Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty – Graduate Fashion Design Competition

In conjunction with the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art held a competition for fashion design graduate students this spring in honor of the artist’s lifelong dedication to supporting students and emerging talent in the field.

In recognition of Alexander McQueen’s pivotal role in shaping fashion through technique, narrative, collaboration, and showmanship participants were asked to use these aspects as inspiration to create garments that will continue to push fashion forward. McQueen was a technical and conceptual designer influenced by art, literature, music, history, nature, science, and contemporary culture at large. The competition aimed to encourage his legacy regarding approach as he was masterful in his ability to create objects of fantasy set in spectacular runway presentations to articulate his vision. In addition, he was able to distill these ideas to wearable garments and build an international brand.

Each participant submitted illustrations of one runway and one retail look, along with an explanation of the designs’ underlying concept. Out of the thirty entrants, four finalists, Aina Hussain, Paula Cheng, Mayumi Yamamoto and Jie Li—all of whom are students of the MFA Fashion Design and Society program at Parsons—were selected by a blind jury. For the last phase of the competition, each turned one of their illustrations into a final garment, presented in video and images. Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, and Andrew Bolton, curator in The Costume Institute judged the competition.

The winner was announced at the Met’s ‘McQueen for a Night’ event on May 20; Paula Cheng, won the contest and received an internship at Alexander McQueen, a yearlong Metropolitan Museum Membership, and several other exhibition-related prizes. The evening included a panel discussion featuring Julie Gilhart,fashion consultant and former fashion director, Barneys New York, and Shelley Fox, Donna Karan Professor of Fashion Design, Parsons. Submissions by the finalists were also on display.


Paula Cheng:

“My dress originates from my personal obsession with knitting, and the formation of loops and structure. Unlike woven fabric, knitting mimics the growth of bacteria, where the intertwining of yarns and joining of loops form fabrics and the twisting of the loops form three-dimensional structures. I began my research by exploring different types of techniques of knitting, manipulations of fibers, as well as colors of yarn. As the patterns derive from organic shapes and lines like trees and branches, I had to go through many trials and errors to translate the amorphous patterns of nature into knit samples. I was trying to elevate the surface of the flat fabrics by short rowing, tucking and manipulating the knits with hand and machine knitting. So this project was really about my obsession of plying and mixing metallic hues, the pulling loops into loops to form fabric, texture, and ultimately structure. It was just as complex yet as simple as is my own journey of what it is to create, to make, ‘to fashion’.”


Aina Hussain:

“My piece is about natural beauty. It symbolizes living things that grow without rules and evolve into new forms that blend with our surroundings. The dress was fashioned of pieces of various shapes that were draped on the stand and incorporate different handcraft techniques.”



Mayumi Yamamoto:

“For the McQueen project, it all started with an MFA assignment to recreate an ordinary trim technique in a new, modern way. I became interested in flower making and started dissecting silk flowers. I also was inspired by the ornamental work of the Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh to create wire flowers. Ultimately, I wanted the dress to express the ancient Greek story of Demeter and Persephone, in particular Persephone’s mixed feelings when she sees her mother for the first time after being kidnapped by Hades—her joy and happiness as well as grief and mourning of knowing she has to go back to the underworld. The flowers on the dress bloom but wilt at the same time, and some flowers are trapped onto the fabric, creating the drape on the dress.”

Jie Li

‘I recognize how this has been done historically but this is now how I do it’. “This competition challenged me to address the most fundamental of elements when designing a collection, that of craft, technique, and make. I used pleating and knitting to create my garment in a new way, which I practiced and eventually reinvented into a contemporary fashion context.”

Below are images showing the different stages in Jie Li’s Design Process