Friday, July 8, 2011
Book Review: Savage Beauty by Alexander McQueen
This is probably my favorite book at the moment, maybe one of my favorite books of all time. It's the exhibition catalog for the Savage Beauty show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, displaying the work of Alexander (Lee) McQueen. This immensely talented designer took his own life in February 2010 after the death of his mother. This exhibit at the Met captures just a small sample of work he created over the past few years. His work always dealt with themes of death, decay and renewal, so it's appropriate that the cover features a lenticular image that transforms his face into a skull... and back again. The effect is striking. The endpapers are just stunning, and they echo a design element from McQueen's own work, the symmetrical repeat of a natural pattern. As a designer and maker I have an appreciation for the hand work that goes into couture clothing. McQueen is quoted as saying "I never aspired to mass production. Because of my training as a tailor, my work involves lots of love and care, which is why so many of my clothes are made by hand here in London. Not to wow the crowd during a show, but because I love it." The book is made with love as well, just masterful photography and understated layout. The clothes really come forward. The quotes from Lee are interspersed connect his ideas and thought process with the imagery and design of the clothing. The photographs by Sølve Sundsbø just blew me away. Initially I though they had really nice mannequins. Later, I found out that in order to show the clothing draped properly, they shot on live models. Then, in post-production they digitally painted out the models faces and sometimes heads to keep the emphasis on the clothes. They even introduced seams at the arms and wrists to mimic a mannequin - such a great idea. You can tell a lot of care went into every photograph. Lee often used feathers in his work. Or seashells, Intricate, graphic, sculptural... Transformational, animal, aquatic reptile? Clothes have the ability to make you into another species altogether. Audacious, otherworldly, bizarre and extreme. Fetishism, but in the most non-conventional way you can imagine. McQueen was known for cutting his own patterns, something virtually unique in the world of couture. His background as a tailor gave him the technical chops to pull off amazing designs. I loved the way he synthesized a variety of influences from around the world. Take something that moves you, and put your own twist on it. The quote accompanying the image below: "I especially like the accessory for its sadomasochistic aspect." The sadomasochistic element is what first drew me into his work. But the technique, creativity and skill draw me back again and again. These molded leather pieces are unlike anything I have ever seen on a runway before. Just amazing... My only complaint about this book is that I wanted more. It all ended too soon. Lee is one designer where I wish there was a book this size just for his fall 2009 or spring 2010 shows - I would buy them both in a heartbeat. This book is definitely a must-have for McQueen fans. Available on Amazon or directly from the Met for a little bit more.