747 Madison Ave.
When the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach dreamed up his famed inkblot test, he spent a lot of time asking the same question: So...what do YOU see? That question comes to mind as soon as you enter the new Alexander McQueen flagship, which abandoned its former Meatpacking District address and reopened on the Upper East Side earlier this fall.
Rorschach’s inkblots are just one of the shop’s unusual inspirations. The clothing here is dazzling, sure, but don’t leave till you’ve checked out the walls. In the ornate plaster moldings you’ll see patterns of flowers, shells, skulls and more, splayed out like inkblots. Gaze long enough, and you may see other influences, from the work of Barcelona architect Antonio Gaudí to the creepily skeletal images of surrealist H.R. Giger. As creative director Sarah Burton said in a statement, “It’s very McQueen to see something from a distance and think it’s one thing and then to look up close and discover something else.”
It’s also very McQueen to flip a McQueenism on its head. So step BACK and take in the overall shape of the ornate panels, and you’ll spot something unexpected: the familiar swoop of the designer’s radical and legendary “armadillo shoes,” with their spiky heels and bulbous, hooflike toes.
Speaking of shoes, there are plenty on display — spike heeled, buckled, gold gilt — along with shelves of handbags, jewelry and racks of clothes (women's and menswear).
Rorschach and McQueen share an unfortunate twist of fate: both died too soon. (The psychiatrist, of appendicitis, at 37; the designer, after committing suicide, at 40.) But their work lives on, and this shop, at least, offers a glimpse not only of the McQueen aesthetic, but the fervent mind behind it. -- Joseph V. Amodio
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