Ravishing Rendezvous

Fashion in Columbia presented by the Columbia Museum of Art

by Megan Wooters / Garnet & Black

From organizations like Columbia Fashion Week to local designers, fashion followers and students at USC, there is a place for fashion in Columbia, South Carolina. This idea is enforced by the city's new addition: the Columbia Museum of Art’s exhibit Lee Alexander McQueen and Ann Ray, Rendez-Vous.

Lee Alexander McQueen was an English fashion designer who gained notoriety in the industry for his craftsmanship and ability to tell a story with clothes. McQueen started his own label “Alexander McQueen” in 1992. In 1996, at age 27, he became the creative director for Givenchy, a highly reputable French couture house. McQueen’s position at Givenchy brought on a lot of pressure and did not allow for enough creative freedom. Thus, he broke away from the rigidity of Givenchy and began to focus on his own label. Ultimately, he designed 36 womenswear collections for the label. The world lost McQueen on Feb. 11, 2010, to suicide as he struggled immensely with stress and mental health. McQueen had a gift that led him to work in an industry with dark avenues strong enough to weaken one’s spirit. His unconventional ways were not always appreciated, though McQueen is recognized as one of the greatest designers.

Inside the exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art, there is no ambient music or interactivity but the displays speak volumes. Everything is shown in its true, beautiful form. The exhibit starts at the beginning of McQueen's career and progresses to the end. There are large fine prints and mannequins dressed in McQueen’s pieces. The viewer can see each captivating detail of McQueen’s pieces and feel each moment of Ray’s photos. Not only does the exhibit show the intricate and intimate life of McQueen as a creative genius, but the exhibit also shares the special friendship between McQueen and his photographer, Ann Ray. In the exhibit, there is a connection between Ray’s photography and McQueen’s pieces in the way that the two modes of art speak to each other to create the story that is Rendez-Vous. The meaning of the title “Rendez-Vous” comes from what McQueen and Ray called their time together: unpredictable, yet beautiful. During their time together, Ray took over 32,000 pictures of McQueen, and there are 60 photos featured in the exhibit. Ray liked observing McQueen be himself and capturing raw moments in his creative process. The photos vary from candid portraits of McQueen to fittings, models and fashion shows. The two were never sure of what their collaboration would extend to, but today Ray is able to share the life and legacy of her friend to inspire communities like Columbia.

McQueen built his brand, Alexander McQueen, on darker English Romanticism. McQueen's aptitude for this aesthetic shows in his emotional and grotesque yet beautiful work, often causing a reaction from the public or his audience. He also developed his brand from many inspirations such as history, culture, politics, film, ancestry, nature and his inner circle of supporters. Each piece is exceptionally unique, and throughout the exhibit, you can see how McQueen’s moods and inspirations shift. McQueen’s garments are all art pieces, and his fashion shows were theatrical performances of art. In his spring/summer 1999 show, model Shalom Harlow stood on a rotating platform in a white dress and was sprayed by robots with paint. Harlow explained that McQueen gave her little direction and allowed her to be free and “have the most genuine, spontaneous experience as possible.” This idea transcends to the idea of Rendez-Vous because Ray and McQueen’s time together was always unexpected, yet endearing and genuine. McQueen's spring/summer 2001 collection “VOSS” creates the same storytelling effect. The collection presents a celebration of nature and exploration of the concept of beauty. Models were showcased inside a glass asylum-like cube and wore feathers, taxidermy birds and oyster-shell dresses. The photos from these collections can be seen in the museum.

McQueen noticed the excessive waste in the fashion industry and made environmental statements through his clothing. One of these statements can be seen in his reef print mini dress for Plato’s Atlantis, S/S 2010. This piece tells the story of the lost city of Atlantis and how the models in the show adapted to survive in an underwater world caused by rising sea levels. According to the exhibit curator, McQueen believed that one day the world would collapse and we would all be reborn to appreciate the Earth. In this collection, McQueen was unconventional in the way he used his role in fashion to communicate a message about the environmental issues caused by the fashion industry. Despite the structure, pressures and criticisms of the industry, McQueen always created from the heart. 

Furthermore, the last exhibit, “Angels and Demons” is a spiritual and Christian/Renaissance-inspired collection. The juxtaposition of Angels and Demons relays the message of how things in life can either allow you to soar or haunt you. Though McQueen lost his battle, we can recognize that he has flown away towards peace. The work that McQueen and Ray created together will help others discover their wings and seek meaningful and dynamic relationships. Ray stated that “With Lee, nothing was impossible.” A friendship without limits is the best friendship possible.

Jackie Adams, the Director of Art and Learning at the Columbia Museum of Art is to thank for organizing the exhibit in Columbia. Adams, a long-time McQueen fan, interviewed Ray prior to the exhibit’s opening. Adams explained how she was emotional during the interview, and Adams could see the genuine connection between Ray and McQueen. She knows that it is difficult for Ray to share this story, but she believes the vulnerability and trust that Ray and McQueen maintained in their friendship allows Ray to be vulnerable and confident now. Adams also mentioned that Ray receives many questions about her thoughts on McQueen’s death. Ray’s answer is that there are too many what-ifs and that all good things must come to an end. Despite what happens, we must look forward. Sharing this story in the museum is a way of looking forward in a positive light.

This is the most memorable story in the fashion industry as it is personal and truthful. By the end of the exhibit, a wave of emotion comes over, there is a feeling of sadness, yet it is touching and one is able to see the world in a more sensitive and gentle view. It is always fascinating to see what people can create, and Mcqueen was an artist at his core. Ray’s photography ultimately brings the story and the clothing to life, which is why their collaboration is so important. Again, one may ask, “Why is Alexander McQueen in Columbia, South Carolina?” There are dreams of fashion in Columbia amongst other dreams. The fashion community is continuing to grow, and fashion has a place here. This story is meant to be accessible, and Columbia is just as deserving of opportunities in fashion as New York City. Anything is possible, and every community is full of dreams.