"Oyster Dress"

Design House: Alexander McQueen (British, founded 1992)

Designer: Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)

Date: spring/summer 2003

Culture: British

Medium: silk

Credit Line: Purchase, Gould Family Foundation Gift, in memory of Jo Copeland, 2003

Accession Number: 2003.462


British designer Alexander McQueen has been hailed for his challenging perceptions of the role of fashion in political, social, and cultural criticism. His collections are often cohesive thematic interpretations, alluding to dramatic media events (the "Highland Rape," a 1996 runway consortium of tattered dresses and bloody catwalkers) as much as aesthetic or artistic movements. Credited alongside peers such as John Galliano with the return of artistry to couture in the 1990s, McQueen is one of the most conceptual fashion créateurs to clothe the runway in the early twenty-first century and continues to be celebrated for his love of tactile exploration and dramatic visual representations.
A number of gowns in Alexander McQueen's "Transitions" collection of spring/summer 2003 appear to be poetic renderings of a disaster at sea. While a similar dress appeared colored like the plumage of a tropical bird, this gown of sand-colored organza recalls the mille-feuille ridging on the surface of a shell. The hem of the skirt, like the wavy lip of a giant mollusk, further emphasizes the seashell quality of the gown. But unlike Aphrodite, who was born in the foam of the sea and borne to shore on a scallop, McQueen's beauty is a bruised pearl encased in a deconstructing oyster, the tumbled survivor of the violent action of waves.