The Fashion Trail | Why ‘Savage Beauty’ Should Tour the World

NEW YORK, United States From Jean-Paul Gaultier at Montreal’s Musée des Beaux Arts to Hussein Chalayan at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, this has been a year of high-profile fashion exhibitions. The grand daddy of all these shows is the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Last week, I finally managed to catch the exhibit in its final days.

In total, 661,509 people passed through the exhibition, making Savage Beauty the most visited fashion exhibition in the museum’s history, putting it in the same league as the Treasures of Tutankhamun (1978) and Mona Lisa (1963). So high was the demand that the Met extended the exhibition’s run by week and stayed open until midnight on the final two days, releasing a statement explaining that this was the first time that the museum had ever kept its galleries open so late to accomodate the “extraordinary response”

But despite this “unprecedented interest” in Mr. McQueen’s body of work, museum officials said that Savage Beauty will not travel to any other museums because it is composed almost entirely of loan. What a shame.

By all accounts, the Met and its curator, Andrew Bolton, did a formidable job of bringing Mr. McQueen’s body of work into a tightly and expertly curated fashion experience, immersing visitors deep into McQueen’s world. Those of us lucky enough to have attended any of his fashion shows could see the same kind of high-quality production value, creative integrity and aesthetic sophistication in this wonderful, inspiring exhibition.

As I walked into the room entitled “The Cabinet of Curiosities,” packed shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of other people, I overheard a little girl asking her mother, “Mommy, why do the hats have animal horns?” Her mother answered softly and authoritatively, “Because he was a very special, talented man who made fashion into theatre. He was no ordinary fashion designer.”

Listening to this exchange brought home the real impact of this exhibition. Unlike so many of the television shows and media that claim to show the ‘reality’ of fashion, Savage Beauty managed to get underneath the glossy surface and make fashion understandable, interesting and inspiring to a mass audience.

For this reason, I hope the Met will reconsider its position on taking Savage Beauty on the road. Surely those who loaned their McQueen items to the exhibition — most notably Daphne Guinness and Alexander McQueen, the company — have seen the powerful impact of the exhibition. Surely there can be no better tribute to this great designer than having hundreds of thousands of ordinary people enjoy Mr. McQueen’s work and see it up close.

But emotional reasons aside, there is a clear business rationale for touring the show as well. It turns out that the exhibit has been a great marketing machine for McQueen. According to a release sent out by the Met yesterday, “popular McQueen merchandise in the Met Shops, including armadillo shoe ornaments, crystal skull paperweights, and tartan purses, sold out several times and were repeatedly reordered.”

Imran Amed is founder and editor of The Business of Fashion

Correction – 9 August 2011: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Hussein Chalayan exhibit took place at The Design Museum in London.

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10 comments

  1. Hi Imran,

    You have echoed my sentiments exactly! His works are emotionally charged with meaning and visual impact. Alexander McQueen’s designs transcended fashion and elevated the human form, as a part of his innate ability to see beyond that which is, and envision that which can be. His works strike a chord with wearers and viewers alike, playing on notes of fear, love, passion, and eccentricity. His death is a tragedy as the world has lost one of the most talented designers of our time and throughout history. He will be dearly missed by those who know and love him, by those who had hoped to one day meet him, and by those who know him now as a legend. Mcqueen was an innovator beyond his time and he deserves an extended final theatrical blaze of glory that only a traveling exhibit can achieve.

    With the help of social networking, I have organized a petition to make Savage Beauty a traveling exhibition. Social network grassroots efforts are already under way. We have obtained over 400 signatures in a matter of days and have placed our goal at 1,000,000 signatures.

    Please consider signing the petition and spreading the word about our cause. I have listed the appropriate links below, however, if you prefer I could send you a copy of our press release directly.

    Our press release can viewed at:
    http://fashindie.ning.com/profiles/blogs/petition-fans-say-please-make-alexander-mcqueen-savage-beauty-a

    To sign the petition, please visit:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/please-make-alexander-mcqueens-savage-beauty-a-traveling-exhibition

    Sincerely,
    Selena Marie Norris
    Petition Organizer
    selenamarienorris@gmail.com
    (317) 908-5570

  2. Please tour!!

    Anja Joubert from Edenvale, Gauteng, South Africa
  3. I was lucky enough to visit the magnificent ‘Savage Beauty’ at the Met in NY, and I agree it should definitely be made available to the public of other cities.

    One detail: the Hussein Chalayan exhibition at the Design Museum in London was in 2009!
    There is now a Hussein Chalayan exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

  4. It’s beautiful that so many people have been able to come and recognize him for the extraordinary talent-artist that he was. Hope that all goes well with your petition Mr. Morris and more get to witness this mans genius.

  5. Perhaps one reason why the show won’t be traveling is because Ms. Guinness herself is having her own fashion exhibition at FIT from September to January 2012, which includes pieces from haute couture collection and from Alexander McQueen.

    It’s a shame it won’t be a traveling exhibition, I would have loved to have seen Savage Beauty. At least I got to see Jean Paul Gaultier’s, which is probably equally impressive, as the details are as farfelu as they are genius.

    Dahlia from Terrebonne, QC, Canada
  6. Selena should be congratulated for creating this petition, personally I would love to see Alexander McQueens Savage Beauty at the V+A in London especially as McQueen was British.

    The BOF is superb Imran, there is nothing else like it. Anything you can do on BOF to promote this petition will be well worth it for all

    Fiona Jenvey CEO Mudpie

  7. There is nothing to comment on this is AMAZING!

    SVOOSS from Spring Lake, NC, United States
  8. You have NO IDEA how the streets of Cape Town will queue full of McQueen-lovers dying to see the exhibition if it was to come here…

    Juanel from United Kingdom