McQueen Meets LA: The First Exhibition of the British Designer on the West Coast

Tomes of Greek mythology, Grimm’s fairy tales, and British history spill into LACMA’s halls in a welcomed tornado of fabric. Designer Michael Smith’s headpieces of jewels or wooden horns crown mannequins –spin the tales that once occupied Alexander McQueen’s mind, and inspired his garmented genius. 

I’m talking about LACMA’s new exhibition, Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, and Muse. McQueen’s reign as a fashion mogul lasted 20 years: the 1990s, until 2010. Born in London, with a Scottish lineage, it’s difficult for me to overlook his modernized callbacks to the Battle of Culloden, and a canvas with a Scottish soldier in a kilt, hanging in the background. It conjures up the 2010 Met gala, when Sarah Jessica Parker and McQueen graced the red carpet in scarlet and black tartan’s SJP’s in a floor length rendition.

That was the trend seen throughout the LACMA retrospective: the museum, which brought the first Alexander McQueen exhibition to the West Coast, ever, mirrored ensembles that were art pieces themselves, with paintings and decorative art from around the world. One of the most poignant: was a jacket evoking Italian marble, in McQueen’s final collection, which showed after his death, “Angels and Demons.” It mirrored northern Renaissance sketches with a host of seraphic beings, patterning the black and white sketch in a similar style of marble. 

As the museum points out, the entire clothing time capsule they curated, demonstrated McQueen’s affinity for art, costume history and ability to tailor it for the modern wearer. Perhaps  McQueen’s affinity for history stemmed from his mother being a social science teacher. One may guess that his passion for female empowerment through his Spring/Summer 2006 collection “Neptune” which embodied the characteristics of Grecian and Roman warriors and goddesses, came from having three older sisters and making clothes for them in their youth.  

As I walk past form-fitting looks stamped with hippocamps (hellenistic seahorses), and Phoenixes, Miss Elliot’s and Suzi Quatro’s music pops in my head, as they played while models dawned these sea-bound garments down the runway. 

In the section “Fashion Narratives”, my mother (yes this was a belated mother’s day outing) pointed out a fur coat lined coat with gold details. It called back to the Siberian tundra, while the the octagonal brocade of a sculpted dress nearby, Tibet. It was like going around the world in 80 minutes, but instead of a parchment map for navigation, the garments guided us. Our next stop in the world of fashion narratives: “The Girl who Lived in the Tree.” According to the museum, the motifs came from a fairytale of a princess who “descends from a tree’s branches” to earth. Her narrative was initially played out on the Fall/Winter 2008/2009 runway, from woodland decorations on dresses, to looks reminiscent of Britain’s 19th century Victorian period, then mid-century. 

The exhibition truly has something for everyone: references to a Spanish bullfight, the Salem witch hunt of 1692, ensembles inspired by the 1930s Great Depression Era, McQueen’s fascination with evolutionary theories throughout history, and then GenZ’s favorite TikTok trend: the early 2000s. The bubblegum pink corset top and powder pink dress with a jersey number printed on it, is not to be missed. And oh, all the fantastic shoes! In a word, this exhibition is a gift to more than just fashionphiles. In my opinion, it’s a must-see for anyone who consumes content and gets dressed in the morning. It can be experienced through October.

Keeping it Krischic,

Kristin Vartan

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One response to “McQueen Meets LA: The First Exhibition of the British Designer on the West Coast”

  1. These outfits and headpieces are phenomenal works of art! I was in awe as I viewed all the different garments. The “Angels and Demons” jacket is so epic. I just know these have an even bigger impact in person, hopefully I’ll get to see this exhibit before October ends! Thanks for sharing!

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