Friday, February 17, 2012

Savage Beauty: The Alexander McQueen Exhibit

It was my uncle Nelson who told me about the Alexander McQueen exhibit at The Met, when we dropped by to pick up a souvenir for a friend of his before heading to Lady M Confections' for a slice their famous Mille Crêpes.

The line at the entrance was ridiculously long, we had to join the queue just to get into the damn gift shop! I was puzzled, as I've been there a few times before and have never seen the Met with an actual line of people waiting to get in (then again, I'm not from New York). Being there the other day, he said it was because that was the last week of the Alexander McQueen exhibit. Wait, what Alexander McQueen exhibit?

Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty exhibit, organized by The Costume Institute, celebrated the late Alexander McQueen’s extraordinary contributions to fashion. From his Central Saint Martins postgraduate collection of 1992 to his final runway presentation, which took place after his death in February 2010, McQueen challenged and expanded the understanding of fashion beyond utility to a conceptual expression of culture, politics, and identity. His iconic designs constitute the work of an artist whose medium of expression was fashion.

The exhibition featured approximately one hundred ensembles and seventy accessories from Mr. McQueen’s prolific 19-year career. Drawn primarily from the Alexander McQueen Archive in London, with some pieces from the Givenchy Archive in Paris as well as private collections, signature designs including the “bumster” trouser, the kimono jacket, and the three-point “origami” frockcoat were on view. McQueen’s fashions often referenced the exaggerated silhouettes of the 1860s, 1880s, 1890s, and 1950s, but his technical ingenuity always imbued his designs with an innovative sensibility that kept him at the vanguard.

I went to check out the exhibit the day after, which was also the last day of the showing, waking up at 8am and making the 10-minute commute from the Upper East Side to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a friend. Even through the museum didn't open 'til 10am, the line was already so long, it went right into Central Park!

Talk about what we do for fashion! A good three hours after The Met opened its doors, we found ourselves inside, away from the searing heat, and about an hour and a half later, we were finally at the doors of the Savage Beauty exhibit. The collections were divided into rooms, each with their own poignant story to tell.

You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition. - Alexander McQueen
McQueen doggedly promoted freedom of thought and expression and championed the authority of the imagination. In so doing, he was an exemplar of the Romantic individual, the hero-artist who staunchly follows the dictates of his inspiration.

Made out of black silk taffeta, McQueen wanted to focus on elongating the body instead of focusing on the butt crack, although them Bumsters did show off a bit of crack every now and then.

Plato's Atlantis is a gray wool and silk/synthetic knit printed with a jellyfish pattern from one of his last collections. Check out how he plays with lines and texture, with the unyielding grey wool and the flowy silk knit. You can especially appreciate the patternmaking and the patterned lining, not knowing exactly where the gray wool starts and the silk knit ends.

McQueen is always proud to say he was a tailor and a patternmaker first before becoming a designer, and that is evident in this Joan coat. Manipulating the black cashmere, he created innovative shapes that were unique but at the same time flattered the physique.

Silk and cotton twill jacket is printed with an image from The Thief to the Left of Christ by Robert Campin, ca. 1430. Take a closet look and you can see the image of Jesus on the left sleeve.

People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality. - Alexander McQueen
One of the defining features of McQueen’s collections is their historicism. While McQueen’s historical references are far-reaching, he was particularly inspired by the nineteenth century, especially the Victorian Gothic.

The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from his A/W 2002-3 collection is a coat of black parachute silk paired with black synthetic trousers, and hat of black silk satin. The collection was inspired by Tim Burton. It started off dark and then got more romantic as it went along.

The Horn of Plenty ensemble is made out of duck feathers dyed black. Holy shiz! Imagine all the work that went into picking out the feathers, dying them black, arranging them into usable piles, and then fashioning it into this dress? The ensemble gives the impression of a raven - a Romantic symbol of death. It’s an item that’s very melancholic but also very romantic at the same time.

The VOSS dress that was made out of red and black ostrich feathers as well as glass medical slides painted red. Yes, the same ones you'd use to examine substances on a microscope. Painted red. Mind = blown.

Here's an example of medieval meets the modern era. A dress and glove of printed silk satin with a Hieronymus Bosch jacquard on it, Heaven and Hell, and the underskirt of duck feathers painted gold.

I found the Spine Corset a bit creepy, yet utterly beautiful at the same time. Made out of aluminum and black leather, this corset has a "rib cage" as well as a spinal tail. It's meant to be worn outside of her dress, so we would see the beauty of the bone structure.

The Coiled Corset is made out of aluminum, this corset was inspired by the coiled necklaces of the Ndebele people of southern Africa. McQueen gave jeweler Shaun Leane the daunting task of transforming the necklace into a corset. I wonder how the model who wore this got in and out of the thing?

Talk about a literal blank canvass! No. 13's white cotton muslin is spray-painted black and yellow with underskirt of white synthetic tulle.

One of those pieces that made me go, "Wtf?!?", this dress is fashioned out of lilac leather and horsehair. This is part of a bigger collection with the concept of a big chess game. This is most likely somebody's Knight.

The reason I’m patriotic about Scotland is because I think it’s been dealt a really hard hand. It’s marketed the world over as . . . haggis . . . bagpipes. But no one ever puts anything back into it. - Alexander McQueen
Influenced by the British Empire, it was one of McQueen’s most romantically nationalistic collections, albeit heavily tinged with irony and pastiche.

