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February 17 2012

David LaChapelle - audio slideshow

The photographer and artist talks about his latest exhibition, and working with Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson

May 03 2011

Met gala: McQueen tribute show draws celebrities – in pictures

In pictures: Fashion's most famous fans flocked to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for the preview of an exhibition devoted to the British designer

April 21 2011

Food for thought ... Why cuisine or couture can never equal great art

Clothes are to be worn and food is to be swallowed: they remain trapped in the physical world. True art, however, is of the mind

What is art, and what is not art? We all know the answer to that. Potentially, since Duchamp, anything goes as art. So perhaps that question has no meaning any more. A better question might be: what is interesting art? Or better still: what has the potential to be great art?

This last question is the one I choose to pose. It is prompted by the ongoing promotion of certain activities as serious cultural forms that might in the past have been treated with less reverence. Admittedly, this week's announcement of the top 50 restaurants in the world makes no explicit claim that chefs are great artists, but the seriousness with which these exercises take food means the line between culinary genius and genius full-stop seems thinner all the time. You could argue that a similar line has already been crossed by Alexander McQueen, the late British couturier whose designs are to be celebrated by an exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In some banal way, it's easy to say that food is art; that clothes are art. What's more interesting is to ask whether they can be serious art: can they move us; change the way we see the world; make us think about profound matters?

The idea that food is an art, that cooking can be high culture, is nothing new. It goes back at least to Brillat-Savarin, a French aesthete who philosophised the pleasures of cuisine in the early 19th century. In fact, French culture has seen food as artful for a long time, and since the French also invented modern art, perhaps the imagination that can cherish a well-cooked omelette is also the imagination that can value the ordinary world as a cultural artefact. On the other hand, Vincent van Gogh joked that the folk of Provence were stupefied by their endless bowls of bouillabaisse, conveying the point of view that food is nothing more than carnal. It cannot feed the mind. It can soothe, but it does not inspire.

The same goes for clothes. Can fashion make you think? It can definitely make you think about fashion. But McQueen took on dark themes, or so argues a passionate piece about his posthumous exhibition in the Telegraph. The designer was a brooding romantic who used fashion to express his anxieties and release his demons. If that is the case, can his clothes be considered profound? Do they really go deeper than the surface?

I like food and fashion, but I do not believe they ever come close to doing what great art does. Food is to be swallowed, clothes are to be worn. But although I think about art every day, how many great works of art have I touched? I have handled Leonardo da Vinci drawings, but the physical contact, though moving, was not the point.

Art is of the mind; it is ethereal. Everything it gives us it gives to our brains. Fashion and food fail to be serious art because they are trapped in the physical world. Compare a still-life painting of food – one of those rich, laden Dutch images of lobsters and lemons – with a real plate of food. The painting is very obviously not food – it does not give what food gives. But it does nourish something deeper instead. It reaches the parts of us that chefs and couturiers cannot reach. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 22 2011

McQueen's fashion designs at the Met

Late designer's work to be celebrated in major exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Great fashion design is equal in status to any form of artistic expression. That is the premise of an exhibition celebrating the designs of the late Alexander McQueen that opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in May.

A preview of Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty has been unveiled at the Ritz by the twin fashion forces of Anna Wintour and Samantha Cameron, against the backdrop of London fashion week.

Thomas Campbell, the director of the Met, and Andrew Bolton, curator of its Costume Institute, praised the artistry of McQueen's work. "His work fits so easily within the discourse of art," said Campbell. "He can be considered no less than an artist whose medium of expression was fashion."

Bolton said: "His fashions were an outlet for his emotions, an expression of the deepest, often darkest, aspects of his imagination. He was a true romantic in the Byronic sense of the word – he channelled the sublime."

The exhibition will be arranged thematically rather than chronologically and will feature over 100 examples of work from the designer's 19-year career, from his 1994 Nihilism collection to his posthumous Angels & Demons collection shown last year.

It will begin with a gallery entitled The Savage Mind, which will examine his subversion of traditional tailoring, while other rooms will focus on his recurring fascination with Romantic literary traditions such as death, decay and darkness.

Other highlights will include the McQueen tartan from his Highland Rape collection and a mini projection of the infamous Kate Moss dancing hologram, which debuted after the model's cocaine scandal in 2006.

Stella McCartney, whose career has run almost in parallel to that of McQueen, and who will co-chair the exhibition, was at the launch. Sarah Burton, who worked alongside McQueen for 14 years and is now creative director at the label, was also present.

McQueen was found dead in his central London flat on February 11 last year. He had hanged himself. An inquest at the time found that he was struggling with depression and the death of his mother and the coroner ruled that he had "killed himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed..

The organisers of the exhibition said its swift timing enhanced its integrity. "Memories are so fresh," explained Bolton, who also noted that the archive was intact.

