By  on May 4, 2011

It used to be called the fashion party of the year, but somewhere along the line the sartorial modifier got axed. The Costume Institute gala at the Met has become New York’s party of the year, period — no modifiers needed. Yet this time around it seems appropriate to revive the adjective. This was a fashion party like no other. Recent gala exhibitions have focused on a distant genius (Poiret) or examined fashion at a particular intersection with the larger culture (“The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion”; “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity”). “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” celebrates pure creation, the brilliant work of one brilliant man who lived not in the hallowed recesses of history but right now, up until a year ago, the currency of his work only deepening the awe it inspires.

Yet currency is a funny concept in relation to McQueen, not because he knew history so well and referenced it liberally and often, but because his work had more to do with his responses to internal rather than external, societal stimuli. Which does not suggest that McQueen acted imperviously to the world around him. His last three shows were about humanity’s wanton disregard for the environment and a subsequent imaginary evolutionary process. In the lyrical Sarabande collection, he took an anti-elitist (read: curves are OK) stance regarding body types. But whatever societal occurrences registered in his psyche, his responses were neither clinical nor coldly pragmatic. Emotion was the root of it all, an emotion funneled through a romantic sensibility that swung wildly from terrifyingly dark to places of great light. Quotes throughout the galleries offer brief insights into the psyche. “There’s blood beneath every layer of skin,” reads one. And another, “Things rot.…I used flowers because they die.”

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