Monday, March 10, 2008

The Birth of Venus

Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen (British, b. 1969). “Oyster Dress,” spring/summer 2003. Ivory silk chiffon and silk organza. Purchase, Gould Family Foundation, in memory of Jo Copeland, 2003 (2003.462).

The premise of Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 2003 presentation was of a shipwreck at sea and a consequent landfall in the Amazon. Critics lauded McQueen for his designs because they retained the theatrical and transporting impact of the presentation but also yielded wearable and desirable fashions. The “Oyster” dress, while dramatic in its sweep and red-carpet authority, benefits even further by close examination. As Women’s Wear Daily noted, “Fabulous though this presentation was, the clothes are better up close, revealing a mind-boggling degree of creativity and work.” Attached to a beautifully fitted and boned corset, the voluminous skirt is comprised of hundreds of graduated layers of ivory organza. Like a mille-feuille pastry, each layer both conforms to and detaches itself from every other layer of silk. With a post-modernist’s irony and deconstructivist’s preference for worn effects, the silk is left with an unfinished, raw, cut edge. Elsewhere on the gown, silk chiffon is conscientiously pieced and applied to create a slightly matte surface to the bodice and left unfinished as it extends at the shoulders to curdle along its edges like kelp or skin after an exfoliating burn.

Comments (56)

  1. Laurie Aron Says:

    Like storm-tossed sea foam crystallized into cloth, or hanks of knobby oyster shells from which a pearl emerges.

  2. Marie Says:

    The description mentions that the beauty of this garment lies in the details. It would be nice to see a few close-up shots so that we could appreciate this aspect of the dress.

  3. Justin Says:

    For me, this piece was definitely the most exciting to see. I’ve been trying to see this dress at the Costume Institute now for about 2 years, but have never gone when the permanent collection is open to the public.

    I must have stood and observed this dress for a full 10 minutes before leaving, trying to take in as many angles and get in as close as I could. The workmanship is absolutely mind-boggling to say the very least. It’s truly a masterpiece that goes beyond fashion into the realm of art, in every sense of the word. In my opinion, McQueen has yet to top himself with this dress, as well as the collection it came from. The way the dress captured the surface of an oyster shell, tattered sails caught on a broken mast or even the appearance of rippling sand underneath the breakers is simply beautiful, and how often in this day can we call something beautiful and truly mean it?

    Awe inspiring in the truest sense of the word.

  4. Mary Storey-Kramer Says:

    Fabulous dress, close up shots of the details would be helpful to those studing fashion. As a faculty member of Wayne State University we have an on-line digital collection of 200 years of urban dress, many from prominent women of the detroit area in 4 museum collections. These online collections allow students to view gartments from many angles and view close up details.

    The link to the site is:

    Please feel free to visit and be inspired. I would love to see your collection become a fabulous source for fashion study for those of us without access to the museum.

  5. Felicity Says:

    The OYSTER DRESS!!! This is my favorite of the whole exhibit

  6. paullina Says:

    “oyster dress”- perverse and beautiful…tease me Alexander!

  7. Kathleen Keogh Says:

    Beautiful…I can see it emerging from the waves…

  8. emma Says:

    This was definately my favorite. While I can appreciate the thought and meaning behind the roughness of the top of the gown, I can also easily see it going in a more traditional direction, with the top portion smoother and more finished. And frankly, that is more to my taste.

  9. Meto Says:

    This dress is just amazing…I would wear that, really! It has the spirit of the ocean!!!

  10. Rosemary Says:

    What a perfect fusion of the fine and decorative arts. McQueen has brought Botticelli’s painting to life in this dress. Any woman wearing this dress is a Venus…

  11. Dana Says:

    This dress is an amazing feat of sewing while I would probably not wear it myself it must have taken soooooooooooo long to sew on all the ripples.

  12. Anna Says:

    This dress is the most awe-inspiring in the exhibit. The pleats look almost impossible to replicate.

  13. HELEN Says:


  14. T$ Says:

    A moment of breathless delight.

  15. jjjjjuju Says:

    so many ruffles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Victoria Says:

    Incredible. The detail put into this dress is amazing: the layers upon layers of undulating ruffles simply stun me. It truly looks like it was dragged from the ocean and transformed into a beautiful gown.

  17. Riley Says:

    That has just the right amount of fabric and not an ugly, bushy tail hanging from the back of it.

  18. Aldo Says:

    Wow I LOVE this dress!!! the Amazonian collection was OK but this dress stands out of the crowd with its movement and beautiful materials. I am totally loving this blog!

  19. Jason Says:

    What an amazing dress. Incredible! Know what makes me sad, though? It’s sitting in a museum and not being worn. Ok, of course if someone owned this, it wouldn’t ever be seen in public more than once… which would make me more sad… so I guess I’ll have to make my peace with it being behind this plate of glass. But my point is — Alexander made this to be worn for twenty minutes at some fantastic event (the Oscars?). Too bad it hasn’t been able to do that (yet?).

  20. meimi1995529 Says:

    it looks so torn and frayed. i really dont like it at all. but it does deserve its title as the birth of venus. nobody should wear it but as an art it really conveys its purpose.

  21. Katie Loves Charlie -x- Says:

    Its one of the prettiest dresses I have ever seen. Aww I’m gonna base my wedding dress on this dress, I hope it suits me.


  22. libby Says:

    it looks like someting a ghost would wear.

  23. Anjelica Says:

    Despite it being called the oyster dress, this gown was far more enchanting. This was my favorite out of the entire exhibit and I would love to own it!

