On (un)Beauty

We live in cruel, tenuous times.  I recently looked at Alexander McQueen’s fall 2009/2010 show and it blew my mind.

The New York Times as an amazing slideshow of the entire show, but here’s a short synopsis: the insane clown lips were inspired by Terry Gilliam’s Brazil; the textiles are a mockery of every major design house out there, and I think there’s a strong hint of Nightmare Before Christmas about the whole show, which took place around a giant trash heap of props from past shows.

Philip Treacy made the hats which many of the models wear – from umbrellas glued together like a tumor off the side of the head, or a plastic bag that floats off the top of the model, threatening to suffocate her any moment. The best are full globes that completely encapsulate the models’ heads; their wide red lipstick already almost disfiguring them.

“People don’t want to see clothes. They want to see something that fuels the imagination,” McQueen said.

But all I could think of was a short story I read years ago, Steven Millhauser’s “A Change in Fashion” from Harper’s Magazine (not Bazaar), May 2006. The fictional story describes a new trend of fashion that evolves – first women opt to cover themselves up after years of the rule of the thong and the midriff. Then the clothes start to envelope them, encouraging sexual allure by what you can’t see.

“It was as if, after a half century of reckless exposure, a weariness had overcome women, a yearning from withdrawal, a disenchantment with the obligation to invite a bold male gaze.”

In the story the dresses develop “secondary growths that seemed to lead separate lives.” Fashion becomes ruled by the ‘erotics of concealment.’ McQueen does not go so far as the avant designer of Millhauser’s story; his designs still seek to accent the female body – as it relates to some balloonish version of a jester.

Millhauser’s story ends with dresses  spread out over lawns, as big as rooms. Men enter through a back-door to make love to women naked in the grass inside. Eventually they are relegated to the realm of art, and women don’t know how to dress. They start from scratch; the designer’s new collection returns to a classic dress: high waist, borrowing, and the world slowly returns to its previous state.

But at the new fashion’s height, the narrator says, “Fashion is an expression of boredom, of restlessness. The successful designer understands the ferocity of that boredom and provides it with new places in which to calm its rage for a while.”

It’s that I see in McQueen’s new version of beauty- rage, danger, the glamour of fear (or entertainment?), and some glimpse into the future.

(the entire collection can be seen here: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/style/fashionweek/runway.html#fall_2009_alexander_mcqueen )


One Response to On (un)Beauty

  1. zoeblackwell says:

    McQueen is always so artful (by that I mean conceptually/thematically driven?), and is quite l’enfant terrible, but I was a little shocked at how much frustration was embodied in this show, from the styling to the actual clothes. cold, raw, and electric.

    Do you have a link or copy of that T. Millhauser story? I searched but could not find…

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