Sunday, July 31, 2011

Historical Fashion & Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)

Sunday, July 31, 2011
Susan reporting:

The high-fashion world of the late designer Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) rarely makes its appearance on this blog. But I recently braved the record-breaking crowds for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, the exhibition/tribute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, and I was struck by how history so obviously inspired and influenced this unique designer. Fellow nerdy-history fanatics can be found everywhere, even on a London runway.

The show arranged examples of  McQueen's garments (like the ones shown here) in roughly chronological order, including pieces that McQueen made for design school assignments.  These were inspired by Jack the Ripper and 19th c. London, and already displayed his respect for historical dress and people who wore it. His work wasn't about sticking lace and a bow on the skirt and calling it Victorian. Instead he was fascinated by the structure of clothing of the past, how it shaped the body to conform to various ideals. He appreciated how the older clothes were constructed, a crucial step before he could take them apart, deconstruct them, and recreate them in another, more modern guise.  

Boned bodices, Scottish tartans, frock coats, corsets, Napoleonic uniforms, bustles, padded hips, wire crinolines, leg-of-mutton sleeves, courtesan platforms, Regency white, and medieval armor: all appear in his collections as quotations from the past, translated by his imagination into something new and fresh and uniquely his own. He could back up his imagination, too. Throughout his career, McQueen also demonstrated masterful tailoring, and an attention for the smallest details of beading, embroidery, and applique that would have earned him the approval of the finest 18th c. tailor or mantua-maker. He was a story-teller who used clothing to tell his stories, with each of his collections reflecting characters that were often based in historical fact. Other designers might be inspired by Hollywood jet-setters; only McQueen could create a collection inspired by the widows left by the 1746 Battle of Culloden – clothes so viscerally beautiful and moving that my eyes filled with tears as I stood in the gallery.

"I believe in history," McQueen told British Vogue in 2002. How tragic that Alexander McQueen is now part of the history he loved so well, but how fortunate that we have his clothes as a lasting legacy of his imagination.

Here's a video tour of the exhibition, produced by the Met, but without the three-hour wait in line.  The catalogue to the exhibition is a gorgeous hardcover book filled with color photographs and thoughtful essays.  If you love breathtaking clothes of any era, don't think twice: you'll want this book.

Top photo: Ensemble, Alexander McQueen, autumn/winter 2008-9; Coat of red silk satin; dress of ivory silk chiffon embroidered with crystal beads, courtesy of Alexander McQueen
Left photo: Ensemble, Alexander McQueen, autumn/winter 2000-2001; Dress of beige leather; crinoline of metal wire, courtesy of Alexander McQueen.
Right photo: Coat, Alexander McQueen, autumn/winter 1996-97; Coat of black wool felt embroidered with gold bullion cord, from the collection of Isabella Blow courtesy of the Hon. Daphne Guinness.
All photograph© Sølve Sundsbø/Art+Commerce, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Posey Clark said...

McQueen was such a genius! This show must be amazing, how lucky you were to see it. I wouldn't mind standing in line for as long as it took to get it if I lived closer to NY.

Anonymous said...

Great art but not so great as clothes. Notice the mannequins were all faceless-- impersonal. The shoes didn't look as though fit for human feet. It seemed to me that any person wearing the clothes -- if they could-- would be overwhelmed by the garments and as faceless as the mannequins.
The clothes with Regency influence were mostly lovely.
It must have been a stunning show. The clothes are fantastic -- in a dictionary meaning of the word.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

What a coincidence, I was just at this exhibit this past Friday (waiting 1.5 hours in line to get in!) Loved it! The tartans, the draping, the feathers (that dress in the little video with the wind effect - how cool!); the historic feel of it, the sheer genius! What a talent!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I tried to see this exhibit yesterday but the 2 1/2 hour wait was just too long. I'll content myself with the book.

Heather said...

So gorgeous! Will have to enjoy the book. Love seeing 18th century inspiration!

YONKS said...

That first dress could easily be from another era - maybe he was! I often think that about people who die youmg, were they reborn into the wrong time? Sorry, am I sounding a bit wierd now!

Ingrid Mida said...

Given the size of the crowds, I feel very lucky to have seen the exhibition during the press preview. In fact, I was one of the first people inside. It is an extraordinary exhibition, one of the few where the line between fashion and art has dropped away. It is a shame that the exhibition will not travel elsewhere but the exhibition catalogue is extraordinary.

nightsmusic said...

Absolutely gorgeous!

I'd wear that red silk in a heartbeat. And I have the perfect shoes to go with! ;o)

I always loved his designs. A man grounded firmly in the past and ahead of his time. Brilliant.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I'm always a sucker for fashion exhibitions, no matter what the era, but the McQueen show was just so far beyond any I've ever seen - and heard. It was a true multi-media experience, with videos, music, and the final dancing hologram of Kate Moss that was absolutely unreal. Oh, here I am, babbling away again - but I think the incredible popularity of this show proves the power of a great imagination. :)

Julie said...

I was lucky enough to see this exhibit when I was back in NYC for a visit in 2011. It was breathtaking.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket