Thoughts on the McQueen Exhibit

Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fashion exhibitions

Line ups outside the Savage Beauty exhibition on the final weekend.

I am slightly annoyed at the popularity of the Savage Beauty McQueen exhibit at the Met. While I believe that McQueen deserves this attention (because he was an incredibly talented designer) I feel that the exhibition has become the equivalent of a Hollywood Blockbuster (a comparison made by Suzy Menkes) and that people are attending because they think it is cool, not for a love of the work.

I attended a student fashion show last year and there was a host that introduced each student’s work and their inspiration. Over half of the students’ favourite designer or inspiration was Alexander McQueen. I doubt, in fact, I KNOW, that this would not have been the case had he not died earlier in the year. McQueen’s suicide seems to have made him a mainstream star.

Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fashion exhibitionsOf course Kate Middleton has definitely added to the excitement of the McQueen brand, but still, I find this marginally irritating. I am seeing things on twitter about how “AMAZING” the exhibition was, and “OMG McQueen was a genius!” but didn’t these people know this already? I’m led to believe that the giant line up outside is full of poeple who only knew the skull scarf and Middleton’s wedding dress. So of course they would be amazed by the work inside.

Then again, one of the reasons for museum exhibits is to educate the masses about art and culture, and in this case, Savage Beauty has succeeded. But I sort of feel sad that the brand is now this totally mainstream, household name which people have lined up for hours to see. Alexander McQueen would not have approved of this, or else, he would have found a way to mock all these false fans.

Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fashion exhibitionsAnd then of course the next fear is how will PPR, the owners of the McQueen brand, capitalize on all of this success? There is not a lot in his collection that is affordable, will they have to start selling cheap, accessible pieces to profit from this newfound fame? That also scares me. Perhaps we should be focusing our energies on discovering the next great talent, as I feel this one may have become a bit too overexposed.

Read another article on The Future of Alexander McQueen.

p.s. The best part about this exhibition is definitely the fantastic armadillo shoe trinket that was brought to me from New York… Thank you Wen-Chee!

Images credits: line up and exhibition images courtesy of The Met.

  • Erin Harder

    I agree with everything you have stated here. I hope we don’t have to be worried that PPR with capitalize on this, but they do run a business, first and foremost. That being said, we don’t know what the financial implications have been for the main line because of this exhibit – maybe the pricier items are selling more as well? Of course, if people with that much money weren’t wearing McQueen while he was alive, chances are they won’t be wearing him now either.

    I’ve noticed that even the scarves have shot up in price at Holt’s since he died – maybe they’ll take the accessories/perfume route to capitalize, rather than apparel. LEAVE THE CLOTHES ALONE!

  • anya

    I think people are so fascinated with the whole “tortured artist” thing a bit too much. It gives them an angle to romanticize something that they wouldn’t have otherwise. 

    Sadly, the Balenciaga exhibit in San Francisco this summer didn’t get 1% of the attention.

  • Anonymous

    And Cristobal Balenciaga was much, much more talented than Alexander McQueen. Even McQueen himself would have admitted this.

  • Fiona

    I don’t think this is a fair critique.

    I disagree that the large number of people who saw the show means that the brand is now ‘mainstream’.  To the contrary, I think that the inspired designs and beautiful craftsmanship on display reinforced the notion of designer/couture clothing as different, special and Other, and emphasised the importance of training, experience and artistic process in the making of a really decent, cohesive oeuvre.

    It was wonderful to have real fashion (and talent, and hard work, etc) celebrated, in an age of meaningless celebrity endorsements, bogus celebrity collections, declining standards and quality control, and the like.

    Yes, the audience response was enthusiastic.  However, almost no-one who attended the exhibition will ever wear a McQueen outfit, but in attending the exhibition they have gained an understanding as to why and how McQueen was a respected designer.  

    The reaction of some of the British press at his death showed that his talent really wasn’t understood beyond fashion circles – he was memorialised more as Kate Moss’s mate than the huge talent he was.  The incredible turnout to this exhibition will hopefully have remedied that.

  • Anonymous

    You make some very good points, and I must agree that it is good that people are being exposed to his talent. My issue is that he seems to have become such a “star designer” since he died, and that is what I find quite annoying. I lecture, and so I meet and deal with a lot of fashion students. The number of them who have suddenly become “fans” even though they barely knew who he was before he died is what irritates me. It is one thing to have heard of him and then to actively learn about what he is about, but many people have not bothered to do that. They know what they’ve seen in the gossip blogs and suddenly they “love McQueen.”