Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty

If you love Alexander McQueen so much why don’t you prove it by flying to New York City and seeing the Savage Beauty show at the Met? It’s up until August 7th and I dare say it is worth the plane ticket and the Disneyland-sized line to get in. What is helpful is that the line winding through the Met is winding through the Met, so you can hang out with the masterpieces of the ages while you wait. And what’s nice about going to New York City to see an art show is you will feel like the most cultured badass in the world who will go way out of her way for culture and design, and plus when you get there you’ll be in New York City, which famously has other awesome things to offer, such as cinnamon-banana gluten-free vegan cupcakes at Babycakes, splotchy Helmut Lang rip-off hareem pants at Topshop, actual summer weather replete with roaring crashing actually terrifying thunderstorms, Riis Beach at Rockaway which is SO GAY you will see: a man with a chartreuse beard in extreme tattered pirate wench drag with an actual living parrot on top of her feathered hat plus a small poodle also dyed chartreuse; paste jewels scattered among the mussel shells upon the shore; ballet queens vogueing; hot bisexual sluts loudly discussing their varied intimacies; a pair of faggots tenderly sodomizing one another  while their friends heap cuddly around them like sea lions. Anway, back to the Met. I spent my half-hour wait time (waits can stretch up to an hour and a half, go in the morning on some crappy mid-week day and don’t eat at the depressing basement cafeteria ESPECIALLY if you are from the Bay Area and are used to getting slow-cooked casseroles and pot de cremes when you visit a museum!) reading astrology blogs about the eclipse/new moon/grand cross that knocked everyone’s block off on July 1st. But isn’t this about fashion?

In his La Poupee collection, McQueen sent models down a flooded catwalk via a waterfall staircase, like some fucked up Top Model challenge. Savage Beauty screens the designer’s intense, gorgeous, performance-art runway shows throughout the exhibit, and they are deeply captivating. La Poupee was inspired by the mutant puppetry of the German sculptor, pervert and Nazi resister Hans Belmer, who began making twisted female mannequins in defiance of Nazi beauty standards and also cause he was a wild perv. The metal stockade this model maneuvers in down the stairs had her moving like a deranged and lovely puppet, and also a bit like a Balinese dancer. It made me think of the particular beauties that are born from deliberate restrictions, like Zen Buddhism and SM.

Hans Belmer

If the Nazis deemed him degenerate you know he’s good.

Mutant sisterhood is powerful.

McQueen’s SS98 show was originally titled The Golden Shower and featured models catwalking through a yellowing rain. But the suits got pissed and the rebellious designer punished their loack of vision by withdrawing his mighty creativity and giving the collection the title Untitled. One of my favorite things McQueen did was create female forms from molded leather, sometimes grotesque and sometimes comic bookish and always fascinating, like the fake boob-y halter above.

This collection featured the Spine Corset, worn here, which became one of his iconic pieces. It is made of aluminum and black leather, by Shaun Leane for the designer. I like it from the front; from the back it’s a little Giger-y for me, but of course I appreciate the insanity.

I don’t know if you get the three-d curve of the tailbone, but it’s serious.

A lot of the pieces displayed in Savage Beauty are from the collection of McQueen’s muse, mentor and bestie Isabella Blow, who of course killed herself a bit before he killed himself. Does being around so much incredible beauty ultimately depress you, because you, imperfect human, can never be the equal of your own creations? Like, it seems so possible that you could live inside this imaginary world of glamour you’ve created but then of course you can’t because it doesn’t actually exist. Blow’s entire wardrobe was saved from the auction block by the incredible Daphne Guinness, who bought the whole lot. Here she is on her way to McQueen’s memorial:

I love her. And if any of you love me you will dress like this to my memorial when I die.

This piece Alexander McQueen created during his stint for Givench is part of the exhibit. The woven leather makes my mouth fill with spit and also how is it that the resin bird skulls actually work and not look, like, ridiculous? Mastery.

Look! Its the McQueen boots I now regret not putting on my credit card when I found them on sale at Bergdorf’s this winter for $1,000. THAT IS WHAT CREDIT CARDS ARE FOR. Seriously. When you do not have college debt and own neither baby nor car, your credit card is for buying gorgeous boots from a now dead designer that are now I am sure worth more than $1,000, having just been part of the Savage Beauty exhibition. I gasped when I saw them behind plexiglass on a mannequin. And then I cried.

McQueen’s 96 collection The Hunger was inspired by the sexy goth classic of the same name, in which Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie play vampire lovers, and if that is not cool enough, David Bowie kills Ann Magnuson in a goth club bathroom while none other than Peter Murphy is on stage singing Bela Lugosi’s Dead, and Catherine Deneuve lezzes out with Susan Sarandon. Pretty much the best movie ever, and the best part of this collection is how the spike-ish earrings with the sinister curve  worn by the model on the left (Stella Tennant?) recalls the ankh-dagger Deneuve uses to stab her victims.

I wanted this killer accessory so bad when I was a teenager! I would settle for the Shane Leane-designed tusk earrings which would serve the same stab-your-prey-in-the-jugular purpose.

