Making his way through the Costume Institute’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty press preview this morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, milliner Philip Treacy, whose creations are prominently featured in the show, referred to the tears in his eyes and those of his friends, and asked, “Is it because we knew him, or because of the exhibit?”
No doubt it was a bit of both. Informed by the quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream tattooed on McQueen’s arm, “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind”, curator Andrew Bolton has organized the exhibition interpretatively, rather than chronologically, into six parts: The Romantic Mind (top), Romantic Gothic, Romantic Nationalism (below), Romantic Exoticism, Romantic Primitivism, and Romantic Naturalism. “It’s meant to evoke a gothic fairy tale”, he explained. If the masks that Guido Palau created for the show’s mannequins render the effect more gothic than fairy-tale at times, there are genuine moments of uplift, not least of which is the miniature version of the Kate Moss hologram from the finale of the designer’s Widows of Culloden show. That collection, fromFall 2006, is one of several that get the special treatment; among the others: McQueen’s 1995 Highland Rape show (above), Spring 2005‘s It’s Only a Game, and his penultimate Plato’s Atlantis.
Superlatives were the order of the day at the Met, not only in the show itself, but also during the brief remarks program. In an audio recording describing a dress of the designer’s she wore to the 2006 Met gala, Sarah Jessica Parker said being fitted by McQueen was “one of the great, memorable experiences of a lifetime.” And congratulating all involved in the show, the Met’s director, Thomas Campbell, called it “perhaps the most spectacular costume exhibition ever mounted anywhere.” Stella McCartney, a colleague of McQueen’s at PPR Luxury Group and one of the co-chairs of tonight’s Costume Institute Ball, was likewise full of praise, but preferred to discuss some of the private moments she shared with McQueen. “I remember the time at a party when he asked me to introduce him to Domenico De Sole, saying, ‘Come on, Stell, let’s start my empire'”, she recalled, describing him as “always cheeky, and filthy in the best sense of the word.” Sarah Burton, who has received plenty of attention of her own since Catherine Middleton walked down the aisle in a dress of her creation last Friday, kept her comments brief: “I’m very proud and honored to have worked for him. He truly was a genius.”
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty opens to the public on Wednesday, May 4.