My recent trip to New York City was most productive. There were numerous meetings with craftsmen and architects. The days were long but always ended with wonderful meals at fantastic restaurants. I stayed, as usual, at my favorite hotel The Grammercy Park. Despite the rigorous schedule I did manage to find the time one afternoon for an excursion to the Met. My good friend Vicki decided that we must make time to go together to see Savage Beauty, an exhibition of the work of Alexander McQueen. She knew that I would enjoy it and I did… immensely.
We made our way from the car up the grand steps to the entrance of the Met. We passed thru the lobby with its urns filled with foxtail lilies, branches of leaves and green berries. We climbed the second set of stairs. From there we wound our way down the halls beside a long line of people (Met members can always go directly into the exhibits.) As we turned the last corner I was instantly mesmerized by two female forms standing guard in a large dark portal. Like goddess’ of some mysterious temple, the figures were a precursor for what lay ahead. One figure was adorned with red and black ostrich feathers and glass medical slides painted red. The other figure was covered in razor clam shells.
“It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.” “Silence- A Fable.”
- Edgar Allan Poe
We then entered the first gallery; “The Romantic Mind.” There were pieces from McQueen’s Jack the Ripper collection and numerous early works. I was particularly entranced by a coat from his MA graduation collection. This was the collection that launched his career when it was bought in its entirety by the late Isabella Blow, one time fashion editor for Tatler.
A macabre sensation came over me as I heard wolves howling and wind blowing in the distance. The sounds drew me into the next gallery “Romantic Gothic.” I was instantly reminded of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 Beauty and the Beast.
The room was completely clad in antique mercury glass mirrors in large ornate frames. The actual inspiration for the interior was Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the house of Usher” (a poignant allusion) but, I couldn’t help from remembering images from Cocteau’s 1946 film that I had seen only once when I was a child. My favorite piece in the room was a corset from the 1996-97 Autumn/Winter collection “Dante”.
The next gallery “Cabinet of Curiosities” was an illusion to the intellectual pastime of collecting unique and exotic specimens from the world of natural history. The room displayed many “curiosities” from McQueen’s collections as well as video monitors playing some of the most groundbreaking runway moments. The experience was most surreal. I imagined mythological creatures, amazons, inventions of flight and science by Michelangelo, treasures from the Vatican that were rescued during the Dark ages… A wealth of endless imagery.
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
- Edgar Allan Poe
The next Galley “Romantic Nationalism” had walls covered in Marquetry. On the left all the figures were clad in McQueen Tartan. On the right all figures were clad in Ivory and red silk. The music, Georg Friedric Handel’s Saraband, arranged by Gerard Rosenan, conjured images of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Scenes from the movie floated thru my head. As I slowly circled the room I also remembered a scene from Vanity Fair, as directed by Mira Nair: the scene, Becky Sharp singing for the ladies at a party given by the sinister Marques of Steyne.
I circled all the rooms several times. It was truly hard to leave each gallery. The content represented in each creation was spellbinding. The historical references coupled with the dark macabre, the ancient mythical, and the iconic ecclesiastical provided an overwhelming insight to the genius of Alexander McQueen. Only half way thru the exhibit, I was beginning to feel like Virginia Wolf’s Orlando as portrayed by Tilda Swinton in Sally Potter’s 1997 film. I did not simply enter each gallery, I was transported. Experiencing such a body of work that spanned so many years and represented so much history did actually feel like time travelling.
Each room, every creation, the music, all served to heighten the senses and arouse the soul. I continued thru the exhibition.
At the end of the exhibition Vicki turned to me and said “Can you believe it, there will be no more Alexander McQueen.” It’s a sad reality. But what he did while he was here…was truly epic.
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night”
- Edgar Allan Poe