If you have had any doubt as to McQueen’s influence on the creation of fashion, look no further than this exhibit. Appropriately stationed at the Met, Savage Beauty is more art than anything else – no need to work in fashion to appreciate the gravity of these works. Guests wind through room after room of McQueen’s designs, spanning a career from his first collection as a graduate student, through his time at Givenchy, up to his final couture collection under the McQueen label.
The signature motifs of his work are on full display: inspirations from the natural world, unconventional materials, altered silhouettes and shapes, and the shocking techniques he used to make people “fear the women he dressed”. Also evident is the enormous pressure he created for himself, each collection setting an expectation of shock, spectacle, and beauty that kept the fashion community constantly wanting.
The curator, Andrew Bolton, has arranged the exhibit in 6 distinct sections, each with it’s own thematic feel and sound derived from McQueen’s frequent inspirations, under the through-line of Romanticism. In Bolton’s own words, “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 Romantic Mind - The first section of the exhibit showcases the impeccable construction and craftmanship McQueen learned while working as a tailor on Saville Row. Highlight: The “bumster” pants and gowns, which were lowcut in the back to exhibit what he considered the most attractive part of a man or women, the bottom of the spine (and the accompanying cleavage of the rear end).
Romantic Gothic – Murky mirrors bring you inside an Edgar Allen Poe poem (McQueen referred to himself as the Poe of Fashion). Perhaps the darkest section of the exhibit contains his elaborate leatherwork inspired by bondage costume, and extensive use of bird feathers. Highlight: The centerpiece of the show is the Cabinet of Curiosities, a room containing some of the iconic pieces of several collections, the most elaborate accessories, and filmed segments of his most famous runway moments.
Romantic Nationalism – Drawing on his Scottish heritage and British identity, his exploration of tartan is on one side and regal attire on the other.
Romantic Exoticism – It’s a walk into a life-sized music box to view the fine detailing of his embroidery, which stemmed from his exploration of Japanese, Chinese and Indian culture. Highlight: A Japanese inspired straight-jacket robe with a giant windowbox hat.
Romantic Primitivism – Largely containing work from the collection Irere, which told the story of a shipwreck and consequent landing in the Amazon jungle. Highlight: The film by John Maybury shown on a screen on the ceiling depicts a model swimming in silk and water, and originally played as the backdrop of this runway show.
Romantic Naturalism – Inspired by nature, a constant throughout his work, these pieces utilize everything from feathers to flowers. Highlight: Take special note of the iconic armadillo boots, made famous by Lady Gaga.
The Exhibit has been immensely popular, so consider going at an off time, in the morning or during a weekday. The museum cattles people through the exhibit during rush times, and you will not be able to take in the whole exhibit or see the pieces up close. Savage Beauty closes on August 7th. See more of the exhibit on the Met’s blog.