Thursday, January 12, 2012

Genius Teaches Genius

A lot of geniuses have died 'before their time'. Before their time, I've always found that expression extremely unsettling. Does everybody have an expiration date tattooed behind their ear or stamped on the sole of their foot? If so, how come that particular date is only known for people who are no longer here and rarely coincides with the real date of their departure?

Egon Schiele, Janis Joplin, Emily Brontë, Arthur Rimbaud, Ian Curtis, it's just a small excerpt of a long list of artists who died at a young age. The question I ask myself is, what magnificent poems, drawings, music never came to exist because of the untimely death of these exceptional creators?

The same question can be asked about Alexander McQueen who died in February of 2010. When the word of McQueen's death reached the world, the fashion community reacted with disbelief and grief. At only forty years old the British designer took his own life after lived through some personal tragedies like the death of his mother and that of his close friend Isabella Blow.
McQueen had always been a rebel which earned him the name of 'l'enfant terrible' of the fashion world. Some of his designs were very extravagant, but ultimately his exquisite tailoring, original use of fabric and genius detailing were responsible for his fame and success. In 1996 he succeeded Galliano as art director at Givenchy, a job he executed until 2001.

Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2006
Dress made out of real flowers
Alexander McQueen, Fall/Winter 2009
Dress made out of feathers
Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2010

The Posthumous exhibition 'Savage Beauty' held by the Metropolitan Museum in New York was a huge success and attracted a lot of visitors.

During the fashion week of October 2010, all the eyes were directed to one woman: Sarah Burton. Since long McQueen's right hand, she would carry on the vision of the house. Due to the almost godlike status McQueen had acquired disappointing the critics would have been easier than counting to ten, but to everybody's surprise the quiet and hard working Burton revealed herself to be the perfect successor.

Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2011
To me not only did Sarah Burton continue the unique McQueen feel, but she also added a subtle feminine sensibility that I thought was sometimes lacking in McQueen's designs. 

I know this could be considered heresy to McQueen fans. I apologize in advance and I won't claim that this isn't just my humble opinion. Somehow I often have a preference for female designers and this case is no different.
Compare some of McQueen's last designs to some of Burton's and judge for yourself.

left: McQueen's last collection, Fall/Winter 2010                
right: Sarah Burton, Spring/Summer 2011 and 2012

The new Spring/summer 2012 collection blew me away. Burton was inspired by the ocean. Think nymphs, corals, waves,..

Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2012
 The style and craftsmanship Sarah Burton has developed is deeply in debt to her teacher Alexander McQueen, but to me she has perfected his art. 
Isn't that the greatest gift you can give someone? McQueen's brand will not only exist, but most importantly be alive and continue evolving.
Indeed a teacher is someone who renders himself progressively unnecessary. McQueen did this in the most dramatic and tragic way.

Sarah Burton
Alexander 'Lee' McQueen

The Mere Alchemist


  1. Waauw, unbelievable pictures, really beautiful!

  2. Another great post, look forwarding to working together with the owner of such insight and that mighty pen :) x

    1. Thanks Catherine! I'm always hoping you'll put up a new post @! But no luck yet. ;)

  3. mijn pen valt normaal ook wel mee, als ik geen domme typo's maak ;)

  4. weer een geïnspireerde en inspirerende post!

  5. McQueen had great talent, however when it comes to fashion I think the term "genius" can only be used for designers who changed the way we dress and/or introduced something never seen before. Did McQueen do that? No. His work was very reminiscent of Leigh Bowery's costumes and as for praising him for his feminine tailoring, bumsters, sinister prints, etc, other designers did all of that before him.
    I believe in giving credit where it's due, but calling McQueen a genius is an insult to all the artists and designers who were true innovators.

    1. I appreciate your comment, however I don't fully agree.
      In your definition of 'genius', the contribution of this title depends on the reaction of the environment and on the consequences for society. To me a genius is someone who is exceptional in one or more ways, whether it be intellectual or creative.
      With exceptional I mean an almost intuitive ability to take matter and make it your own in a compelling way.

      Sure Christian Dior and Coco Chanel changed the way women dressed forever. But wasn't that more a result of a giant wave of change in ideals, economy, technology, which fashion leaders happened to take advantage of? Does the particular timeframe make them more of a genius than McQueen?

      I would like to know who you think are the geniuses in fashion and why? Can there be any contemporary geniuses in the way you just described in this hyper-speed eclectic world where we've seen it all?

    2. I would actually go further back than Dior and post second world war Chanel, to the work Chanel did in the early twentieth century. Can you imagine the shock of making jersey suits (a fabric until then used for men's underwear)? Raising hemlines to reveal the lower leg? Liberating women from corsets? Doing away with excessive embellishment and making the little black dress a staple of a woman's wardrobe?

      Other designers were promoting some of the same trends but she was alone in having an all encompassing vision of what a modern woman needed in her wardrobe.

      While I am still loath to use the term genius for someone who designs amazing clothes, I think the early work of Chanel comes much closer to the concept of genius than the work of any other famous designers of the past and present.

      As Chanel said: Only those with no memory insist on their originality. I wish the people who are perpetuating the wave of admiration for McQueen's work would remember that quote.

      Calling him a genius, has the effect of sweeping away acknowledgement of the artists and designers who influenced his style, and I think it's unfortunate that such lack of respect is shown for their legacy.