The debate has been ongoing: Does fashion cross into the realm of art? After seeing “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one thing is certain – the debate stops there. Both art and fashion are reflections of our society, but it's rare that the two come together in such a gripping expression of who we are. McQueen's provocative genius speaks of beauty and brutality, romance and myth and politics and possibilities.
What started as a dreary Monday morning turned into an avalanche of inspiration as I was graced with a behind-the-scenes tour when the museum was closed. Without the crowds (2000 people an hour typically funnel through to see the show), I had a close encounter with the subtle, overt and theatrical gestures that define the brilliance of the exhibition. The artist's own words said it best, "What I do is an artistic expression which is channeled through me. Fashion is just the medium."
A master of polarity and seeing beauty in what others may find urban or even ugly, McQueen's genius elevated natural materials such as razor clam shells and vulture skulls to surreal gestures, encouraging the perverse to flirt with the elegant. A progression of galleries, detailed with inlaid wood and antique mirror, set the stage for duck feathered Mohawks, red bugle beads, alligator head epaulets, metal trimmings and yards of silk organza. All lines suggesting gender are blurred, focusing on the greater perspective of emotion and humanity as the definition of beauty. McQueen's creativity and vision transcends his mastery of draping and tailoring, as a construction of mussel shells form the bodice of one gown and carved balsa wood wings create the unexpected architecture of another.
After leaving the hall, McQueen's words linger, "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."
Eric Feigenbaum is VMSD’s New York editor. He writes regularly for the magazine and vmsd.com.