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Around Town : Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

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This weekend, my boyfriend, Joshua, and I made an evening visit to the Upper East Side to check out the Alexander McQueen exhibit presented by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Fridays and Saturdays, the museum is open until 9 p.m., so I figured if we got there at 7 p.m., we could beat the crowds and the lines and get a good two hours of viewing in. This was a good idea!

I have been a huge fan of McQueen since I saw his Oyster Dress (see picture below) in late 2003, and since that time I have followed his provocative seasonal runway shows and the critical response they generated all the way up until his tragic death just last year. I knew I loved the clothes (and the politics and theatrics with which they were presented season after season), but nothing quite prepared me for the experience of being so up close and personal with such works of art.

What struck me the most about every piece was the immense amount of technique and craftsmanship required to create them. Couture fashion pieces are notoriously incredibly detailed and can take months to complete, and McQueen's pieces are no exception. Some are fashioned from luxuriously draped but impeccably tailored textiles, detailed with the most intricate bead-work and embroidery. Others are covered in thousands of expertly layered and patterned feathers, shells, paillettes, sequins, and even glass slides—all done by hand!

Various quotations posted throughout the exhibit revealed that McQueen was not only a forward-looking fashion visionary but also a lover of history and tradition. He understood the value of the heirloom and wanted to create pieces that lasted forever, that would be passed down from generation to generation. He believed that this could be done through careful and creative hand crafting (with special attention paid to detail and refinement) as well as through a conscious resistance to our often mass-produced, disposable culture.

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1 "Oyster" dress in ivory silk (Irere - Spring/Summer 2003)

2 "During the nineties, care and attention to detail got lost somehow. I want to create pieces that can be handed down, like an heirloom" (Widows of Culloden - Fall/Winter 2006-2007)

3 "Jellyfish" ensemble—Dress and leggings embroidered with iridescent enamel paillettes (Plato's Atlantis - Spring/Summer 2010)

Dress of red and black ostrich feathers and glass medical slides painted red (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

4 Dress of red and black ostrich feathers and glass medical slides painted red (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

Dress of nude silk appliqued with roundels in the shape of chrysanthemums embroidered with red, gold, and black silk thread with black ostrich feathers (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

5 Dress of nude silk appliqued with roundels in the shape of chrysanthemums embroidered with red, gold, and black silk thread with black ostrich feathers (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

Dress of black duck feathers (The Horn of Plenty - Fall/Winter 2009-2010)

6 Dress of black duck feathers (The Horn of Plenty - Fall/Winter 2009-2010)

Dress of nude silk embroidered with silk flowers and fresh flowers (Sarabande - Spring/Summer 2007)

7 Dress of nude silk embroidered with silk flowers and fresh flowers (Sarabande - Spring/Summer 2007)

Ensemble of bodysuit and obi-style sash of lilac silk embroidered with silk thread; top of nude synthetic embroidered with silk thread (It's Only a Game - Spring/Summer 2005)

8 Ensemble of bodysuit and obi-style sash of lilac silk embroidered with silk thread; top of nude synthetic embroidered with silk thread (It's Only a Game - Spring/Summer 2005)

Dress of ivory silk organza (Widows of Culloden - Fall/Winter 2006-2007)

9 Dress of ivory silk organza (Widows of Culloden - Fall/Winter 2006-2007)

Bodice of mussel shells (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

10 Bodice of mussel shells (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

Ensemble of coat of duck feathers painted gold and skirt of white silk embroidered with gold thread (Fall/Winter 2010-2011)

11 Ensemble of coat of duck feathers painted gold and skirt of white silk embroidered with gold thread (Fall/Winter 2010-2011)

Dress of ivory silk tulle embroidered with red glass crystals; bolero of red silk (The Girl Who Lived in the Tree - Fall/Winter 2008-2009)

12 Dress of ivory silk tulle embroidered with red glass crystals; bolero of red silk (The Girl Who Lived in the Tree - Fall/Winter 2008-2009)

Cream silk and lace with resin antlers (Widows of Culloden - Fall/Winter 2006-2007)

13 Cream silk and lace with resin antlers (Widows of Culloden - Fall/Winter 2006-2007)

Coat of red silk; dress of ivory silk tulle embroidered with crystal beads (The Girl Who Lived in the Tree - Fall/Winter 2008-2009)

14 Coat of red silk; dress of ivory silk tulle embroidered with crystal beads (The Girl Who Lived in the Tree - Fall/Winter 2008-2009)

Dress of pheasant feathers (Widows of Culloden - Fall/Winter 2006-2007)

15 Dress of pheasant feathers (Widows of Culloden - Fall/Winter 2006-2007)

Dress of razor-clam shells stripped and varnished (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

16 Dress of razor-clam shells stripped and varnished (VOSS - Spring/Summer 2001)

Alexander McQueen

17 Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, entrance at 82nd Street) until July 31. For a must-have hardcover catalog of the exhibit, visit amazon.com. And for more complete information on Alexander McQueen, check out Masters of Style: Alexander McQueen, a 45-minute documentary about the late designer, available on hulu.com. Photos courtesy of Style.com (comprehensive McQueen collection) and New York Magazine.

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