Design House: Alexander McQueen (British, founded 1992)
Designer: Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)
Date: spring/summer 1999
Medium: (a) balsa wood, leather, metal (b) wool, silk, lace
Credit Line: Purchase, Gould Family Foundation Gift, in memory of Jo Copeland, 2011
Accession Number: 2011.170a, b
Alexander McQueen's dazzling creativity and startling originality were expressed through the technical virtuosity of his fashions and the conceptual complexity of his runway presentations, which were suggestive of avant-garde installation and performance art. Rare among designers, he saw beyond clothing's physical constraints to its ideational and ideological possibilities. That for McQueen fashion was not simply about wearability is clearly expressed in this piece made from balsa wood shaped to resemble butterfly wings. With its delicate hand-punched pattern, it questions the requisites of clothing, insisting upon a reevaluation of simplistic and reductionist interpretations of fashion. The piece formed part of McQueen's spring/summer 1999 collection, entitled "No. 13," which explored the relationship between the nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts Movement and what the designer called the "hard edge of the technology of textiles." The show opened with athlete Aimee Mullins in a pair of hand-carved prosthetic legs designed by McQueen. (Mullins was born with fibular hemimelia, or missing fibula bones, and had both her legs amputated below the knee when she was a year old.) The poetic finale was a scene inspired by an installation by the artist Rebecca Horn: model Shalom Harlow revolving like a music box doll as two menacing industrial sprayers shot acid green and black paint at her white dress.