Alexander McQueen became a household name last week when it was revealed that his protege, Sarah Burton, designed Kate Middleton's royal wedding dress. But to fashion cognoscenti, the British designer had been a force for years.
Now, more than a year after his suicide at 40, McQueen's work is coming into fresh focus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose Costume Institute is celebrating his life and art with a retrospective - sponsored in part by the designer's fashion house.
Like most Costume Institute exhibits, this show is fun, if not particularly deep. The nearly 200 pieces on view are still as interesting-looking as they were when they first hit the runways.
The exhibit shows a man whose work was always reaching after the novel. But taken as a whole, a consistent voice emerges from McQueen's oeuvre, defined by the following three things.
McQueen plays with form from the very beginning. Starting with his college graduation collection, McQueen used unexpected clasps, drapery, shapes and colors that question the notion of what clothing could be.
Silks, wool and cotton were a big part of McQueen's palette, but so too were duck feathers, balsa wood, metal and other non-fabrics. The thing to note, though, is that his use of nontraditional materials was never gimmicky. His creations - which sometimes veered into the realm of fetish object, using the model as just another material - were more like sculptures than clothing at times.
At the bottom of all this experimentation, was a thorough grounding in the classics. "You've got to know the rules to break them," McQueen once said. "That's what I'm here for - to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition." Even in his most outlandish pieces, viewers can see the echo of a classical silhouette.
If you go: "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through July 31.