Romantic Naturalism and The McQueen Effect

“I have always loved the mechanics of nature and to a greater or lesser extent my work is always informed by that.”
—Alexander McQueen

The much-lauded Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has now closed. A total of 661,509 visitors makes it the most visited fashion exhibition in the museum’s history. I was recently asked to give an opinion about future trends in visual display/retail and I think we need look no further than this seminal event. It was just announced that it will be shown again in London but not until 2013. McQueen’s runway shows were well known for their sense of Victorian theatrical drama with sets that included birdcages, butterflies, feathered wings and antlers.  The exhibition, under the direction of curator, Andrew Bolton, successfully captured this spirit of Gothic splendor with its combinations of horror and romance.

Nature was the greatest, or at least the most enduring, influence upon McQueen. It was also a central theme, if not the central theme of nineteenth century Romanticism. 
Many artists of the Romantic movement presented nature itself as a work of art. McQueen both shared and promoted this view in his collections, which often included fashions that took their forms and raw materials from the natural world. For McQueen, as it was for the Romantics, nature was also a locus for ideas and concepts. That is most clearly reflected in Plato’s Atlantis (spring/summer 2010), the last fully realized collection the designer presented before his death in February 2010. 
(Taken from Metropolitan Museum of Art)  

During the Victorian Era, taxidermy was a favorite form of decoration. Hall Five recently featured an article written by one of its members, Victoria Redshaw of Scarlet Opus, a trend forecasting company that specializes in interior design. In the article she gives examples of some artists and designers working in this medium. London-based Alex Randall is a supremely talented lighting designer who creates environmental displays for a variety of clients including hoteliers and retailers. She began incorporating taxidermy into her work in 2008 but admits: I never expected the use of taxidermy to become as 'in vogue' as it has.

"I believe a large part of the reason taxidermy has become so popular is due to the backlash against minimalist interiors. Because of that there is a trend to rebel against flat-pack furniture and white walls and to create something richer and more textural."  

Her first piece was created for London retailer, Ted Baker. "I was creating a light installation for the store to work with their London street-scene theme when I thought very quickly of using pigeons. I did a bit of investigation and discovered that these, among other animals and birds, are regularly culled or discarded after licensed shoots. They are wasted, which is such a shame," 

For retailers looking for something a little less "authentic", Sydney-based Anna-Wili Highfield uses cotton paper and copper pipe to create sculptures of birds in flight and other animals. She has used them to great effect in the windows of Hermés
Also Australian, Paper engineer, Benja Harney has also created wonderful window displays for them too. 
 Finally, if by chance you should be seeking a live mannequin for your windows, look no further than Daphne Guinness, erstwhile friend and muse to McQueen. Daphne chose to dress for the Met Ball this year in celebration of the late designer in the windows of Barneys wearing one of his feathered creations.


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