Savage Beauty

This morning I got up super early and went to the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the Met. I am not a huge fashionista, but I love clothes as much as the next girl, and working at the V&A certainly gave me a much greater appreciation of couture fashion through their regular series of catwalk shows, ‘Fashion in Motion’. Before attending these shows, I’d never seen couture fashion worn up close before, and the beauty of the cut, construction and movement in these exquisitely designed – though not always practical – clothes, astounded me. Alexander McQueen has always been hailed as a visionary, and the opportunity to see his designs was something I could not miss out on.

In short, the exhibition is incredible. The exhibition design itself is stunning; the use of mirrors, stage-style design, film and sound all work together to create a slightly uncomfortable, tense atmosphere that works wonders with the often eerie, vicious beauty of the clothes on display. The clothes are arranged thematically by collection, and though I found a lot of his work uncomfortable – especially the sadomasochistic masks and accessories – it cannot be denied that the thinking behind them and the way they are constructed is nothing short of genius. McQueen got a lot of his inspiration from Victorian Gothic literature and imagery, citing the photography of Julia Margaret Cameron as one of his inspirations, alongside Edgar Allan Poe. I also found his collections ‘Highland Rape’ and ‘Widows of Culloden’ very interesting, as an exploration of the violence of Scottish history and its tense relations with England. His use of historical and traditional design and construction techniques with postmodern twists gives his clothes an otherworldly, fractured quality, like a reflection in a shattered mirror. They are truly stunning to look at, and I was in awe at the beauty of dresses constructed out of ripple after ripple of feathers, wreaths of dried flowers, and circles of exquisitely layered and draped organza.

The contrast between romance and savagery¬† in McQueen’s designs is open to a lot of criticism, and I did initially feel disturbed that he chose to find inspiration in genres and historical periods that are known for their fetishisation and permissiveness of violence against women. One of the dresses had its crotch ripped out, and others were spattered in blood. Many of the models in the catwalk shows would have worn his creations with leather masks on their faces, and the use of leather, chains and masculine tailoring techniques was evident throughout each of his collections. However, McQueen’s celebration of the beauty of the female form and his choice to be deliberately controversial and discuss the ways in which women have been and continue to be constructed, constricted and abused through fashion is also admirable, and by the end of the exhibition I didn’t come away feeling that he was a misogynist. Instead, I felt that he wanted to use his designs to open a dialogue, to push buttons, to cause controversy, to ask us to consider what femininity is, and what we are choosing to express when we dress ourselves. I was moved and awed by what I saw, and I certainly had my preconceptions of fashion as a rather vacuous enterprise challenged. McQueen’s was a brilliant talent, and I’m sorry it came to an end so tragically.

If you are in New York, or its vicinity, I strongly encourage you to go. The amount of people there at 9.30 this morning was ridiculous, and no one had a bad word to say; it’s a fantastic, beautiful and thought provoking exploration of one of the 21st century’s most iconic designers, and I could have stayed there all day marvelling at the magnificent, imaginative displays.

In other news of my week in New York, I went to see Adele at the Beacon Theatre on Thursday night. It was absolutely fantastic; Adele is brilliant live, and her warm, bubbly personality made everyone in the room feel like they were her best friend. Her mum and best friend were in the audience, and Adele sung a song for each of them, which was lovely, and added to the intimate atmosphere. We all enjoyed a good sing and dance and I was totally in awe of how powerful and beautiful Adele’s voice is. If you haven’t discovered her yet, go and buy her albums! She is perfect at expressing the feelings of the young and brokenhearted! I also loved her supporting act, a sort of Southern folk duo called The Civil Wars. I went straight online to buy their album the next morning and I strongly encourage you to do the same!

On Tuesday, something else very exciting happened – my sister gave birth to her third beautiful boy, and I am over the moon! Baby Albert weighed in at 7lb 14oz, and is absolutely gorgeous. I am the luckiest Aunty in the world to have three such brilliant boys to love, and I cannot wait to see them all for bumper kisses and cuddles when I go back in a couple of months.

Finally, after brunch in the Lower East Side today, I saw this hilarious ‘Wills and Kate’ mural, and couldn’t resist taking a photo!!

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29 comments

  1. Oh that exhibition sounds divine – I loved the Valentino here in Brisbane but this looks altogether different and very exciting.

    I don’t know Adele but will investigate.

    Albert is a fabulous name!!

    Thanks for posting :)

    1. It really is – the website is very good so you can feel like you’ve been!

      Oh my goodness – she will blow you away!!!

      Thank you – my sister likes traditional names, and we have a little triplet of Kings now!

  2. I would love to see Savage Beauty, even the promotional pictures are beautiful. It sounds like a really well curated exhibition. I would also love to see Adele. You have had a great week! Thanks for the shopping advice too. My wardrobe is normally fairly muted as well so I am stepping outside my comfort zone with the super brights.

