Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Flock of Frocks

 Alexander McQueen was a brilliant British fashion designer who committed suicide last year at the age of 40. Despite the fact that his life was cut short far too soon, he managed to produce a vast amount of incredible work, and after his death, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum immediately set about organizing a retrospective of his oeuvre. According to the New York Times, by the time it closes on August 7th (after having been extended twice), the exhibition is expected to set attendance records and will be among the 20 most popular shows ever held at the museum. Because of the crushing crowds, the Met has also decided it will stay open until midnight on the last two days of the exhibition to accommodate last minute viewers, something they have never done in the history of the museum. Pretty impressive, huh?

So last Friday, after receiving the wonderful and unexpected gift of an afternoon off because of the heat crisis plaguing the city, my coworker and I decided to head uptown to check out the Alexander McQueen show. I heard the wait to get in was over 2 hours long, something I was not looking forward to, but totally willing to put up with. Surely 1 o'clock on a Friday afternoon wouldn’t be so bad though, right?

The museum was mobbed, and immediately upon entering the building, I accidentally separate from my coworker. Ten (near frantic) minutes later he appears with two tickets and says he bought a membership so we were allowed to skip to the head of the line. It seemed too good to be true! We made our way up the grand staircase and followed the looooooong winding row of wait-ers in and out of the museum’s halls. Once we finally found the front of the queue, JP flashed his member’s only receipt and we were ushered right past the velvet rope.

The exhibition itself was jam-packed with people, and we moved through the show at a snail’s-pace looking at every piece in the collection. It sounds like a clich√© to say “McQueen was an artistic genius!” but it’s completely true. As soon as we made it through the maze, even doubling back once more to make sure we didn’t miss a single inch, I headed straight for the gift shop to buy the exhibition catalog with the hologram on the cover. That’s how moved I was. The following is a round up of my favorite dresses in no particular order: 
First, there was the ombre-dyed ostrich feather dress with a bodice made of microscope glass plates that were colored blood red. Along with McQueen’s fascination of juxtaposing various textures and materials, an interesting interplay of hard and soft, I found a shared affinity in his appreciation of the dark and macabre.  

Back in the day, the spray paint dress was really the one that first inspired me.

The video of the dress being made was on view in this amazing charred cabinet of curiosities room. As soon as I got home, I tracked down as many of his runway shows on Youtube as I could. Every one of them was more like highly orchestrated performance art than some tired old parade of dresses.

Then there was the dress with mud on the hem. The dried muck curled, unfurled away from the fabric of the skirt, looking like growths of moss or bracken lifting off the fabric, tendrils reaching out into space. Of course the top of the dress was also very striking, intricately beaded and draped, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the grit.

And my favorite favorite, the razor clam shell dress. It looked like a beautiful bunch of long, white Lee Press On Nails.

- Cathleen

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