When I first saw the video for Lady Gaga's song "Bad Romance" back in 2009, the first things I noticed–after the initial twenty seconds of shellshock that all of us Little Monsters experience when we realize we are watching a brand new Lady Gaga video–were the extraordinary, devastating gold platform heals Gaga wore during the middle section of the song. I had to know, "What kind of crazy, genius mind could create such a thing?" I discovered that they are called Armadillo Boots. There are twenty-one pairs in existence. They are ten inches high. And they retail for $10,000 a pair. It was a jaw-dropping introduction to the world of Lee Alexander McQueen.
I have been thinking a lot about him recently, with the opening of his new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art–Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty–that runs from May 2–July 31, 2011. The exhibit is a retrospective of his contributions to fashion, from his 1992 postgraduate collection to his unbelievable final runway showing, which took place posthumously in February, 2010.
As I look at photos from the exhibit, I am struck by a feeling that is difficult to put into words. It is a feeling that reminds me of being in some of my favorite places in the world–Venice, Italy leaps to the front of my mind–where the energy is so special and the moments of beauty so magical that I experience an odd and confusing spectrum of feelings in just one moment. If I simply meander through the haunted corridors of the Venice canals, or out into the thick, Crème Brûlée air of the Piazza San Marco on a Friday night, suddenly nostalgia will flash like lightening to ecstasy, drop like an anvil to despair, then slingshot to the horizon in laughter. All in a blinking heartbeat. That pretty much sums up how I feel when I look at McQueen's designs: nostalgia, Crème Brûlée, ecstasy, despair, and laughter.
What I love most about him is that he managed to live in a milieu of endless traditions and mainstream conventions, where fashion designers work doggedly to sublimate an idea so that it will sell to the masses, yet he always challenged the ideas of what is expected by putting his heart and soul into each piece. He did not break tradition for the sake of breaking tradition. He, in fact, upheld the strictest traditions of Savile Row craftsmanship while taking his subconscious mind and handcrafting it into one-of-a-kind works of art. A true artist.
McQueen's death in early February, 2010, was so shocking to me. I think what I was most stunned to learn–and I think this was true for many people–is that his personal life was full of such intolerable pain. It felt like such a conceit by the Universe to bring a life into the world that could create such beauty and inspiration, but then to fill that life with such misery and torment. I will never forget Björk's performance at his funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral in the haunting, shaky, handheld video footage on YouTube. She seemed to glide out in McQueen's incredible ostrich feather "Angel Wings" dress, and almost cry and even wail the Billy Holliday song "Gloomy Sunday," rather than just sing it.
Lee Alexander McQueen's greatness can be measured by the work he left behind, but nothing can measure the way his work makes me feel.
|All images credited to the Met Museum Blog