    1. Oh Chuck, it’s phenomenal! I love the poster image the most – the one I used on the post – it’s stunning. If the poster wasn’t $25 I would have it on my wall right now! My week was pretty amazing – Albert was the highlight, but Adele was pretty close behind!

      You are welcome – I think super brights are definitely the way to go. I wish I could be a braver dresser but I am always drawn towards navy and white – I’m a sailor at heart!

  3. What a fantastic week you have had! Congratulations on becoming an auntie again. Are you returning home in July or coming home just for a visit? I foresee you extending the life you have made for yourself in NYC, Rachel…

    I would love to see both the exhibition and Adele perform live but, alas, neither of those may happen unless the exhibition moves to London and Adele tickets don’t sell out so quickly here. Adele’s voice is so powerful and moving.

    1. Thanks Claire! I am coming back for a brief visit in July but I will be back permanently in September…visas are tricky things to get and to be honest I am ready to be back where my family and friends are. Living in New York is incredible but missing my family and friends isn’t so much!

      Oh we were so lucky to get those tickets – my friend bought them two minutes after they were released and they sold out within minutes. We didn’t even get to sit together. But it was an incredible experience – I hope you’ll get to see her live one day!

    1. I know! It is truly fantastic. The website is very good as well so you can see it vicariously I suppose! Thank you very much – being an aunty is such a joy!

    1. It was! Thank you…I know, I know…it’s frightening how quickly time whizzes on as you get older! It seems like yesterday I landed in New York and now here I am thinking about going home!

  4. I’m not hugely into fashion but I do admire the way designers create art with fabric. There is something about draping, folds and pleats that I find fascinating so definitely an exhibit worth getting up early for! And lucky you seeing Adele in concert, I’m still waiting for 21 to come up for me at the library.

    Your sister will be looking forward to an extra pair of hands once you get back from your life in NY. Congratulations, Rachel, and welcome little Albert!

    1. Yes, the way they can manipulate fabric so skillfully leaves me in awe. I wish I was so adept with such things – I can do basic sewing but to be able to tailor and cut and create beautiful garments like that – it would be a dream!

      Oh Darlene, you’re in for a treat with 21! I love it!

      Oh yes she will – I cannot wait to be back with my boys! Thank you!

  5. Thank you so much for posting about the Alexander McQueen show at the Met. I will be in New York soon and I will be sure to see if now after reading your review. I enjoy fashion and I know that he was indeed a visionary designer. The exhibition looks amazing!

    1. Oh wonderful! I’m so glad you’ll get to see it! It really is fantastic. I will definitely go back before it closes, I already can’t wait to see it again!

  6. How lucky to be able to attend these marvellous exhibitions – and to analyse them so intelligently.

    Poor brilliant man. I notice he was born in Lewisham. He achieved so much.

  7. How lucky to be able to attend these marvellous shows. And you analyse them so intelligently for us.

    Poor brilliant man. I notice he was born in Lewisham! He came so far and achieved so much.

  8. Whoops! I thought I’d lost that comment. Sorry.

    Forgot to wish you so much bliss with your new baby nephew. I remember falling in love with mine when he was born.

    1. Hehehe! No problem Chrissy! I know, I am very lucky. I adore being so close to so many wonderful museums.

      Thank you – I have heard nothing but wonderful things about baby Albert and I think he is going to be VERY adored by his aunty Rachel!

  9. Oh congratulations again on the baby! I am so excited for your family! You have three little baby nephews now, you are an aunt of three totally separate people. Awesome.

    (The exhibit sounds really good too, though not quite as good as a brand new baby.)

  10. I’m not a fashionista either, much preferring and classic and simply style, but the photograph you showed on top is absolutely mesmerizing. I love it. Really.

  11. Hi, Rachel! I’m usually more of a lurker than a commenter here, but I just wanted to belatedly thank you for the music recommendations. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Civil Wars CD (I live in Tasmania, so had to get the local music shop to order it in specially, but it is very much worth the effort). Next time I will pick up the Adele CD. Keep those recommendations coming!
    And while I’m delurking, I’ll mention how much I love reading about all your adventures in New York – it’s almost as good as being there myself – as well as your insightful book reviews, of course!

    1. Hello Caroline! I’m so glad you commented! FANTASTIC – how brilliant. I listen to them every day on my ipod – I just can’t get enough. I am SO pleased you love them too! Adele is a definite must as well – you won’t regret that purchase! Have you heard Florence and the Machine?

      Oh thank you – how lovely you are. I’m glad to be able to share my experiences and show ‘my’ New York…oh, I love it so much!!

      Please do come and say hello more often!

      1. Hi again! Sorry to be so late in replying (again) – just wanted to let you know that I’ve got Adele’s album, and really love that, too. (So does my 6-year-old son – we listen in the car on the way to school – we have a long drive – and his favourite is Rolling in the Deep. :) ) I haven’t heard of Florence and the Machine – I must admit to being pretty clueless about music these days, so it’s great to have your suggestions of bands/singers to try. I will check them (her?) out, too. Thanks ever so much for your reply.

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