  24. Kat :-) Says:

    What a FEROSH dress it is definetly FIERCE!

  25. Dina Says:

    This dress is really pretty, very ethereal looking. Simialer to the dress penelope cruz wore to the oscars!

  26. Dorothy Ortiz Says:

    McQueen’s designs are incredible!!! His video shows are mesmerizing & the clothes in his store in the MPD are gorgeous - his workmanship unparalleled.

  27. ERIN (peace) Says:

    This dress is absoloutly beautiful. Can you even imagine trying to sew that train? It is a beautiful piece of art. peace and love!

  28. Alexandra Says:

    i love it, its amazingly beautiful. I would love to wear it.

  29. Claire Says:

    The detail in this dress is astonishing. This is by far my favorite dress in the exhibit.

  30. Mary Says:


  31. TJ Says:

    The first time I saw this dress it was shown in Vogue magazine and was worn by model Natalia Vodianova. I was a college student in Indiana at the time and immediately, I fell in love with both the dress, Alexander McQueen and Natalia. I will never forget that moment. The dress is timeless and even more stunning to see in person.

  32. sadie reuter Says:


  33. M Says:

    This dress is unbelievable and an astonishing piece of craftsmanship. I think you owe it to the craftspeople involved to give them some credit. How many hours of labor were involved? How many seamstresses ? Where was the atelier? In general, I think it would be great to have your explanations include more detail about the workmanship, the laborers and the technology involved in pulling off some of the more elaborate concepts and pieces.

  34. Fabiola Says:

    As a designer seeing the works in the exhibiton almost move me to tears. But I must say, my heart skipped a beat when I entered the gallery displaying this dress. McQueen never fails.

    The detail is breath taking. The technicalites of design, organic interpretation paired with its fuildity is brilliant. My guess is that there is aleast 300 yards of bias cut silk organza on this dress, every yard is well worth the beauty in this creation. What an honor!

  35. Antoniya Says:

    this is definitely the most amazing piece from the exhibition. i have seen it many times on the internet and have been fascinated with it for years!

    the design and the construction are truly amazing, especially the layering of the silk organza on the skirt to create the “Oyster” effect. great combination of chiffon and organza and the smootha and slightly crinkle textures.

    the construction of the corset is amazing as well with it curvy style lines and boning and definittely show his background in costume design

    WOW WOW WOW……….:)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

  36. pilar Says:

    the oyster as an inspiration is clear in the wavy hemline and ivory color. i wish some of the inspiration for other gowns came across as clearly. i’m not a huge mcqueen fan but this one really follows through from the conception to the construction to the final presentation.

  37. abi Says:

    this dress is class, but if we made this in textiles it would be a ‘messy’ job (Y)

    ((birmingham - england))

  38. beth anne Says:

    omg! THis is soo cool! i loved it when i first saw it. with some dresses you see, you are like… “What are theese disigners thinking! This is horrible!”… but this dress is totally not anything like that. :) :):):):):):):) cool

  39. D Cooke Says:

    Nothing like a healthy dose of organza to get the blood flowing, or should I say skirt? Beautiful exhibit, and beautiful dress.

  40. David Glenn Says:

    Absolutly Beautiful Art

  41. Jackie Says:

    Well, first of all, although the description said the silk is unfinished you’d never know it from these pictures of the gown. It is exquist! It is gorgeous and obviously fits in with the ship wreck style. The skirt of the dress looks like some kind of sea shell but looking very soft at the same time. It makes me think of some kind of sea godess.

  42. Sally Says:

    I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. So much drama and movement! Love the color and texture. Didn’t care for the strips of fabric falling from the bodice according to my personal taste. But the strips gave it a sea-like quality that’s very appropriate for an “Oyster” dress.

  43. RSACKS Says:

    THIS DRESS IS UNBELIEVABLY BEAUTIFUL AND MOVING. WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING AT THE NAME. ISAW THE DRESS AND THOUGHT OF APHRODITE AND THAT PICTURESQUE IMAGE OF THE GODDESS IN A CLAMSHELL SURROUNDED BY SEA FOAM AND PEARLS. the dress itself emantes “goddess” and i don’t think there is a female form that could legitimately do that dress any justice. it would truly take a goddess.

  44. simon read Says:

    i really love dresses so so much i wish i could wear one right now

  45. lisa brooks Says:

    Extravogently Magnificent

  46. johanna t Says:

    i am surely jealous of the curator. this piece is beautiful.

  47. Claire Says:

    i really like this dress and its design !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  48. Ihk Says:

    Stunning textures of crevices and rolls…fanciful thought of how the material would sounds pulled apart.

  49. Brianna Says:

    that dress looks like the dress that sweeney todd’s love intrest wore.

  50. Sabrina Says:

    This dress’s design is really beautiful, and it would be very fun to wear. :D

  51. Adam Says:


  52. Kat Says:

    This is stunningly spectacular. It is the meaning of what fashion as art is all about.

  53. Kaity Tsui Says:

    Lovely color. Exhibits grace, though I would lighten the load from the bottom half of the dress.

  54. Andrew Says:

    Favorite piece! All were amazing works, but this made me stop and think. A beauty to behold. It is in keeping with this, my first trip to NYC…as a lady might feel walking into a room wearing this dress.

  55. Laura Says:

    unbelievable…it is amazing to see this dress in person. I am amazed at the detailing. unreal

  56. Jenni Says:

    I am sooooo not getting married unless I can wear this dress!!

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