iconic three-point “origami” frockcoat from his postgraduate collection as well as his “bumsters,” trousers that ride so low on the hips that they give a little sneak peak of the bum. Another peculiar feature of the exhibit was the “Cabinet of Curiosities,” which focused on McQueen’s more fetishistic items — masks, bondage and cage-like clothing.
Although his life and career were cut short prematurely, McQueen undoubtedly influenced the realm of fashion forever. McQueen once commented, “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.”