Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

001Image courtesy of Alexander McQueen 

Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Throughout his life and career, Lee Alexander McQueen celebrated freedom of thought and expression, and championed the individual’s right to create unencumbered by the conventions of society.

002Image courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Fiercely independent, McQueen had the courage to follow his imagination wherever it took him, and to cut clothes guided by his intuition. In this manner, he was an individualist in the Romantic tradition, one who believed in the importance of creating completely original modes of expression in order to unveil new understandings of the human spirit. Nowhere was this individualist streak more evident than in his silhouettes and approaches to tailoring, described by Andrew Bolton, who curated Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as simultaneously “rigorous and impulsive, disciplined and unconstrained.”

003Image courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Having learnt the craft during apprenticeships on Savile Row, McQueen then set about breaking the traditional codes and conventions of tailoring. His method was atypical; McQueen would design from the side – the view of the body he considered to be the most unflattering – in order to create new expressions of beauty. This profile view emphasised the spine’s curvature, and was also the angle at which a frock coat, a bustle, crinoline, or an ogee line (the term used for a double curve that resembles an S), looked best.

004Image courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Having stated that he saw the role of a designer as similar to that of a surgeon, McQueen’s view was that the body was there to be altered – the most recognisable example of which was the elongated torso created through his signature ‘bumsters’. In the exaggerated shoulders and waists of his tailoring, Alexander McQueen’s designs were intended to empower – they allowed the wearer to bring out parts of themselves they wouldn’t usually reveal.

005Image courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Within Savage Beauty, these qualities can be seen running through his early collections, Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims (Autumn/Winter 1992) and Hunger (Spring/Summer 1996), where he introduced silhouettes that would remain relatively unchanged throughout his career. Whether it was constructing a new silhouette based on the quasi-androgynous dress of the 1890s as he did with the ‘bumster’, the sharply cut trouser suits of No.13, or the strong shoulders and tight waists of It’s A Jungle Out There, “everything I do is based in tailoring”, said McQueen.

006Image courtesy of Alexander McQueen

Such were his cutting skills that McQueen would often abandon his sketches to create clothing spontaneously, directly on the stand, or on a model during fittings. In such moments of improvisation, the designer’s imagination and inspirations guided him in a manner that connects the unrestrained emotional world of the Romantics with millennial post-modernism.


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