McQueen’s Moment! Sneak Peek at Metropolitan Museum’s ‘Savage Beauty’ Exhibition

Just days after the world watched the future queen of England arrive at Westminster Abbey in a ravishing gown by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveils its stunning retrospective of the late designer’s work. The spring 2011 Costume Institute exhibition, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” opens to the public on Wednesday, but we made our way past the rolls of red carpet, topiary barricades, controlled explosions of hydrangeas, and other careful preparations for this evening’s gala benefit to attend the press preview. While we catch our breath and decipher our notes, enjoy this virtual tour of what Metropolitan Museum director Thomas P. Campbell, a man not inclined to hyperbole, described this morning as “what might be the most spectacular museum costume exhibition ever mounted anywhere.”

Pictured above, the lenticular cover image of the exhibition catalogue. (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, photograph by Gary James McQueen)

The title gallery features two dresses from Alexander McQueen’s spring 2001 “VOSS” collection, one a fiery combination of ostrich feathers and painted microscope slides and the other a white column of stripped and varnished razor clam shells. (Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“With ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ [the spring 2010 collection], Lee mastered how to weave, engineer, and print any digital image onto a garment so that all the pattern pieces matched up with the design on every seam,” says Sarah Burton in an interview in the exhibition catalogue. “That was the difficulty with the collection that followed. Where do you take it? How do you move forward?” (Photos: UnBeige)

One gallery has been transformed into a charred cabinet of curiosities, in which garments and accessories are interspersed with monitors playing footage of McQueen’s runway spectacles. Here, a balsa wood skirt from spring 1999, a headdress of metal coins from spring 2000, Shaun Leane’s “Thorn” armpiece from fall 1996, and a flutter of butterflies created by Philip Treacy out of turkey feathers for spring 2008. (Photos: UnBeige)

An all-black ensemble from the fall 2002 “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” collection billows softly in an artificial breeze. (Photo: UnBeige)

The “Romantic Gothic” section highlight’s McQueen’s historicism, evident in the coat of gold-painted duck feathers created for what would be his final collection. (Photos from left: Metropolitan Museum of Art and UnBeige)

A gallery view of looks created for the fall 1995 “Highland Rape” collection, which McQueen described as “a shout against English designers…doing flamboyant Scottish clothes. My father’s family was from the Isle of Skye, and I’d studied the history of the Scottish upheavals and the Clearances. People were so unintelligent they thought this was about women being raped—yet ‘Highland Rape’ was about England’s rape of Scotland.” (Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

More “Romantic Nationalism,” exhibited in a gallery that evokes the candlelit corridor of a Scottish manor. At left, a dress of ivory silk tulle embroidered with red glass crystals and a red silk coat from the fall 2008 “The Girl Who Lived the Tree” collection. (Photos: UnBeige)

“The interplay between opposites is a distinct feature of McQueen’s collections,” says Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton. Here, a jute dress from fall 2003 is embroidered with cotton and silk thread. It conceals an underskirt of gold silk tulle. At right, a beige leather dress with metal crinoline from fall 2000. (Photos: UnBeige)

The “Romantic Primitivism” gallery includes these four looks from McQueen’s spring 2003 “Irere” collection. “The way he designed was so organic that he didn’t really sit and sketch,” says Burton. “It was very 3-D, and when he did it three-dimensionally, it was always better because he’d come up with new things.” (Photo: UnBeige)

“Remember Sam Taylor-Wood’s dying fruit? Things rot,” said McQueen of his spring 2007 “Sarabande” collection, which embroidered dusky silks with a mix of fresh blooms and their silk doppelgangers. “I used flowers because they die. My mood was darkly romantic at the time.” (Photos from left: UnBeige and Metropolitan Museum of Art)