‘Expected wait time: 2 and a half hours’. That’s longer than your average blockbuster or, as a friend of mine likes to put it, the same as five episodes of Home and Away played back to back. That’s what greeted me as I made my way into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty opened on May 4th this year and was the museum’s biggest ever opening day. It went on to become the eighth mostviewed exhibition in the Met’s history joining the likes of the Mona Lisa and the Treasures of Tutankhamun. It consisted of about 200 pieces from a variety of collections including his graduate show from Central Saint Martins which was bought in its entirety by the legendary Isabella Blow.
By the 4th of August I was one of over half a million people who waited in line that was, at times, seven hours long to see the exhibition of work by a British fashion designer who was little known outside of the ‘fashion world’ until his suicide last February.
In the thirteen weeks that the exhibition ran 661,509 people came to view it, 80,000 during the final week and a massive 16,000 on the final day. That kind of waiting is not fun! Lines stretched down the street in front of the museum and people were waiting in 30°C thunderstorms. The McQueen exhibition had become the equivalent of a front row ticket at fashion week and even the fashion-pack would wait in the rain for that.
So after queuing for what seemed like an eternity and having walked through several permanent exhibitions that did little to stave off boredom we finally saw the entrance. Everyone around me let out a collective sign of relief, we were almost there! Not before an enormous security guard shouted at us to put phones and cameras away and sickeningly, let museum members skip ahead of us, but we were there.
The exhibition rooms covered about 200 square feet lined on either side with pieces. To say it was crowded was an understatement, I’m not a farming girl but the term herding cattle would have been appropriate here. The only thing to do was to squeeze in and allow yourself to be pushed along. After a minute you didn’t even notice the pushy tourist trying to take pictures under your elbow, the clothes were so astounding.
Each collection that was represented was a feat of tailoring and ingenuity. The ‘robot-paintdress’ was there that was shown in 2009, the barbed-wire jacket from his graduate collection, the ‘bumster’ trousers famously modeled by Kate Moss, each piece was legendary in their own right, and that’s before you even get started on the accessories that were on show also.
Perhaps the most beautiful was McQueen’s final collection, all feathers and metallics and stunning tailoring. Though perhaps that is because we now look at it as his final collection, the one shown days after his suicide on the 11th of February last year, while the fashion world still reeled.
Looking at the amazing examples of structure and design it was easy to forget that one man made all these pieces; McQueen saw the making of his garments through to the finish and had a hand in all of them. Even before he died he was a legend and now you only had to look at the streams of people queuing to see his work to know that he had left a lasting mark on the world of fashion.
There is now talk of the exhibition coming to the V&A in London as the British seem to feel it’s time the work came home. After the success in New York there can be no doubt that this time the crowds will be even bigger and the wait even longer, but if I could scrape together the price of flights I’d be over there to see it all over again.
Alexander McQueen was a master of what he did; he could cut one of his famous dress-coats without a stencil or outline, he knew every turn of a woman’s body. He brought theatrics back to the catwalk with his fantastical shows that combined technology with fashion and always pushed the envelope. The word genius tends to be overused when someone famous dies tragically, but at the very least he was an artist who created pieces that changed the face of fashion, and that’s no small feat.