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Savage Beauty, The Mythic Exhibition Of Alexander McQueen

Updated on August 28, 2011

Savage Beauty By Design

The Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Exhibit ran from May 4 – Aug 7, 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Inspiring artists, fashionistas, huge assortments of designers, haute couture reporters and all walks of life, the show broke records for the museum in terms of attendance and new membership.

As one who is fascinated with Classic Mythology - its mystery, its symbolism - I cannot help but recognize the classical, as well as romantic, motifs threading through this magnificent exhibition.

Feathered sleeves fly up like wings. Lily white limbs bear leafy vines and an array of dark, spring flowers, cascading like liana over figure-hugging fabrics. The elegant yet rustic imagery invokes the mythological nymphs of antiquity who were abducted or changed by the gods. As when Daphne was forever transformed into a Laurel tree - a refuge from being chased by Apollo, or as Persephone who was abducted from her flowering meadow, by the king of hell, down to the underworld; such stories seem to linger below the surface of this dramatic presentation.


Gothic Romanticism

Other ensembles introduce the Gothic. McQueen described his work as “deep and melancholic.” Indeed, the designer compared himself to the dark poet of the Romantic, Gothic period, Edgar Allan Poe. These Romantic tropes of darkness and light, of nature and the sublime certainly converge thematically. Also juxtaposed are images of naturalism against the cold, metallic surfaces of modernity.

In his comprehensive display, beauty and doom limn through history and reveal something of McQueen’s genius, his thoughts, his philosophy and perhaps his experience. All throughout his work, the magnificence and travesty of history return. A Scotsman of profound, national pride, McQueen was raised in London and received his MA from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. The erudite designer launched his career at Givenchy House in Paris where he worked as creative director from 1996 to 2001 before branching out and opening his own fashon house back in London.

McQueen had a great love of the English countryside, where he kept a home in East Sussex, and his understanding of the legends of such landcapes is evident. In his dazzling compilation, from Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims, (1992) and Highland Rape (autumn/winter 1995-’96) to Plato’s Atlantis (spring/summer 2010), McQueen’s final collection, each piece commands recognition of an entwined saga stretching from the Greek and Roman myths to the epic wars of the Island Race as well as to its provincial battles wherein the women were ravaged just as the nymphs of mythology.



Metallic scull-caps, leather harnesses, blood-spattered silks, faceless bodies, shoes that appear rooted in the earth and dresses of feathers and foliage like camouflage, all articulate women at war and shackled or entrapped like animals. Rabbits are conjured in head-pieces of long, uncanny ears, thus the prey of the wild dressed in swirling-designed fabrics and tulle.

“People find my things sometimes aggressive. I see it as romantic,

dealing with a dark side of personality.” – Alexander McQueen

It is interesting that the designer brings in the concept of personality. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist whose theories were centered in universal and mythological archetypes and thecollective unconscious, describes personality as “animus,” specifically as related to the feminine spirit personified in human consciousness. To study the deeper side of McQueen’s work is to delve into Jungian theory.

Yet, a fairy-like, Shakespearean motif runs inextricably through this essentially British fashion exhibit. Some of the costumes convey a decidedly regal heritage with sparkling jewels and imperial, embroidered fabrics. A reawakening of the romantic springs gallantly forth in this majestic showing. The elegance of movement in the fabrics that swim and undulate on stage transposes a beautiful metamorphosis from the hunted and captured to the liberated. The “personality” of myth, of England, of Scotland: She has been transformed and freed.


A Legacy

This far-reaching exhibit has left a sweeping legacy in its own right. Breaking records at the Met: 661,409 people in all visited over five weeks. Not since the 1963 exhibit of the Mona Lisa or the 1978 tour of King Tut, has the museum seen such a thoroughfare through its halls!

Alexander McQueen tragically committed suicide in February, 2010. It is difficult to understand why such a brilliant, successful person would take his own life at the pinnacle of artistic achievement. His close friends report that McQueen's personal life was overwhelmed, he was taking a lot of drugs and that he was very unhappy.

His illustrious life’s-work was distinguished by the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, when she chose an Alexander McQueen wedding gown for her internationally celebrated, royal marriage to Prince William.

The dress was designed in 2011 by Sarah Burton, a long-time friend and associate of the late McQueen and now the creative director of the Alexander McQueen Fashion House in London.



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    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from San Francisco

      I agree with you, Shawntell - he did put his soul into the work, and it certainly shows! Sorry for my late reply, but thanks so much commenting! :)

    • sfrentz06 profile image


      6 years ago from Sterling Heights, MI, USA

      What a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary designer. Such a tragedy that someone so ingenuous met such an end. This man put his very soul into these creations.

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Robie, I wish that I could have seen the exhibit, too! So wonderful just to read about it and gaze at all of the photos of his fabulous costumes and creations! Happy to pass it along ~ thanks so much for the accolades! :)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      7 years ago from Central New Jersey

      How did I miss this one-- glad I found it now. Thanks for taking me to the exhibit that I wanted to see but of course missed because I didn't get myself into NYC to see it-- fabulous pictures and commentary. Felt like I was there. Thanks and thumbs up up up

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Carrie, Well said. And thank you. It would have been wonderful to see how his designs might have evolved from this masterpiece! I am sad that he's gone too. I can only imagine the pressures he felt.

    • carriethomson profile image


      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      that’s such a beautiful hub! Loved all the designs, such a talented designer. Sad that he died a tragic death!! Could have lived to give more of his creativity and be acknowledged!! truly sad but is quite common that such celebrated and well known people who have attained highs in their profession die unusual, untimely or rather tragic deaths !!


    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Why thank you. What a beautiful compliment! I am glad you enjoyed this:)

    • MrHunter profile image


      7 years ago from Highway 24

      there's just no rushing through for a sugar-high here (or previous..), and then off to another. We slow down, take a breath, and appreciate something we wouldn't have otherwise.

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you, and I like your description, Victorian Gone Wild! I think they are my favorites, too;)

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      There's a little bit of everything here Tracy...I Like The Victorian Gone Wild Designs Especially.;)

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks very much. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this. McQueen really was an amazing designer! I knew about his mother's death, and I feel that there can be so much about life that is daunting, but drug and alcohol abuse magnifies the seeming impossibility of overcoming grief and loss. Really tragic, yes. He leaves behind a lot of "if onlys".

    • bwhite062007 profile image

      Brianna W 

      7 years ago from East Coast

      Thank you for an interesting read! Alexander McQueen was a beautiful designer. It was nice to read about his life and inspirations. I have also read that he commited suicide the day before his mother's funeral so that could have pushed him over the edge. Such a tragedy for a brillant artist!


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