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Design Inspiration: Fashion Legend Alexander McQueen

Karin Jacobson inspiration

There are plenty of sources I turn to inspiration, as I have mentioned before, but one that calls me back over and over is clothing designer Alexander McQueen. I’ve always loved his work, and have enjoyed visiting his showroom in New York, which feels less like a clothing store and more like an art gallery. McQueen’s designs tend to have an undercurrent of the macabre, but also broadcast power, bravery, and mysticism. He was fascinated by the many forms that “beauty” could take.

There’s a lot to love about Alexander McQueen, but there are some very specific aspects of his designs that have impacted my own artistic explorations. Here’s what most inspires me:

He was fearless with form. Some of his pieces were so sculptural, one might be tempted to say that they were unwearable ... and yet they were very wearable, and looked beautiful on. He had apprenticed as a Saville Row tailor and truly understood construction, tailoring, and how clothes interacted with a body. Seeing him be so brave and experimental has always made me want to push the design envelope on what I make with my jewelry. (I’m sure that I have not gone big enough, or bold enough yet!) When I look at McQueen’s work, I am reminded that I have the great good fortune of getting to be a jewelry designer AND a sculptor at the same time; it’s just the scale of my sculpture that is small.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Alexander McQueen Inspiration
This dress is made of red and black ostrich feathers and microscope slides (painted red). The inspiration was in finding beauty in the blood beneath the skin. I think this piece is a beautiful example of something both incredibly sculptural and absolutely wearable - at least if you're the sort of person who needs a show-stopping gown for a major event!
(photos courtesy of the Met Museum Blog)

He experimented with materials. McQueen was capable of using unusual textiles, finishes, trim, and even elements not typically incorporated into wearable designs, and crafting beautifully finished pieces with them. And he used materials that seemed messy or casual - like raw edges and spray-painted fabrics - to create incredibly elegant clothing. Seeing this inspires me to consider any and every way that I can utilize my materials … what have I not thought of doing with them? Can they be bent differently? Joined differently? Finished or juxtaposed in new ways?

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Alexander McQueen Inspiration
Clockwise from top left: Nude silk organza embroidered with silk flowers and fresh flowers; Razor-clam shells stripped and varnished; Pheasant feathers; Overdress of panels from a nineteenth-century Japanese silk screen, underdress of oyster shells, and neckpiece of silver and Tahiti pearls (Neckpiece by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen courtesy of Perles de Tahiti)
(photos courtesy of the Met Museum Blog)

He told stories. McQueen’s collections often had a storyline behind them, or a strong theme that tied all of the individual looks together. Some of these stories made people feel uncomfortable, but they all evoked real emotion. McQueen looked for, and found, inspiration everywhere and knowing that serves as a reminder to keep my eyes open and my sketchbook at hand. If I see something beautiful, or if I see something so ugly that it makes me want to turn away, what can that emotion inspire in my work?

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Alexander McQueen Inspiration
In his Widows of Culloden collection, McQueen referenced a battle in the struggles between England and Scotland. He said of the collection, "Scotland for me is a harsh, cold and bitter place. It was even worse when my great, great grandfather used to live there. . . . The reason I’m patriotic about Scotland is because I think it’s been dealt a really hard hand. It’s marketed the world over as . . . haggis . . . bagpipes. But no one ever puts anything back into it.”
(quote and photos courtesy of the Met Museum Blog)

 He embraced his uniqueness. He put on some of the most dramatic and theatrical fashion shows ever staged. McQueen was not in the least bit limited by what was “normal,” even in the world of high fashion. Looking at his work reminds me not to be limited by what I’ve already seen in jewelry design, but instead to try to think of something totally original! In order for jewelry to sell well, it needs to be wearable and comfortable. But I’ve discovered that doesn’t mean it needs to be “normal” or boring. When I decide to go big and create the pieces that I love, I find that they draw people’s attention to the work, and I find that other people love them too!

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Alexander McQueen Inspiration
In one of the most dramatic fashion show moments ever, a dress got it's final decoration spray painted by two robots while being worn by model Shalom Harlow. Now that is what I call theatrical!
(photos courtesy of the Met Museum Blog)

Ultimately, when I want to be inspired to make pieces that are sculptural and wearable, I often open up the book Savage Beauty, which was the exhibition catalog made for McQueen’s posthumous exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011.

Sadly, Alexander McQueen died by suicide in 2010, when he was only 40 years old. His eponymous label continues on. The House of McQueen is now headed by his long-time assistant Sarah Burton, and carries on his legacy of ethereal, awe-inspiring, and utterly unique designs.

Are YOU a McQueen fan? What do you love about his designs or aesthetic?

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