Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

By Megan McDonald August 15, 2011

Here it is—the launch of my style blog for Sarasota Magazine: Who.What.Wear.  As the name suggests, I’ll be posting general musings on the stylishly savvy, what’s hip and current locally as well as noteworthy Internet finds and fashionable discoveries.

I’m a style spectator, so I’ll share what to know and where to find it. In fact, consider me your personal shopper, of sorts.  I’ll update you on what’s trending while keeping you ahead of the curve, even de-mystifying some of the pesky fashion-insider information.

So, with that, let's get right to it and kick off this blog with the designer everyone seems to be talking about.

More than likely you’ve heard all the hype about the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  I went.  And allow me to tell you the truth of the matter—it was AH.MAZ.ING.

Most left the exhibit with an insanely intense and lasting impression of something spectacular, even those who were less-than-familiar with McQueen.  Not only was the curation flawless, but the presentation felt much like a series of connected portals to otherworldly places—gilded and gothic, royal and reckless and bewitching and animalistic. The common thread (some pun intended!) through these worlds was his masterfully crafted garments. It was truly arresting and breathtaking. 

With all the intended drama, it was effortless to feel transported to the land of McQueen. Frankly, the first stop could have easily been Versailles. One room in particular felt as though I was sneaking a peek at Marie Antionette’s audaciously wonderful wardrobe. 

I could continue to rhapsodize about the exhibit, but why take my word for it?  If you weren’t among the 661,509 visitors who passed through the retrospective, here are a few highlights….

“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.”   —Alexander McQueen

First off, this dress is eye-catching at first glance but wait until you click on the link below to see how it was painted. Yes, painted, while on the model Shalom Harlow during McQueen’s Spring/Summer show of 1999.


Alexander McQueen (British, 1969-2010)

Dress, No. 13, spring/summer 1999

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce 


I could see a modern-day Ginger Rogers wanting to take this dress for a spin. It’s opulent and compelling with skirting of ostrich feathers dyed red and black. But can you guess what the bodice is made of? 

Answer: Glass medical slides, painted red. Uh, FABULOUS.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969-2010)

Dress, VOSS, spring/summer 2001

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

If I had to be forced to pick a dress to take home, it would be this one. I could not spend enough time in front of this piece; I regret that it couldn’t be seen from 360 degrees.  A '50s silhouette of duck feathers dyed black to evoke a raven.  W.O.W.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969-2010)

Dress, The Horn of Plenty, autumn/winter 2009–10

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

This ethereal hologram of Kate Moss inside an empty glass pyramid, which closed McQueen’s Fall/Winter 2006 show, brought the exhibit-going crowd to a standstill. Lucky for you, you get to bypass the bottlenecked hallway around this apparition. 


Titled “Jellyfish,” this ensemble was embroidered with iridescent enamel paillettes. Be sure to take a close look at the “Armadillo” boots.  You may remember seeing a version of those on Demi Moore in a shoot for Harper’s Bazaar.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969-2010)

Ensemble, Plato’s Atlantis, spring/summer 2010

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

Breath-taking in color, shape and design—crimson duchess satin to-the-floor frock coupled with ivory silk chiffon empire-waist dress embroidered with crystal beading.  However did he make an ensemble of such volume look entirely delicate?  And, she’s styled perfectly with the Fabergé-like egg pouch and ruby red slippers that even Dorothy would be envious of.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969-2010)

Ensemble, The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, autumn/winter 2008–9

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

“I want to empower women.

I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”

—Alexander McQueen

Here are two examples of one those “portals” I mentioned earlier titled “Cabinet of Curiosities.”  Look close: You’ll see the brilliant headpieces created by Philip Treacy, art directed by Alexander McQueen for various runway shows.

Gallery View – Cabinet of Curiosities

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fabulous wardrobe – can’t you just see this in Marie Antoinette’s Versailles?

Gallery View – Romantic Gothic

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969-2010)

Dress, Widows of Culloden, autumn/winter 2006–7

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

“When we put the antlers on the model and then draped over it the lace embroidery that we had made, we had to poke them through a £2,000 piece of work. But then it worked because it looks like she’s rammed the piece of lace with her antlers. There’s always spontaneity. You’ve got to allow for that in my shows.”  —Alexander McQueen

This photo is incredible; however, what it can't show is the phenomenal way the dress moves. To see the piece on the runway, click here to experience the entire Widows of Culloden runway show.  Wait 'til you see the to-die-for Phillip Treacy headpieces.

If you’re intrigued and want to see more, you can own 293 full-color illustrations in Andrew Bolton’s book Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, available to purchase for $45.  To save you some time surfing The Met’s online store here’s a direct link:

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition catalogue

Lenticular cover image

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Gary James McQueen

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