Alexander McQueen: Making Fashion Art
When Savage Beauty showcased a retrospective of designer Alexander McQueen’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, it broke attendance records. Bridging the art-fashion divide as few have done before or since, McQueen’s work was at once beautiful, controversial, and thought-provoking.
Since his passing, the eponymous label’s legacy has been skillfully carried into the next phase by Sarah Burton, who worked closely with Lee (as McQueen was sometimes called) during his lifetime and who carved her own place in fashion history by designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. Burton continues to capitalize on the trademarks of the brand that were established in his lifetime.
After a stint as an apprentice on Savile Row, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Lee incorporated the bespoke expertise he gained there into his own line. Today, this emphasis on skilfully constructed garments shows up in much of the label’s clothing, from sharp jackets to dramatic coats.
Before committing solely to his own label, Lee worked for a time as the chief designer at Givenchy. His time there taught him about drapery and the power of softness, adding an element of ethereality to his own designs. Contemporary incarnations of this quality can be seen in McQueen’s gorgeous gowns of layered chiffon and lace.
Part of what made Lee’s work so haunting was his combination of breathtaking beauty with dark themes. This gothic sensibility showed up in brooding garments and shocking runway displays—and also spawned McQueen’s famous skull-print scarf, an ubiquitous favorite to this day. Skulls continue to appear as a frequent motif in everything McQueen today, from clutches and rings to skirts and tees.
Though the designer who birthed it has long since been laid to rest, Alexander McQueen the label is anything but dead. Pulling on the history of a man who made clothing so thoughtful it was irresistible to both the fashion establishment and the general public, Alexander McQueen makes dressing artfully possible.