News / USA

NYC Metropolitan Museum Show on British Designer Draws Crowds

Gowns on display in the
Gowns on display in the "Romantic Nationalism" gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Multimedia

Carolyn Weaver

A wildly popular show on the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen is drawing record-breaking crowds to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The beautiful and outlandish designs in “Savage Beauty,” culled from McQueen’s 20-year career, have the power to startle and enthrall.

There’s an evening gown made of pearly razor-clam shells; a jacket with shoulders topped by alligator heads; shoes that resemble glittering metal hooves; and a headpiece that looks like a cloud of red butterflies. Andrew Bolton, who curated the show, says McQueen was uninterested in the practical aspects of clothing and used fashion to explore new ways of being and feeling.

“I think that McQueen wanted to touch people’s emotions through his fashions. He was almost like a Romantic poet or artist of the 19th century,” Bolton said in an interview. “He saw fashion as something that was a very powerful tool to express identity, but also as a vehicle to discuss rather complex ideas and concepts.”

McQueen found inspiration everywhere: in literature, painting, history, myth and his own life. His Scottish ancestry was a special fascination, highlighted in the 1995 collection titled “Highland Rape.” The garments, some of them torn and slashed, were meant to evoke the violence done to Scotland by Britain in the 1700s and 1800s when thousands of Scots were forced off their lands. In the runway show, according to Bolton’s catalog, the designs were worn by "semi-naked, blood-spattered models that staggered down a runway strewn with heather and bracken. The collection was intended to counter romantic images of Scotland.”

British fashion designer Alexander McQueen (file photo)
British fashion designer Alexander McQueen (file photo)

“He was a great provocateur, and he loved provoking reactions from his audience and the press and often colluded in the press in a bad boy reputation,” Bolton says. “So, his early collections are often angry and rather aggressive in terms of styling and presentation.”

Victorian tales of horror were another source of inspiration. A voluminous black cape on a masked mannequin is presented with an eerie wind making the fabric whip about.

“McQueen often explored the darker side of the 19th century, and he loved these contrasting opposites, between lightness and darkness, life and death,” Bolton says. “A lot of McQueen’s characters come from the 19th century Gothic fiction tradition: vampires, highwaymen, femme fatales.”

A dress from McQueen's
A dress from McQueen's "Widows of Culloden" 2006-2007 collection

If McQueen's garments were fanciful, they were also based on the rigorous craftsmanship he learned as an apprentice at men’s tailors on London’s Savile Row. McQueen said he wanted to “empower” women similarly, by giving them clothes that expressed strength - that might even be fearsome. This meant challenging conventional notions of beauty.

“He often said that when he walked around the streets of London, it was ugly things he noticed rather than beautiful things,” Bolton says. “But even in that, he was about reconciling the beautiful and the grotesque. He saw beauty in difference or distinction, not in the classical ideal of beauty, which is about proportion or symmetry.”

McQueen was also fascinated by other cultures, especially China and Japan.  Pointing to a gown in the gallery titled “Romantic Exoticism,” Bolton noted that the overdress is made from a Japanese screen that McQueen took apart. It parts in front to reveal an underskirt made of oyster shells.  

McQueen constantly turned to nature for inspiration and for materials like shells, tree branches, feathers and horsehair. In contrast, “McQueen’s jewelry was often rather brutalistic in its esthetic,” says Bolton.  One neckpiece resembles a cage of thorns.

A design from McQueen's last complete collection, Plato's Atlantis
A design from McQueen's last complete collection, Plato's Atlantis

A Romantic sense of entrapment was a frequent theme in McQueen’s designs. An ivory silk and lace gown from his 2006 “Widows of Culloden” collection is worn with a headdress of resin antlers swathed in a lacy veil that shrouds the face and head. A ghostly hologram of model Kate Moss in an ivory gown that resembles a sea anemone whirling in deep waters is another highlight of that collection and is included in the Met's show.

“Savage Beauty” includes a glass casket holding several pieces from McQueen’s unfinished final collection. He committed suicide in February 2010, a few days after his mother died. He was 40 years old. His former assistant, Sarah Burton, now directs the fashion house that bears his name.

More than 225,000 visitors have flocked to “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” since it opened in early May. The Museum recently extended the show through August 7 and added Monday hours to accommodate the crowds.

You May Like

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

Multimedia Ten Migrants Drown in Mediterranean, 4,800 Rescued

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs