written by:
May 4, 2013
I did not attend “Savage Beauty,” the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, thinking that I would fall to my knees and weep at the recognition of some finite and indefinable quality (genius?). With the awareness of fashion of an underfunded graduate student, I expected luxurious fabrics and clothing that spoke of wealth and extravagance.
Alexander McQueen by Hendrik Kerstens
The late designer, resembling Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, 1629. Photo by: Hendrik Kerstens.
1 / 3
2 / 3
3 / 3
Alexander McQueen by Hendrik Kerstens
The late designer, resembling Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, 1629. Photo by: Hendrik Kerstens.

Instead, I found the kind of wild imagination and attention to detail that can only be produced when a person carries out a vision that pertains to no one else but themselves. Looking at the clothes, I knew that McQueen did not make them for one waifish woman in particular (no muse) or even women in general.

“Fashion is just the medium,” McQueen once said, and the pieces included in “Savage Beauty” make that more than evident.

McQueen could have designed anything—spaceships, stadiums, genetic code, chocolate duck fat tortes, or bevies of origami ravens. He had the technical and creative skill to create his own dark universe. Each of his pieces has layers of meaning: as you move closer, you discover scales, shells with ragged-knife edges, peacock feathers, coral reefs, jellyfish, entire marine ecosystems.

Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at MET
Photo by: rauchdickson.

The exhibit included a white sequin jumpsuit that was sleek like the skin of a mermaid tail. However, when I moved closer to inspect the sequins, I saw that underneath each one was the tiniest fluff of peacock feather. Thousands upon thousands of sequins, thousands upon thousands of tiny circles cut of peacock feather: Can you imagine the architecture involved in such a design?

“I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress,” said McQueen.

I love this quote, because it runs against what the entire world seems to do when dressing women: try to make them look pleasant, docile, beautiful, and happy. There is fierceness to McQueen’s work, but it is combined with exquisite craftsmanship and flights of fancy.

Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the MET
Photo by: TheSchoolofStyle.

He constructed a jacket with baby alligator heads where shoulder pads once were and a dress (or, more accurately, a creation) of duck feathers dyed black, that is, to my mind, the epitome of savage beauty. And then there is the sleek gown made entirely of pheasant feathers, the short jacket made of razor clams (for battle?), and the lace headpiece swathed around deer antlers. How would the act of marriage change if the bride walked down the aisle in such a headpiece?

The duck feather creation sucked me in with the force of a black hole. I wanted badly to throw myself into the feathers, to feel their texture, and to bathe in their sleekness. Something akin to madness took hold of me, and I felt delirious, as if I were drunk. I needed to sit down, but the show, which had a line three hours long, was so crowded that there was nowhere to rest. As I turn 30 and think about how to live my life, I find the show especially significant. It reminded me of blood and sweat, of the life force of creation, of the impulse to write for myself and no one else.

This story originally appeared on Matador Network, a Dwell partner site.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016