Savage Beauty: Changing the face of Aesthetics

The term “beauty” is one with ever-evolving connotations. Since the recent closure of the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, “beauty” itself has never been harder to define. After the carefree period of “sex and drugs and rock n’ roll” during the ’60s and ’70s, Britain saw a change. The population reacted against the nature of the previous period; some returned to the culture of celebrity obsession that the ’50s dictated, but others turned to a deeper, less glamorous form of beauty: the beauty of brutality.

Savage Beauty
Savage Beauty

The ’90s saw many pioneering figures lead the way to a less orthodox form of beauty, in which the vulgar, the abhorrent, and the repulsive, originally saw critics reel, but eventually led them to declare the “Savage Beauty” movement one of the deepest forms of human beauty ever to grace contemporary society. What is most striking about this form of beauty is its appeal to the heart, to the soul, and to the human condition; it resonates so deeply because of its repelling nature, rather than its aesthetic value. This form of beauty is predominantly a comment on society, rather than a means by which to distract it.

Savage beauty wasn’t only the driving force of contemporary Haute Couture designers, such as Alexander McQueen, but an entire cultural movement; playwrights such as Sarah Kane shocked audiences with her first play, “Blasted”, and these explorations of beauty presented their target-consumers with not only a version of femininity which had never before been accessed, but a version of themselves, which was at first shocking, and repugnant. McQueen, for example, in his catwalk show entitled “Highland Rape”, presented a juxtaposition of feminine strength with a fragility, induced by both psychological and sexual abuse, by dressing his models in ripped clothing, and baring their breasts.

Most importantly, however, savage beauty is a comment on society – on you, and me. McQueen turned the mirrors on his audience for 90 minutes before one of his catwalk shows, during which the audience could see into the glass container, but from which the models could not see out. This is a comment on the connotations of “beauty” that have gone before; the voyeuristic society in which we live is what is repulsive, not the catwalk show itself. “Savage Beauty” makes a strong statement, and we have to accept that the art of the likes of McQueen and Kane are made all the more beautiful for the shocking purity with which they depict the abhorrent nature of the human condition.