The Highland Rape Dress is made out of green and bronze cotton and synthetic lace. The Highland Rape collection is focused on his Scottish roots, and the rape of England during their occupation.

McQueen's Tartan design, paying homage to this father's Scottish heritage. McQueen himself grew up in London, yet was very passionate about his roots.

With the Widows of Culloden Dress, McQueen used wool tartan appliquéd with black cotton lace and an underskirt of black synthetic tulle with a faux jabot of black cotton with broderie anglaise. Translation: A bit of the Victorian era, a touch of Scottish influence, and a whole lota Goth.

I love this ensemble! A coat of red silk satin with a dress of ivory silk chiffon underneath, embroidered with crystal beads. It reminds me of putting on an exaggerated bathrobe in the middle of the night and holding out a lantern whilst looking for the loo. Toilet hunting in style!

The Girl Who Lived in the Tree Ensemble has a jacket of red silk velvet embroidered with gold bullion and trimmed with white shearling over a dress of ivory silk tulle is like someone coming down from the clouds.

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. . . . That’s mundane and it’s old hat. Let’s break down some barriers. - Alexander McQueen
McQueen’s romantic sensibilities expanded his imaginary horizons not only temporally but also geographically. As it had been for Romantic artists and writers, the lure of the exotic was central to his work. Like his historicism, McQueen’s exoticism was wide ranging—India, China, Africa, and Turkey all sparked his imagination. Japan was particularly significant to him, both thematically and stylistically. The kimono, especially, was a garment that he reconfigured endlessly.

I think this was my favorite collection in the whole exhibit. The collection revolves around the idea of a complicated chess game, looking at six different types of women - women on opposing sides. There was the Americans facing the Japanese and the redheads facing the tanned Latinos. Check out the Japanese "King" piece with the American Football gear embroidered with Japanese "tattoos".

This is the "Queen" piece's dress. i wish I could find a close of of her headpiece on the model below. It's made out of wood, almost twig-like, and has a little Japanese village carved into it. The attention to detail is just sick!

This jacket of pink and gray wool bird’s-eye embroidered with silk thread paired with a hat and trousers of the same design is simply stunning. Japan's design aesthetic has been quite influential on McQueen, probably because of their similar need to pay attention to even the smallest details.

Overdress of panels from a nineteenth-century Japanese silk screen with an underdress of oyster shells and a  neckpiece of silver and Tahiti pearls. Who would ever think or turning oyster shells into a dress? McQueen.

Nature was the greatest, or at least the most enduring, influence upon McQueen. It was also a central theme, if not the central theme, of Romanticism. Many artists of the Romantic movement presented nature itself as a work of art. McQueen both shared and promoted this view in his collections, which often included fashions that took their forms and raw materials from the natural world. For McQueen, as it was for the Romantics, nature was also a locus for ideas and concepts.

McQueen's “Jellyfish” Ensemble was the one which Lady Gaga took to a whole new level. The dress, leggings, and “Armadillo” boots are embroidered with iridescent enamel paillettes.

Another one of his mind-blowing creations is this Widows of Culloden Dress made out of Pheasant feathers.

Sarabande Dress reminded me of our traditional Filipinana dress. The cream silk satin and organza appliquéd with black degrade silk lace and embroidered in clear beads and sequins emphasized the shoulders in a way the poufy sleeves of a Filipiniana dress does. But then again, McQueen loved accenting the shoulders.

This Widows of Culloden dress is made out of a cream silk tulle and lace with resin antlers.

I try to push the silhouette. To change the silhouette is to change the thinking of how we look. What I do is look at ancient African tribes, and the way they dress. The rituals of how they dress. . . . There’s a lot of tribalism in the collections. - Alexander McQueen
McQueen’s reflections on primitivism were frequently represented in paradoxical combinations, contrasting “modern” and “primitive,” “civilized” and “uncivilized.” The storyline of Irere (spring/summer 2003) involved a shipwreck at sea and was peopled with pirates, conquistadors, and Amazonian Indians. Typically, McQueen’s narrative glorified the state of nature and tipped the moral balance in favor of the “natural man” or “nature’s gentleman” unfettered by the artificial constructs of civilization.

Everything in this collection is very raw, to say the least. Like this black synthetic hair coat. It feels like walking through the invention of fashion throughout the ages in a way.

Again with the horse hair! McQueen uses brown horsehair as a skirt and yellow glass beads to create a top. All those beads must've taken a lot of time to create and put on... and that horsehair skirt must've had a really good barber.

A very primal dress made out of of beige leather and shaped using a crinoline of metal wire. Like the beast that was killed to make this was too small, so they had to make do with what they had. I imagine this dress doesn't breathe very well either.

This piece kind of grossed me out - a brown leather bodysuit with bleached denim and taxidermy crocodile heads. Ick.

The jacket of brown pony skin with impala horns and bleached denim trousers remind me a lot of Pan's Labyrinth, no?

I wouldn't want to get cut on this razor-clam shell dress. The clams were stripped and varnished before turned into a dress - something McQueen saw when walking on the beach one day that got his creative brain ticking on new ways to use razor-clam shells.

McQueen's famous “Oyster” Dress, worn by Kate Moss - light dress made out of ivory silk organza, georgette, and chiffon. How pretty is that?!?

We walked out of the exhibit with rainbows pouring out of our mouths. You don't have to be a fashion designer to appreciate Alexander McQueen's work. He was a creative force to be reckoned with and a master at putting on a show.

All hail McQueen!

Images are a courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.