Four Hours In Line? Worth It For McQueen Show

Alexander McQueen Oyster Dress

Who waits four hours to see anything? (Except maybe Disneyworld.)

I did, last week in Manhattan, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see the show of Alexander McQueen, the late Scottish clothing designer who committed suicide in February 2010, leaving a bereft world of fashion editors, collectors and fans of his work.

I’d seen bits of it in fashion magazines. It was often shockingly weird, like shoe-boots so impossibly high that walking in them was dangerous. This was a level of brilliance un-knock-off-able, no watered-down mass-market versions likely to show up in next year’s competitors’ catalogues.

I knew it was beautiful and challenging. I had no idea how truly extraordinary his imagination until I spent 75 minutes with it. (The show has now closed, having become one of the most popular ever held at the Met; more than 600,000 people stood for many hours in line to see it.)

Where to begin?

Historic references. From chopines, the towering platform shoes worn by Venetian women from the 14th to 16th centuries, to allusions to Scottish history, in his collection, the widows of Culloden, which included a headpiece with a metal birds’ nest holding exquisitely jeweled eggs.

Materials. From burlap to paillettes to tulle to faille to chiffon to metal to feathers to silver to leather to….horsehair! One of my favorite dresses was made of burlap, over-embroidered with huge, almost childlike flowers in soft jewel tones, with an underskirt of tightly pleated gold. The contrast between humble and opulent, patrician and peasant, was much more powerful in opposition. Dresses made of clamshells and mussel shells? Yes, and gorgeous.

Borrowed ideas. A tailored women’s jacket…that wrapped like a straitjacket. He’s been described as misogynist for such designs, but I found it intriguing. So many demands of traditional women’s beauty force us into tortured postures as it is. Why not call it as you see it? A breathtakingly sinuous arm-cuff of sterling thorns recalled Christ’s crown. I loved the balsa-wood skirt (with leather tabs like a classic kilt) with cut-outs, that spread open like an 18th. century cut-ivory fan.

Daring. One of my favorite elements of the exhibit was the  chance to watch several videos of his shows. One had a model wearing a white dress, edged on two sides by white robotic spray-painters….whose streams of black and chartreuse spattered against the skirt (and the model) created the design in front of our eyes. A piece of body armor, ring upon ring of gleaming steel, that one might wear into battle, symbolic or otherwise. A jacket with mini crocodile heads on each shoulder. Women need protection. He got it.

Sorrow. One dress, for me, is unforgettable, a long pale column of white and gray, with a photo print of statues, two doves on each shoulder. How can a garment convey such melancholy? It did.

Nature, reconfigured. I adored a long, tight jacket of gold feathers, a burst of white, bead-embroidered tulle exploding at the hem. The last collection of snake and lizard and python-printed jersey, overlaid with bronze and turquoise and mustard paillettes.

I have to thank this blogger, a New York City costume designer, for finally getting me to go to this show. After he had seen it six times (!), I thought, right, worth it.

I will never forget some of these images and ideas.

Now I understand why his admirers feel bereft.

Have you ever seen a museum show that gobsmacked you this way?

Where Great Design Comes From

Rhode Island School of Design
Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a link to an odd, wonderful design by a 24-year-old Swedish student.

It’s for a ceramic hanging holder for fresh fruit, and looks like something an elegant Hobbit might use. I discovered his work through Design Milk Daily Digest, which every day offers a tightly edited, well-chosen mix of international ideas about architecture, furniture and product design.

I love his playfulness and willingness to try something so unlikely.

What I like most is actually seeing the thinking and hard work behind the final product, which we so rarely witness. At a conference I attended a few years ago, one of the creators of design firm Pentagram, Michael Bierut, gave a talk, with slides, explaining how he arrived at a design for a children’s museum exhibit.

I am fascinated by process.

I don’t simply want to study or observe items in a shop or a museum or a show or at a conference. I’m eager to know where these ideas come from, what was most difficult or interesting about bringing them to life — not just to market.

When I heard John Maeda, who now heads the Rhode Island School of Design, speak in Manhattan, he minced no words when discussing why great design so rarely comes to mass markets — the suits who run the numbers, he said, love uniformity, predictability, projections and guidance to reassure investors. The designers, whose very job it is imagine the new and unthought-of, scare the hell out of the suits. Therefore — constant conflict!

I’m forever hungry for visual beauty and inspiration.

What design blogs or sites or publications inspire you?

My Winter Of (Wardrobe) Discontent — Will New Shoes Help?

In Following the Fashion (1794), James Gillray...
Image via Wikipedia

You open the doors and sigh.

Every magazine urges you to “shop your closet!”, as though there’s actually anything in there. You click through the hangers, booooored with what’s on them. These clothes are not you. Who would wear them? Did space aliens invade while you were asleep and suck out your every ounce of style?

This is where I have landed.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that even cheapo’s like me, the “aspirational shopper” are heading back into stores. And this week, again, marks Fashion Week in Manhattan, which attracts 1116,000 people and during which a gajllion more garments will slither across the runways hoping to find favor with bloggers, retail buyers and editors.

In search of guidance, I’ve  read Lucky and In Style and find them, mostly, overwhelming and terrifying. Who really has $750 to spend on a handbag?  The clothes they combine look bizarre and uncomfortable, even if they look really great on size 0 17-year-olds.

In vain, I read fashion magazines hoping I will find something useful. I now know the names of every designer and who just got fired and hired, even if I can’t possibly afford a $2,500 Prorsum dress or Proenza Schouler’s new handbag. I know how to tell Louboutins from Choos (not that I own either, since a pair of either costs more than my mortgage payment.)

I need a new look.

And so, I bought a pair of black suede shoes this week that would utterly horrify most people I know. They’re a version of a style now shown in every fashion magazine, and the kind of thing I would never have imagined wearing in a million years: too trendy, too high, too edgy. Perfect!

The sweetie’s eyes lit up when I put them on — especially since they add 4.5 inches to my 5’5″ height.

I’ve been in a style rut for a while, a combination of a severely restricted budget, (i.e. no shopping), currently wearing a size that many stores refuse to carry (why bother shopping when all you end up with is frustration?) and, perhaps most crucial, no cool gal-pal, a fashion mentor, as it were, to help me figure this style thing out.

Trying to kick-start your look just by reading magazines or watching “What Not To Wear” is like trying to practise Mandarin by reading a menu. You gotta work it.

So this out-of-character footwear is, I hope, the first step to a new (er) me. I’ll still reach for my go-to classics, whether an Hermes silk twill scarf or my beloved pale gray down jacket (bought with my discount when I worked retail), but it’s time to test-drive some new looks. Some, no doubt, won’t be great. (I live in the ‘burbs, so it’s not as though anyone will notice.)

What a style shift really demands, is a lot more than cash. It’s the confidence to try it and pull it off.

Journalists generally dress very badly, as much because their pay is low as the inherent clash between fashion and function. Fashion means drawing attention, while working well in journalism demands its deflection.  We’re there to observe, not to be observed.

Dressing to be warm, comfortable and unobtrusive may make for great reporting, but it can kill a wardrobe.

Have you ever re-booted your look? Where did you find inspiration? Did you have help?