If you’re interested in fashion, fantasy and films, you must visit the LACMA exhibit, “Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse.” You don’t even have to like McQueen’s style. The exhibit isn’t all about McQueen’s creations, but also includes objects that inspired his fashions and footwear, headwear and music inspired by McQueen.
That means you’ll want to bring your phone, download the soundtrack and listen with earphone, earbuds or whatever. That means, you’re encouraged to be in your own audiovisual bubble, alone although you might not be alone. If you like bouncing off your ideas with other creatives, being in the exhibit isn’t really the time. That will come later. Soak up what you may, wander, take photos, get up close and stand further away (and stay out of other people’s way). If you have a membership with LACMA,* go more than once.
Although born in London as Lee Alexander McQueen (1969-2010), this fashion designer was known as Alexander McQueen, founding his own label using that name in 1992. His father was Scottish and he was the youngest of six children. As a child, he showed an interest in birds. Both his heritage and his fascination with birds were evident in his fashion collections. He was awarded four British Designer of the Year Awards (1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003) and was the chief designer for Givenchi from 1996 to 2001.
You might have seen his work because he designed the look for David Bowie’s 1997 tour, including the Union Jack coat worn on the cover of the “Earthling” album. His work can also been seen on Icelandic singer Björk’s 1997 album, “Homogenic.” McQueen directed the music video for Björk’s “Alarm Call” and designed the topless dress for her “Pagan Poetry” video. For American culture, McQueen designed the outfit that Janet Jackson wore during her infamous wardrobe malfunction (Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004).
Or if that’s too far in the past for you, McQueen designed the Armadillo Shoes that Lady Gaga wore in her “Bad Romance” video.
McQueen died at age 40 from suicide. He had been taking drugs and his mother had died on 2 February 2010 and McQueen was found dead on 11 February.
If you want to learn more about his life, there’s a fascinating documentary, “McQueen,” that came out on 8 June 2018. That’s not what this exhibition is for, the mundane facts of McQueen’s life. The LACMA exhibit is the first major exhibition on the West Coast of McQueen and includes 70 designs by McQueen “in conversation” with works–costumes, textiles, decorative arts, paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs–of 35 other artists. The head and mannequin treatments were created by Los Angeles-cased artist Michael Schmidt and the exhibition design is by LA firm Michael Maltzan Architecture.
There’s nearly 200 objects, mostly taken from LACMA’s permanent collection. Some of what is on display is a recent acquisition in the way of a “substantial gift” from Los Angeles-based collector, Regina J. Drucker. Her donation has “greatly enhanced LACMA’s own collection of works by McQueen, making it the “largest held by a public institution in North America.”
The exhibit is divided into four thematic sections and fabulously staged. “Mythos” looks at how McQueen was inspired by myths and religious belief systems. That includes the fusion of fashion associated between the former Ottoman Empire with Western fashion.
The second section, “Fashioned Narratives,” looks at how McQueen built worlds by telling original stories or reimagining past events such as a journey across Siberia through Tibet to Japan or a fairytale that based designs on 19th and mid-20th century English fashion and India’s textile traditions. Then there’s a reference to the Salem Witch trials, that McQueen was linked to through distant ancestors.
“Evolution and Existence” looks at his fascination with the cycle of life, nature, evolution and death. How could someone attracted to ornithology not be influenced by Darwin? There were other more modern inspirations, for course. Some of the work here was inspired by films like “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” and “Barry Lyndon.”
And all fashion and sewing geeks will appreciate the “Technique and Innovation” section that shows how his collections drew from his years apprenticing on Savile Row as a tailor. His cutting skills and draping call back to a long tradition, but McQueen also used new technologies such as laser-cutting and digital printing.
There is a lovely catalogue (published by DelMonico/D.A.P.” that is edited by Sara Cody, with related essays), but first you must see and soak up and be inspired by this show. This is an audiovisual experience (soundtrack). The exhibition soundtrack by Bárbara Salazar and Alejandro Cohen of dub lab, is meant to provoke a conversation and uses selections that range from classical, to post punk dance and pop–some of which represent McQueen’s own choices, but others that respond to his legacy.
As someone who owns three sewing machines, all very old, this is a must-see show. As someone who has to fit clothes, this is a must-see show. Be amused. Find a Muse. Create your own Mythos. And show us (on social media, of course), just what you have in mind.
“Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse” was organized by associate curator of Costumes and Textiles” Clarissa M. Esguerra and curatorial assistant of Costume and Textiles Michaela Hansen. There will be pre-recorded talks presented on YouTube as part of the 8th R.L. Shep Triennial Symposium on “Textiles and Dress: Lee Alexander McQueen.” You can RSVP at LACMA.org for a reminder email.
The exhibit opened on 24 April 2022 at the Resnick Pavilion and runs until 9 October 2022. For more information, visit LACMA.org. *LACMA is free for LA County residents with valid ID weekdays after 8 p.m. (except Wednesdays).