Long Live McQueen
On Monday May 2, the central steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art were covered with a red carpet — the landing mat for fashion’s annual glamour overdose: the Costume Institute Gala, which this year coincided with the opening of the Alexander McQueen exhibit “Savage Beauty.” In conjunction with the show, to promote the progress of fashion that McQueen’s work embodied, the Met hosted a competition for U.S. fashion design graduate students.
Of the 30 contestants who applied, all four finalists were students at Parsons: Aina Hussain, Jie Li, Han Ching Cheng and Mayumi Yamamoto. Shelley Fox, the Donna Karan professor of fashion in the MFA fashion design and society program at Parsons, teaches all four students. “Where they’ve moved from the minute they came to Parsons and where they are now is a phenomenal journey,” Fox said of the finalists.
Yamamoto, one finalist, has worked for three weeks straight to create her final garment for the competition. Like McQueen, she wanted to convey a message through her design. “McQueen always had a background story to tell about the dresses that he made,” Yamomoto said. With her piece, she wanted to tell the ancient Greek story of Persephone’s separation from her mother Demeter. (Persephone, you’ll recall, was kidnapped by Hades, but was allowed to return to her home for part of the year. Her visits with her mother, though, were haunted by her impending return the underworld.)
“It’s something that I also felt when I first came to New York,” Yamomoto said. “When I first went back to home it was very exciting for me because I could get to see my mom and be at home. But at the same time it was very devastating because you know you have to go back. It’s just that part of the story I wanted to convey with my dress.”
Like the three other finalists, Yamamoto is a first-year graduate student in fashion design at Parsons.
Fox worked to show her students the legacy of McQueen and why his work was so influential. “It’s important in teaching to give them the confidence but harsh criticism — honesty,” she said. “I think if there’s anything that McQueen was always about, that it was about being honest, and that was really important to him.”
Each contestant created a collection with both runway looks and wearable interpretations.
The finalists will be judged by representatives from Alexander McQueen and The Costume Institute. The winner will be announced on May 20 during an event at the Met called “Savage Beauty: McQueen for a Night.” The work of the finalists will also be on display. Included among goodies like exhibition merchandise the winner will receive an unpaid, potentially career-altering, but very expensive (considering travel and housing costs) internship at Alexander McQueen in London.
The exhibit opens to the public on May 4 and runs through July 31, and includes a series of lectures.
McQueen’s suicide last year brought an outpouring of acclaim for his work. The 40-year-old designer was already considered an influential household name, but his legacy was only just in the making. “Students get taught fashion history all the time, but he’s so recent and also present,” Fox said of McQueen.
At Parsons, McQueen’s work is still a presence for designers. Curry Aycock, a sophomore design and management student, continues to be driven by designer’s ideals. “I think he definitely inspires (especially fashion design students) students to push their ideas until they cant push anymore, and really take risks,” Ayckock wrote in an email. “And more importantly, allow students to be comfortable with those risks.”
The fashion industry’s infatuation with McQueen matched with the reputation of the gala has all eyes on the Met. For Yamamoto and her classmates, to be a part of the McQueen exhibit is something others can only dream of. Regardless of the winner, the Parsons-only finalists are already triumphant.