Ever since we discovered our love for fashion we discovered our love for our favorite designer, Alexander McQueen. We admired the avant garde nature of his work, the beauty and the obscurity. Most of all, however, we admired his ability to turn a dark inspiration into something beautiful. We had thought this was a quality just apparent in McQueen himself, until we began noticing it as a pattern across our favorite artists. We admire this quality within McQueen and see it as a thread that we can trace throughout music, fashion and the rest of the arts alike.
Hozier’s “Cherry Wine” video was what made us realize that other artists possess the unique ability to turn darkness to light. Even through multiple listens and seeing the song played live, we continued to be misconstrued, believing that song was a pretty story of a happy relationship. We never read into it otherwise, but the video teaches that it is far from being that simple. Contrary to the beautiful metaphors and poetry of Hozier’s lyrics, “Cherry Wine” is a song about domestic abuse. It lovingly describes the abuser, highlights the complexity of domestically abusive relationships, and comments on the fact that there tends to be a degree of attachment to the abuser despite the pain he/she causes. The closing line of the chorus – “Blood is rare and as sweet as cherry wine” – is an example of this. It’s essentially excusing the behavior of the abuser because the abuse doesn’t happen often, and the rest of the time they’re sweet (as cherry wine, according to Hozier). The most prominent display of his ability to twist the dark into light is through the line “she looks like sleep to the freezing”. When people have hypothermia, sleep is extremely dangerous as it furthers the body’s decrease in temperature and would cause them to die. However, all people want is sleep. Saying that “she looks like sleep to the freezing” is a metaphor for how much he wants her; however, he knows that the abuse will end up killing him. Even the lines clearly about abuse can slip by the listener because they’re wrapped up in such beautiful language.
Some of Hozier’s other songs more explicitly dark than others; for example, “In a Week” is very clearly a song about two decaying bodies. That being said, the way he words this gruesome subject makes even death sound romantic. The listener tends to stay ignorant to the true meaning of the song if they don’t pay close attention. By channeling his ability to find light in such a dark subject, Hozier’s songs help us to draw a hidden connection between designers like Alexander McQueen and musicians, poets, and other artists alike.
Alternative indietronica group Passion Pit are the staple of upbeat, lighthearted dance music. However, the lyrics and story behind many Passion Pit songs prove to have quite the opposite vibe. It is no secret to fans of the group that singer, songwriter, and frontman Michael Angelakos has a tragic, melancholic history. Angelakos suffers from bipolar disorder and depression which has resulted in canceling shows and suicide attempts from Angelakos. While a listener would never know this from listening to a Passion Pit hit firsthand, the lyrics are quite dark and somber. It is in this way that Angelakos and the group are able to emit positive emotions technically while commenting on such a dark subject matter lyrically. Angelakos adds to this in an interview with Huffington Post, saying, “People don’t necessarily know how dark and depressing the music actually is, because it’s technically so happy and it masks that.” The 2013 hit “Where We Belong” from the sophomore album “Gossamer” is a prime example of Passion Pit’s ability to “find beauty in the grotesque” (as McQueen would say). It follows the same pattern as many Passion Pit tunes, being very technically upbeat and having several beats per minute, all the while telling the story of Angelakos’s suicide attempt. The first line, “Who says you are to stay?/ How’s this the easier way?/ It’s far from giving up/ Cowards never say ‘enough is enough’” comments on the common misconception that suicide is selfish and cowardly. It is almost as if Angelakos is accusing his actions through this line, stating that everyone has a different destiny and those who are not experiencing what he is will never truly understand. He then describes being “lifted up/ Out of the crimson tub” which likely alludes to being lifted to Heaven or out of his body at the scene at which the attempt took place. As the song progresses, it becomes clear that it is most certainly not a happy melody, as Angelakos continues to talk about “All the things you can’t control”, referring to his battle with mental illness. He concludes with a wistful line about being lifted to the “highest cloud” and striving to make “you” proud. This is his way of connecting back to his mental disorder and finishing a dark song with a beautiful lyric. “Where We Belong” is one of Passion Pit’s most beautiful songs because it successfully encompasses all the components of Angelakos’s story while still giving the listener a positive experience. It also speaks to such a controversial, universal topic in a lyrically enhanced manner. Angelakos tells Huffington Post, “Maybe the lesson from a Passion Pit concert is that you can feel good without lyrically being told everything is perfect.”
Alexander McQueen is the true pioneer of finding beauty in darkness. Throughout his career, he captivated and delighted audiences with his unpredictable collections and eye-catching genius. His graduation collection Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims allowed him to emerge as fashion’s most highly respected “bad boy”. Highland Rape continued to shock audiences, and Widows of Culloden highlighted the enchantment and fascination that comes with a McQueen collection.
McQueen’s collections all tend to be highly autobiographical. He aims not to create ready-to-wear, easily accessible clothing, but instead to inspire audiences and tell a story through art, historical narratives, and the display of a creative genius on the runway. McQueen graduated from the Central Saint Martin’s MA Fashion Course in 1992 and immediately made his name known through Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims, overseen by professor Louise Wilson. It was coined as a reference to Jack the Ripper’s 1888 Whitechapel victims. As a note to McQueen’s personal history – one of his relatives housed a victim of Jack the Ripper – McQueen sewed locks of his own hair into beautiful dresses, fine silk, elegant frock coats, and artfully crafted thorn-patterned jackets as per the Victorian era.
The most controversial McQueen collection is titled Highland Rape. It gained attention for its suggestive name and blatant references to rape and assault in the clothing that the female models wore as they paraded down the runway. Many thought that McQueen was using this collection to celebrate rape, and that he was ignoring the tragedies of sexual assault in the name of fame and fashion. However, this is absolutely not the case. Highland Rape refers to the “ethnic cleaning” of Scotland by the English in the 17 and 1800’s. This collection is McQueen’s way of speaking to his ancestry and exposing the horrors of what happened in the Scottish Highlands in those centuries. “People were so unintelligent they thought this was about women being raped—yet Highland Rape was about England’s rape of Scotland,” he explained. He channeled a bloody event and created a dark, yet beautiful representation of the beauty in the grotesque. He proved that negativity does not always need to be ugly. He didn’t hide the blood or the tattered lace but, portrayed it so beautifully that the representation of his patriotism wasn’t only remembered by its controversy, but its beauty as well.
We are fortunate to live in a world where art is so accessible. Art can be found in everything: music, fashion, poetry, museums, books…the list could go on. However, the meanings behind artists’ works are not so easily accessible. A viewer, reader, or listener must look deep into the components of the piece to gain even the smallest bit of insight into the artist’s mind. We believe that one who can force audiences to do this is a true artist. Rather than writing a song detailing explicitly the step by step story of his depression, Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit masks this with upbeat melodies. Hozier chooses to use beautiful, engaging lyrics to discuss domestic abuse. The icon of “finding beauty in the grotesque”, the man who coined the phrase himself for his Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit “Savage Beauty”, is the late Alexander McQueen. McQueen’s ability to tell a tragic story and speak to his ancestry and history through his fashion is highly admired and respected by designers all around the fashion industry. His talent has inspired other forms of art and the geniuses of other artists.
Written by: Rachel Silberman & Bailey Sperling
Photos belong to their rightful owners.