Symbols of Death, Birth and Renewal in the Art of Alexander McQueen

Savage Beauty Review
by Miriam Schulman
Alexander McQueen used fashion as his artistic medium; however, the genius is in the conceptual ideas that act as the creative catalyst behind each collection. Themes of death, birth and renewal repeat in the fashion collections of the late McQueen. The exhibition currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has lines snaking around the museum like a ride at Disney World. Members can move to the front of the line but even at the opening of the museum the crowds at this exhibit are equally impressive. The museum goer will not be disappointed by the exhibition which inspires gasps of surprise and pleasure among art connoisseurs and fashionistas alike. Here is a wrap up of major symbolic themes of death and renewal throughout the collections presented in the exhibition.

Color Lilac

The corset’s jet beading is also associated with mourning.  As Andrew Bolton says “Here, we see McQueen finding poetry and beauty in death.”  
 Early in the exhibit, the Victorian and goth inspired collections utilize widows and mourners. In the Victorian era, each stage of mourning demanded a different color, one of which was lilac. The lilac repeats in future collections such as in fushia stocking in  the “It’s only a game” ensemble. Lilac stockings were also a hallmark of the House of Givenchy where McQueen worked before starting his own house. Givenchy continued to influence romantic softness of his work in future collections, but the color lilac carries a deep symbolic association with the beautiful part of the Victorian mourning fashion.


Butterflies are the ultimate symbol of life after death for the caterpillar must succumb to the cocoon and die before being reborn as a butterfly. This hat created by eccentric milliner Philip Treacy and conceived by McQueen as an accessory for the show, dramatizes the butterfly.


In McQueen’s Words

“Things rot. . . . I used flowers because they die. My mood was darkly romantic at the time.”


Faberge Egg-inspired bags by McQueen for his 2008 collection kicked off a trend of jewel encrusted egg shaped clutches followed by Chanel, Galliano and others. Eggs are a universal symbol of springtime birth and renewal across all cultures.

Beautiful Widows

Sarah Jessica Parker wore a variation of this dress from McQueen’s Widows of Culloden collection to the opening of Anglomania, an exhibition celebrating British fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. McQueen was her date, and he wore a kilt of matching tartan. The tartans reference his Scottish heritage; however, the title of the collection is more telling of his obsession of death.

Return to the Sea

This jellyfish inspired ensemble is from the Plato’s Atlantis Spring/Summer 2009 collection. The concept for this collection emerged from the idea that as the icecaps melted, man would be forced to evolve and return to the ocean.    
In McQueen’s Words
“[This collection predicted a future in which] the ice cap would melt . . . the waters would rise and . . . life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath the sea once more or perish. Humanity [would] go back to the place from whence it came.”

Emerge from the Sea

The Oyster dress is extravagantly made of hundreds of yards of silk organza hand cut to resemble the organic shapes of oysters. The concept for this show was like an elegant woman who had drowned at sea and then emerged from the ocean as a Botticelli-like Venus. So again, the concept of dying/drowning and then being reborn and renewed in another form.

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I’m Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration.

I inspire art-lovers to reconnect with their creativity and profit from their art. Whether you paint simply for the joy of it or you’re serious about selling your work, and you’re ready to stop putting yourself on the back burner...You're in the right place. I've done it and I can inspire YOU how to do it too.

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