It was a bustling scene outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art this morning. A large production team hustled to get a sprawling white tent, red carpet and hundreds of fresh flowers ready for the Met’s annual Costume Institute Gala, aka Met Gala, just hours away. Inside, members of the press gathered for a preview of Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, a retrospective of the late designer’s work spanning from his days as a student at Central St. Martins to his last runway show, held shortly after his suicide.
With a soundtrack of moody classical music scored by John Gosling, nearly uniform black walls, marbled mirrors and lights as dim as candlelight, the exhibit is a dramatic counter to the often contemplative surveys hosted at the museum. Each room, dedicated to different moments in the designer’s oeuvre, has its own identity: an entryway examines his early work; a gothic chamber contains looks from his ancestral home of Scotland; a cabinet of curiosities houses dominatrix-influenced face accoutrements, body armor and the infamous lobster claw heel. Meanwhile, all manner of feathered frocks, beaded bodices and geisha gowns are displayed on mannequins with S&M-like masks. The exhibition highlights the designer’s play on the tension between the beautiful and the grotesque, but throughout the 170-piece show, intended to evoke a dark fairy tale, the emphasis always leans toward beautiful.
The morning program lightened a bit when breakfast was served downstairs among classical nude sculptures, where remarks were also made. Curator Andrew Bolton explained that the idea of Savage Beauty came from a tattoo McQueen had on his arm, a quote by Shakespeare: “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.” Anna Wintour, Philip Treacy, Hamish Bowles, Sarah Burton and Stella McCartney were all in attendance, with the latter two also addressing the crowd. McCartney remembered her friend and fellow St Martin’s classmate fondly, saying, “We disagreed on some things, but we always had a laugh—cheeky, filthy, in the best sense of the word.” Burton, who designed Kate Middleton’s wedding gown, summed up her successor: “He truly was a genius.”
McQueen once said, “It is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholy but romantic at the same time. It is the end of a cycle. Everything has to end. The cycle of life is positive because it gives room for new things.” As guests walk down the red carpet tonight of the Met Gala tonight, many will be wearing his signature cuts and hems, and through this cycle, his legacy lives on.