One Saturday evening this month, I attended the Savage Beauty, an exhibition of the work of late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (The Met). This specific Saturday evening happened to be the second to last day before the exhibit would officially close at the Met. Upon my arrival, as someone who was just beginning to learn about Alexander McQueen, I began to feel the weight of his cultural influence well before I stepped into the museum. Amongst hundreds of others, I waited outside the building for a good hour and a half in a line that stretched well beyond the doors of the Met. Once inside, patrons had to wait another two hours in line to make it up to the McQueen exhibition. The wait itself told me that this was not just another exhibition to attend, and that the cultural impact of McQueen’s design must have been extraordinary to say the least. The communal experience of waiting with so many people just to see the same exhibition made the wait well worth it. There was the feeling that we were a part of a moment in cultural and artistic history at the Met.
The McQueen Exhibition, Savage Beauty, was the eighth most visited exhibition in the history of the museum, attracting close to 700,000 people. The line worked its way through most of the major sections of the museum before we reached the McQueen exhibition. This gave me the chance to soak in and briefly appreciate the collection as the line for the McQueen exhibition gradually moved forward. To be honest there were moments while waiting in line when, after my legs went numb from standing, I thought about turning around and leaving, but the fact that I made it so far, and the pure curiosity of wanting to see what I was waiting so long for, kept me in line. Once I arrived at the McQueen exhibition, and the reality set in that I was about to walk in, the long wait immediately felt worth it.
I admit I lack an extensive knowledge of Alexander McQueen and his work. I had only been briefly exposed to his work in the past, having stumbled across one of his books in a clothing store, seen some of his designs on blogs, and every once in a while, I would hear his name brought up in a discussion of culture & fashion. Visiting this exhibit was an opportunity for me not only to be exposed to the work of Alexander McQueen, but to also learn more of the cultural impact and importance of fashion and design.
After hearing the stories from friends and family, and reading reviews of the exhibit, I came genuinely curious, hoping that in my visit I would have a unique experience, and my own story to tell.
One word that I heard repeatedly about McQueen’s work was “powerful.” I did not quite fully understand what others meant until I saw some of his pieces for myself. Immediately as I walked into the exhibit I noticed the bold and expressive nature of McQueen’s work. The environment of the installation enhanced the power of his clothing, and the use of color and scenery of the surroundings brought the garments to life. The careful attention to detail in the change of music and ambiance as I walked through the exhibition helped make the experience even more immediate. Each themed section of the exhibition was its own engaging experience, which helped viewers emotionally connect to the work. The mood created by the environs and music of the exhibit was just as important as the clothing, creating a lasting impression of McQueen’s work.
As I read the provided background and descriptions of each piece, I was impressed by the designer’s thought process. I was amazed by amount of social and cultural commentary that was present in his clothing as well. To have such progressive and groundbreaking fashion design combined with a thought provoking message was compelling, and spoke to the complexity of McQueen as a person. This helped me see and respect fashion as an art form that can speak to the state of society, provoke serious and contemplative thought, and create its own cultural outlook and environment.
In most of his pieces I was intrigued by his ability to master and respect the traditional techniques of fashion while breaking free to create his own new rules. Probably the most memorable aspect for me in was McQueen’s ability to capture the imagination in his work. He was a true artist in his ability to capture and express his own imagination in his own unique and powerful way, while also capturing and encouraging the imagination of the viewers of his pieces.
Artists often establish connection with their audience by emotionally engaging and sparking the imagination of those who experience their work. Visiting the McQueen Exhibit has given me a deeper appreciation for fashion and design, and opened my eyes to the importance of fashion as art form that shapes culture.