Campbell explained the location – the Ritz hotel was where McQueen first showed a rail of his creations to the press in a 1993 collection called Taxi Driver.

Cameron said she was "thrilled by this recognition of British fashion". The exhibition will runs from 4 May to 31 July with a gala launch on 2 May. "I'm sure that the party will be a very, very special night," she added.

London's hottest stars

Mary Katrantzou delivered a standout collection at London fashion week. The Greek-born designer showed a sculpted, couture-like silhouette with hyper-real prints of stunning interiors, pictured below. Last season she did lampshades and stately homes; this season it was shapes and prints that recalled Ming dynasty vases.

Marios Schwab's collection mixed sleek leather and wool dresses with brogue and buckle detailing and was much praised. He used pearl necklaces as part of his dresses' construction rather than as accessories.

Louise Gray's bonkers mix of dots, stripes, prints and checks demonstrated London at its playful best. Other designers being name-checked as ones to watch included Michael van der Ham and Christopher Raeburn. Van der Ham showed jewel-coloured crushed velvet dresses in his trademark luxe-patchwork. And Raeburn's pop-out parkas – two jackets cut to be worn together or separately – won a legion of industry admirers. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 11 2010

Alexander McQueen: A genius is lost – and darkness has won

The brilliant British designer whose fascination with psychology found expression in fashion has died, age 40

No one who went to an Alexander McQueen catwalk show could ever again have believed that fashion is merely superficial. McQueen's interest was in psychology, and fashion was how he communicated. As his great friend, mentor and muse, the late Isabella Blow, once said: "It's all about feelings, to Lee."

McQueen based one collection on Hitchcock's films Vertigo and The Birds; that show, in a disused school in Paris, opened with an empty catwalk and the unmistakeable click-clack of a lone woman walking in high heels, the sound growing gradually louder as the shadowed blonde grew nearer.

A show in the Conciergerie in Paris, a chill dungeon where Marie Antoinette was held before her execution, starred a model in lilac hooded coat, guarded by wolves.

In one London show, the audience was seated around a giant mirrored cube, which turned transparent so that they could see models on a padded white floor while the models could see only their reflections.

There was the show inspired by the 1970s classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, one which referenced Lord of the Flies, and another in which models moved around a giant chess board.

Hitchcock, Marie Antoinette, ­asylums, Lord of the Flies; this was ­classic McQueen territory.

Even when he became the toast of Paris, surrounded by the trappings of wealth and fame, he could never stop himself from obsessing over the dark side of beauty, like a little boy turning over a ladybird to examine the black and wriggling legs underneath.

He was a Brothers Grimm of fashion, enchanting and captivating the ­audience with the most incredibly ­beautiful clothes, only to make their stomachs lurch with the underlying menace that shot through his work.

Because every show contained outfits designed to thrill, shock – and catch the eye of picture editors – many people never realised that much of McQueen's work was, quite simply, heart-stoppingly gorgeous: exquisite ­tailoring, beautifully sculpted dresses and ­glorious print.

To wear McQueen is to be dressed in hourglass armour. When I interviewed him a few years ago, he told me: "I grew up with three older sisters, and I saw them go through a lot of shit, I always wanted to be able to protect them." He did this the best way he knew how. "They would call me up to their room and I'd help them pick out clothes for work. Just, you know, what skirt with what cardigan, but I was always trying to make them look strong and sheltered."

McQueen was never one of the air-kissing fashion fraternity, preferring to socialise within a tight, protective group of friends.

His manner was often gruff and rude, even to those he liked: Isabella Blow, (pictured right with McQueen) who was broke when she bought his entire first collection and had to pay for it in installments, told me once how he used to march her to the cashpoint every week to get £50 out.

Yet he genuinely adored Blow. In October 2007, on the occasion of his first fashion show after her death, the audience walked in to discover the room heavy with the scent of Fracas by Robert Piguet, the fragrance with which Blow used to fill every room she entered.

Smell is a sense which triggers our emotions; it was more eloquent a tribute to Blow than any of the flowery eulogies I had read.

Two years previously, in the ­aftermath of the Kate Moss cocaine scandal, at a time when most of the fashion world were shunning the model for fear of losing their ­ commercial partners, McQueen took his catwalk bow in a T-shirt which read: "We love you Kate."

In an industry full of pomp he could cut through it with tailor's scissors, and he was, as his friend Daphne Guinness put it, "generous without noise".

McQueen was the great genius of his generation in British fashion. He was, like all the most interesting people, a complex and contradictory character.

He loved to describe himself as an anarchist, but when he received his CBE he told his parents that he locked eyes with the Queen and that it was like falling in love.

The genius of his clothes lay in his ability to keep the joy and hope symbolised by beauty and perfection in a tantalising equilibrium with the darkness which rumbled beneath.

In real life, the tragedy is that the darkness won out. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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