April 28 2011
Many design aficionados will doubtless be crossing the Atlantic over the next three months specifically to visit Savage Beauty, a major retrospective of the late Alexander McQueen’s work at the New York Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute (May 4-July 31). The exhibition might seem to have been mounted with almost indecent haste, only 15 months after the designer’s suicide, but its curator wanted to do it while McQueen’s studio design team is still in place, the archive intact and memories fresh.
Apart from offering close-up insight into the extraordinary, extreme talent and painstaking, perfectionist work of a great creative designer who started as a humble tailor’s apprentice, the exhibition will also bring back memories for anyone for whom McQueen’s shows were highly anticipated events – equally capable of generating fear or wonder. McQueen was one of the few designers whose greatest shows are known by name – mention a title to anyone who was there and the collection’s style and context are immediately conjured up. He was also obsessed with the macabre, in a good-humoured way – his jokes included a skeleton in a front-row seat and a model dragging a gilded dog skeleton along the catwalk.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the skull became McQueen’s trademark – defiant and punkish, it appeared on everything from the scarf that has become a cult classic to shoes and the clasps of clutchbags.
To mark the exhibition, the McQueen company has made a special version of the scarf (pictured) which will itself evoke memories. The design comprises a medley of different skulls from some of the key collections, chosen by head designer Sarah Burton, who was McQueen’s long-time assistant. These include the original classic and Union Jack skulls plus crystal, daisy and dogtooth prints from 2009, two from 2010’s marine-inspired Plato Atlantis collection, one poignantly from his last collection and a folk flower print from Burton’s first, this summer. In silk, it costs £290 and is available for a limited time from May 1 at the Met, from McQueen’s own stores and online