Through the Looking Glass Darkly: The Exquisite, Heartwrenching, Savage Beauty and Genius of Alexander McQueen

“For me, what I do is an artistic expression which is channeled through me. Fashion is just the medium.” — Alexander McQueen

 The medium was more than just fashion at Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met closing this Sunday. The entire showcase was a work of art, with insightful quotes, holograms, two-way mirrors, rotating platforms, looping videos and films. From the beginning, where it felt like we had entered a dark + stormy night, the sounds of wind blowing fiercely as though through tree tops, the screams of coyotes or owls or crows echoing about the dimly-lit opening of the exhibit, we were transported.
It was the same with McQueen’s masterpieces. From his master thesis pieces, exquisitely tailored black fashions fit for modern day duchesses and queens, to the Scottish plaids of his Highland Rape collection to the shredded silky seaweed of the shipwrecked Plato’s Atlantis, the exhibit nearly brought me to tears. Thinking of the tragedy of the designer’s suicide at 40, the fact that we would never again be privy to his creative genius and  obviously tortured soul, the unimaginable pain he must have endured, my emotions were scraped deep and searingly, especially after reading this quote juxtaposed within romantic and flowing silk jackets and hair coats from his early Dante collection:
 “I oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil.”
 As my friend Gloria quipped, don’t we all. Yet somehow, it meant more, went deeper with McQueen. McQueen’s horsehair knight dress with sculpted lilac leather corset from It’s Only a Game showed the true shape of a woman — real breasts and hips — oscillating between human and animal, from the bit mouthpiece to the pony tail. It was counterbalanced by a video of the 2005 show presented with models on a huge human chess board, inspired by one of the early Harry Potter movies.
 The hydrangea gown, below, originally created with live and artificial flowers, embodied the designer’s Romanticism connection with nature; he often used natural materials as no designer has, resulting in the oyster shell dress and the mussels corset from the Voss collection, the gold feather jacket, feather gown and butterfly headdress. The armadillo platform shoes were created with an anthropomorphic wink, looking impossible to walk or stand in.

The dramatic headpiece of the antlers are missing in this photo of the lace dress, above, and are seen slightly behind the feather dress, below, both from the Widows of Culloden collection. McQueen’s insight into the provocative piece: 
“When we put the antlers on the model and then draped over it the lace embroidery that we had made, we had to poke them through a £2,000 piece of work. But then it worked because it looks like she’s rammed the piece of lace with her antlers. There’s always spontaneity. You’ve got to allow for that in my shows.”

“Birds in flight fascinate me. I admire eagles and falcons. I’m inspired by a feather but also its color, its graphics, its weightlessness and its engineering. It’s so elaborate. In fact I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women.” – Alexander McQueen.

 His mastery was impeccable, his creativity and influence inescapable. Like the birds that infiltrated McQueen’s inspiration and fascination, the designer soared to unimaginable heights. The pity is the price he paid for his passion.