Hiding is Out of Fashion: McQueen at the MET

“Fashion to me is not art because it is only valid if it is lived in and worn. I make clothes and bags and shoes

for people to use, not to put up on a wall and look at. I think clothes in a museum are complete death.

I have seen exhibitions of the clothes of Jackie Kennedy and I am not interested in her wardrobe.

I am interested in the life and the women who wore those clothes.”

~Marc Jacobs, Fashion Designer


” The way she [a fashion model] interacts with the [robotic] arms is beautiful.…it’s like a dance…”

~Woman at Retrospective


Standing in a toe-to-toe crowd at the Alexander McQueen Retrospective might not have been great for breathing room, but the eavesdropping was excellent. Amid this great sea of people, I was struck by the passion and excitement reverberating throughout the room. Wafting commentary, from insightful to shallow emitted from the array of spectators both young and old, male and female, fashion-conscious or be clad in sweats.  They all spoke in ecstasy. They spoke resounding affirmations to Lee’s genius, the skill of his craft, and his creative foresight. In other words: his artistry.

I am well aware of fashion’s unpopular position amongst museum committees. Controversial sponsors such as Bank of America or the brand’s couture house itself have been viewed as unethical. Some feel that it degrades the value of other works by being considered an art form. After all, how can Chanel be comparable with Mona Lisa? And there is  that pesky umbilical cord which forever ties fashion to capitalistic consumerism.

Madelaine Levy, Editor of Bon Magazine states:

“Fashion exhibitions are snobbery and perverted bodily ideals … a guilt free variety of fashion consumption. An educational, sensual shopping trip…”

   Seems a little harsh does it not? Call me crazy, but viewing McQueen’s life work did not come off feeling like a trip to Macy’s. If Mrs. Levy had stood where I was in that crowd she could have heard  people discussing symbolism, origin of patterns, construction, choice of material, historical references, and  emotional reactions to the brilliantly curated displays.

Even the fact that a crowd of 500,000 +visitors has made the journey to McQueen’s show is an apparent fact that the majority finds fashion design relevant, aesthetically pleasant, emotionally provocative, and a part of modern history. Think back and one will recall that it was not too long ago that Monet was banned from museums for his paintings. Once upon a time, all forms of art were not considered “art”.

Must I really recall Duchamp and his urinal for everyone?

I didn't want to go there...

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, Art is defined as: “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Was not McQueen’s retrospective exemplifying the application of a tailor’s skill? It undeniably showcased his imagination. And as an eye-witness, I testify that the pathos and beauty of his work created an emotional bond of understanding not only about the designer, but about the spectator themselves.

 “I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.”

~Alexander McQueen

From my experience at the Met, as well as the reactions from the New York Times and the Met itself, I believe Alexander McQueen may have made his best contribution to the fashion world yet. Through the very substance of his designs and integrity of his personal convictions, Lee may have given Fashion the foothold in the art world it is so long overdue to receive. It was my great pleasure to take part in this undoubtedly historic event.

May our generation of designers, architects, game designers, writers and artists be an unbiased one.

     ~MH 7/30/11






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