Assistant Curator Meredith Rutledge discusses late fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s influence on the look of rock and roll
When talking about rock and roll’s relationship to the world of fashion, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chief curator Jim Henke said, “virtually every artist defines (themselves) as much by the way they look as by the music they play.”
It’s been said that fashion and style are the natural visual counterparts to creative musical expression. Rock and roll artists have had a long relationship with the world of high fashion — picture Elvis Presley’s iconic gold lamé suit designed by Nudie, then fast forward to Madonna’s equally iconic gold bustier designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Fashion designers like Gaultier, Thierry Mugler and Gianni Versace have all become synonymous with the branding of rock stars like Madonna, Mick Jagger and Elton John. That’s why the tragic death of clothing designer Alexander McQueen, whom Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour called “one of the greatest talents of his generation,” has especially resonated here at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. McQueen was a favorite designer of the rock world, creating red carpet, stage and album cover looks for luminaries such as Janet Jackson, Lady GaGa, Bjork and David Bowie. Mc Queen’s envelope-pushing design for the album cover of Bowie’s 1997 release, Earthling, can be seen in the Museum’s Main Exhibit Hall. The exquisite tailoring of Bowie’s distressed Union Jack frock coat shows McQueen’s early background as an apprentice on London’s Saville Row, while the coat’s ripped and burned flag fabric is a nod to Bowie’s Mod roots crossed with McQueen’s iconoclastic punk sensibility. Alexander Mc Queen’s talent and vision will be sorely missed, but his legacy will live on in his work, which has contributed so much to our experience of the artists we honor at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.