One of my favorite dresses, by McQueen or anyone. From his In Memory of Elizabeth Howe collection, Elizabeth Howe being one of many women murdered for being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts – and an ancestor of McQueen’s. The molded leather torso makes me insane.

McQueen’s muses were “people who were doomed.” Aren’t we all? Maybe some are especially so, such as:

Catherine the Great

Marie Antoinette

Joan of Arc


The ghostly hologram of Kate Moss that was projected into the runway for the Widows of Culloden collection is on display at the exhibit and it is really wonderful, and as it is with all wondrous things, my main point of comparison is Disneyworld. It reminded me of the holographic disembodied fortune telling witch from the Haunted Mansion. But I think that Mcqueen – who made pieces inspired by Tim Burton – would not mind such a reference. BTWs, the Widows of Culloden were the women wedded to the Scottish Army that the English massacred, the same massacre that inspired his Highland Rape collection. 

The show for McQueen’s collection Voss was staged inside a two-way-mirrored box, that the models could not see out of. The glass box in the background contains:

Fetish writer Michelle Olley, in a diorama inspired by the Joel-Peter Witkin photo Sanitarium, and meant to speak to the beauty that falls outside the mainstream ideas of itself. Savage Beauty runs a brief clip in which the doors of the glass box swing open and crash to the ground, sending a wave of smashed glass into the air. It is soooo creepy and pretty.

Joel-Peter Witkin, Sanitarium

Two of my favorite pieces come from the Voss collection, the luscious Oyster Dress, which took three people one month to sew,

detail, Oyster Dress

 And the Razor Clam Dress, which leaves me, a fanatical beach-comber, overcome with primal hunter-gatherer longing.

Okay I could go on but I have to stop and get to my real work! You guys, fashion isn’t real! It’s total fantasy.

I leave you with images of pieces I covet as much as any of McQueen’s, the masks hair stylist Guido Palau designed for the exhibit.

McQueen is dead. Long live McQueen.


About Michelle Tea

I chanted "I am a fashion magnet" in the shower and subsequently found a Gianni Versace - era Versace skirt at Buffalo Exchange for $17. Once I got a beyond-my-means Fendi purse for free and sat staring at it, crying. Also cried at Olivier Theyskens' last show for Nina Ricci in Paris. Other things that make me cry: a good lip synch; my emotions. I have stolen two Jeremy Scott swag items from two Jeremy Scott events I was not quite invited to. Sometimes I want to age into Patti Smith, sometimes Baby Jane Hudson. I frequently dream I am in a magic thrift store where I can have whatever I want. I regret not buying the Alexander Wang purse when it was half price at Barney's. Like a delusional guy at a strip club, I feel special when the people who work at Barney's remember me. Having a Leo rising gives me big hair and a need for attention. My favorite designers right now are Alexander Wang, Philip Lim, Proenza Schouler, Vivienne Westwood, Viktor Rolf, Rick Owens, Rodarte, Helmut Lang and Surface to Air. I was once shamed by an employee of a high-end department store for pronouncing 'Rodarte' incorrectly.


  1. Once again, I am gagging on the gorgeousness of your selections! Here is a Daphne Guinness video you might enjoy:

  2. Michelle, I fucking love that you open with a dare. And then bam! : Debra ‘The Insect’ Shaw, who ranks so high on my list of Ladies Who Really Let Us Have It; I risk a nosebleed and savage explosions of links upon mention.

    “I don’t know if you get the 3-D curve of the tailbone, but it’s serious.”

    Miss Tea, you’re serious—for serious!

  3. Amrit

    Michelle: Rilke said that beauty is a form of terror because it disdains to destroy us. I thought of that when I read what you wrote about Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen’s suicides. I loved Isabella Blow for her fierce bravery and her willingness to take huge risks with her life.

  4. carrieleilamlove

    Michelle, thank you for this! Sadly, I DO have school debt which prevents me not only from charging McQueen booties but also from taking you up on the dare to fly to NY and see this exhibit. So of course the next best thing is to read about it from the POV of someone awesome.

    Also, this:

    “Does being around so much incredible beauty ultimately depress you, because you, imperfect human, can never be the equal of your own creations? Like, it seems so possible that you could live inside this imaginary world of glamour you’ve created but then of course you can’t because it doesn’t actually exist.”

    Such a good articulation of this issue, and something so many creative types struggle with. Having vision sometimes makes reality tough! For none of us moreso than McQueen of course, as insane genius artistic vision and and ability to bear reality seem to be inversely proportional.


  5. Kat

    I managed to be in Manhattan this last summer to visit my brother who lives there. How lucky to realize that my visit coincided with Savage Beauty’s final week at the Met. I got up early my last day there to get in line by 7:30am–a line already unbearably long. On the other hand, how lovely to stand in line in the Met and just be forced to stare at art for a couple of hours, and then have my senses completely overwhelmed by the McQueen exhibit itself. Thanks for letting me relive those moments and emotions when I stumbled on your piece just now. So perfect. So bittersweet.

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