Ann Ray (French, born 1969), Flesh and Blood,2008. Archival chromogenic print. Courtesy of Barrett Barrera Projects
When friendship and fashion merge, the creative process becomes poetry. The stanzas are steeped in soul. The verses stitch together hearts. The Lee Alexander McQueen & Ann Ray: Rendezvous exhibition is a love letter to this kind of collaboration between two artists who told styled stories together over their 13-year friendship.
On view at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, this retrospective is the second Alexander McQueen exhibition ever, on the West Coast, and yet it may be the best. At the opening night of the exhibition curated and organized by Barrett Barrera projects Friday, I felt honored to see one of my favorite couture designers of all time, through the lens of someone who not only experienced his genius firsthand and got to combine it with her own, but a person who knew his big heart and joy.
“When fantastic moments happen in your life, they stay vivid,” Ann Ray herself said Friday night.
Givenchy in the late ‘90s set the scene for how Ray and McQueen met. McQueen at the time was the couture brand’s creative director, known for his impeccable English tailoring. From two of Ray’s 63 black-and-white photographs in the exhibition, “Follow the Thread, (1997)” and “Art and Craft (2000)” I immediately could see how Ray’s editorial eye met her documentarian proclivity for capturing the “creator creating at the moment of creation.”
The photographer found beauty in the candid and showed it through analog photography, what she described as a “process and alchemy.” Cases in point: Executed through the 19th century photo technique of silver gelatin, McQueen can be seen in deep concentration, whilst in the middle of reconstructing a Japanese wardrobe screen into a floral couture dress or in the middle of talking with a Givenchy seamstress. It’s those captured “in-between” moments, that bring 50 of his couture pieces featured in the exhibition, to life.
From Givenchy to his own namesake label, McQueen was historic for creating without constraints. As Ann Ray herself told me after her presentation Friday night, McQueen was a storyteller whose literal medium was the runway but was able to transport it into a stage. Just as Shakespeare once invented new words for the English language in his plays, McQueen created something evocative and fresh through his “bumster” trousers paired with a sharp-shouldered frock coat. He gave an otherworldly quality to his gowns with motifs from renaissance art, skulls, or even blue-green feathers on the torso of a late-aughts gown spawned from an interest in falconry. And while McQueen’s knack for British tailoring was a mastery in tradition, he always added a punk-rock twist.
“It was beyond beauty and beyond fashion,” said Ray.
Well, if McQueen’s work is theatre, then Ray’s photos help us read between the lines of the couture’s script. In addition to profound storytelling, there is a genuine warmth to McQueen and Ray’s longstanding collaboration. They did not work together out of ambition, but out of true respect for each other’s crafts and love for each other as friends. McQueen initially even paid Ray in original clothing, instead of money (featured in the exhibition). As Ray pointed out, it was “art for art.” As a broadcast journalist and fashion blogger who has had the honor of working with photographers day in and day out, this exhibition further fueled my gratitude for creating with others.
Keeping it Krischic,
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