October 10, 2009

Must Read | WILD: Fashion Untamed

What do Sitting Bull, Cher, and Alexander McQueen couture have in common?

The answer lies in a publication for the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition WILD: Fashion Untamed. An important contribution to fashion and culture studies, this book documents the ongoing obsession with animalism as expressed through clothing.

“With more than one hundred costumes and accessories on display, ‘WILD: Fashion Untamed’ focuses on the practical, spiritual, psychosexual, and socioeconomic underpinnings of the decorative possibilities of birds and beasts.”

As you can expect from an exhibition catalogue, this publication is packed with vivid and visually captivating fashion photography spotlighting extravagantly feathered and furred models. The exhibition presents an unparalleled selection of couture created by over 70 well-known designers, such as Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Bob Mackie, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Anna Sui, and Gianni and Donatella Versace.

Published in collaboration with Yale University Press, this catalogue not only presents some of the most exotic fashion designs in history, but also includes five essays that touch on subjects as controversial as racism, sexism, colonialism, and environmentalism.

The first chapter discusses the use of prehistoric tropes, such as the primitive huntress La Belle Sauvage by designers to convey modern concepts of womanliness. The second chapter spotlights fur’s signification as an elite commodity and as a sexual commodity. Next, the use of feathers is discussed as displays of male erotic and economic power, and as signifiers of female artifice and sexuality. In the fourth chapter, the author analyzes the visual and conceptual conflation of woman and cat in fashion, and the use of feline symbolism to invoke primal instincts referencing independence and initiative. The final chapter focuses on the reptiled female as powerful sexual symbol.

The catalogue can be purchased online at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website, or on Amazon.com.